How many likes does your page have? How many followers do you have? How many reads for that particular blog post? Page views? Downloads? Number of times cited? Impact factor? In the online world, much of life is lived by the numbers.
When the Journal of Chemical Education switched to the ACS Pubs web platform, a feature I came back to regularly was the “Most Read” tab on the home page. You can get a snapshot of what’s being read most often in JCE; it offers a 1 month and a 12 month list, updated on a monthly basis. I was always curious to see what drew readers. What freely available content topped the list? Which articles open to subscribers only were popular reads? What continued to top the list from month to month? And then, to ask—why?
Sometimes I could connect some of the top reads to another event. For example, one month many of the articles had been part of a collection of Earth-Day-related articles offered as free downloads. Another time, the mention of an article in Chemical & Engineering News sparked a rush of reads.
Why do we choose to read what we read in journals such as JCE? Maybe it relates to content that’s coming up soon in the curriculum. Maybe you’re looking for a fresh take on a topic to spice up your teaching. Maybe it’s a review of a book you’ve been considering for the classroom. Maybe the pictures piqued your interest. Maybe you know the author. My collection of experiences, interests, and educational needs drives my choices. A piece that describes a hands-on activity that uses consumer chemicals? Bookmarked. A lab for a second-year organic course? Probably not.
Until now. I’m stepping outside of my reading comfort zone. My occasional peeks at the 12 month list have shown the 1983 article “Cyclic Voltammetry” topping the list for some time. I’ve been wondering what’s been driving the downloads. Perhaps a class that requires it as background? I’m not familiar with the topic, so anything I can take away from the article will be new. The introduction of the article states: “It is not uncommon for the experimenter who is performing CV [cyclic voltammetry] to have a poor understanding of the basic concepts of the technique, such as why the voltammograms have their peculiar shapes. … The authors intend this to be suitable for a supplement to an undergraduate course in instrumental analysis or as an ‘initial reference’ for anyone embarking on a CV experiment for the first time.” Even though I won’t be using the techniques any time soon, I’ve been able to learn a bit when one might use it and what leads to the unusual shapes of voltammograms.
Will you branch out from your familiar choices? What are you reading?