Did Daddy write about IQ again yet?
Parsing a year's worth of Substack traffic data with my daughter
I’m not sure any of my children but the eldest have the faintest idea what IQ means, but she is already enough of a data hound that she has been inquiring regularly for the past year whether “Daddy has written about IQ again yet.” Not that she read my Applying IQ to IQ piece that went out a little over a year ago, or has any personal interest in reading a follow-up. She just likes data visualizations. And whenever she looked at the traffic on this Substack with me, no matter how steadily I kept accruing subscriptions, nothing ever came close to the spike of traffic we saw from a piece I dashed off one night in December 2020. Until last week.
She wanted to see another data spike like that long-standing record. She didn’t care about the nice daily accumulation of new paid subscriptions or the retweets and shares from readers I value. She just wanted another outlier. It could be the distractions of Christmas vacation, but since my three-part series on human evolution last week hit a peak right within striking distance of the IQ record… she hasn’t been asking. So if you were waiting for me to write about IQ again, know that your cause’s most relentless advocate has turned her attention to Legos.
In the plot of this Substack’s historic traffic above, you see that early spike she liked plus the nearly matching one from this month. Throughout the year, the highest peaks are generally from ungated pieces, as you’d expect (my free-to-paid subscriber ratio is roughly 5:1), but when it comes to Indian and Jewish content, apparently money is no object. The people need to know. But as I covered yesterday, I’m geographically restless and have been making a point of dipping into the distinct stories of our species from just about every corner of the planet; Jewish and Indian genetics might pay, but Finnish genetics call me, too.
One note about the IQ post: I wrote this off the top of my head, citing facts and well-documented history I regard as commonplace. The response suggests to me how rare it is for many readers to find anyone addressing the most basic history of IQ and psychometrics, imperial exams in China, etc. When it comes to education or intelligence, our mainstream discourse has veered so sharply away from anything factual lately; but perhaps my experience will convince others who crave traffic spikes as much as my daughter does:…readers are actually hungry for fact-based coverage. One cognitive psychology researcher told me privately that it’s valuable to have someone like me around since I both put testing into its historical context and acknowledge IQ’s possible evolutionary basis.
My India pieces, Stark Truth About Aryans: a story of India, Stark Truth About Humans: a story of India, and The character of caste, all drew massive traffic even though they were gated. Indian readers are deeply interested in their own genetics, and there aren’t too many people fulfilling that demand (in part due to Indian intellectuals’ own self-censorship on questions of the origins of their identity, which is a highly sensitive topic in the subcontinent).
But of all the paid posts, Ashkenazi Jewish genetics: a match made in the Mediterranean stands head and shoulders above all others in both opens and site traffic.
It is also rather clear that human evolution seriously interests a large faction of this newsletter’s readership. I put good odds on more exciting results shaking out in 2022, so count on more coverage of this particular topic.
And speaking of the podcast, here are the top 10 by downloads (all ungated podcasts are at https://unsupervisedlearning.libsyn.com):
There’s a bit of chronological bias, with more recent podcasts reaching more listeners because my subscriber list has mushroomed over the course of the year. But topics matter. David Anthony is literally the only guest that could come close to Freddie, and that’s because subscribers really, really love Indo-European topics. My only disappointment is that there are only so many working Indo-Europeanists in the world. Though I do have at least two archaeologists lined up to record podcasts in the new year.
It’s not surprising that the top ten posts by traffic are all free:
Virality matters here: the top two posts have both racked up double the page views of the bottom two on this list.
Meanwhile, in terms of posts behind the paywall, here are the top ten:
Again, there’s a marked chronological bias as my subscriber base grows: two of the top five posts here have been out less than two weeks and the others all came out between September and November.
On a personal note, I want to share one detail of what it’s been like to work on this newsletter for the past year (after nearly two decades of blogging, which is a truly different experience). I look at the aggregate numbers of free subscribers now and then. But when someone chooses a paid subscription monthly, annually or at the sustainer level, I see every single signup. It’s a kick to see the emails of this founder, that university president, a journalist you wouldn’t expect, this author that I’ve always respected, that scientist whose papers are my must-reads, etc.
But the most memorable are perhaps the gifts. The familiar name of a classmate in my graduate cohort whom I haven’t seen in years appears, giving a subscription to her now-husband. Or some stranger the other day who came on as an annual subscriber out of the blue, not even having had a previous free subscription. Less than two hours later, he was back, giving a second annual subscription as a gift to a family member. Maybe in the meantime, he had to make a sandwich and play Legos with his kid, but I prefer to think of him spending the intervening time reading a couple posts and deciding: yes, it was good enough to share.
And that’s a wrap on 2021. Thank you, sincerely, to everyone who subscribes, gifts, forwards, shares, tweets, comments, recommends books, comes on the podcast (!), and otherwise makes this strange job I get to do such a privilege. I’ll be back with a first Time Well Spent for 2022 tomorrow.