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(or anyone else’s blog or website!)

Taking my lead from Colin Schultz’s latest article who uses Google’s new readability score to rate the readability of some science blog sites and networks (but not our’s), here’s how Google ranks Code for life:

readability-code-for-life

Or an averaged readability score of 1.96 (see Schultz’s article), i.e. Readability = [ (1 x Basic score) + (2 x Intermediate) + (3 x Advanced) ] / 100. (Careful readers will note the the individual percent scores are rounded, so dividing by the total of the individual percentage scores, rather than a fixed 100 might be better and leaves me with a score of 2.00.)

Google’s readability ranking rates the text in three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced. Colin’s survey shows many popular science bloggers, like me, have a majority of articles under ‘intermediate’.

To try this on your own blog (or other sites) instructions are on the Google help page. Start with an empty google search form (a brand-new search with no search terms in the URL) and put ‘site:URL’ in the Google search textbox, or search ‘site:URL’ where ‘URL’ is the site whose readability you wish to examine;* next click ‘advanced search’ (to the right of the search box); under ‘reading level’ choose ‘annotate results with reading levels’; finally press ‘advanced search’ (bottom right of page) to get the readability displayed.

Once you have set google to display the readability of the first site, it will continue to present a readability plot for each new search result until you click the blue cross below the right end of the search textbox.

You could use the year (2010) as a search term but in my limited testing it doesn’t make a lot of difference, at least not for blogs with a reasonable volume of output.

Have fun exploring the readability of your favourite blogs. As an example of what a more technical blog looks like, here’s how Mystery Rays from Outer Space fares (readability=2.89):

readability-mystery-rays

By contract Bioephemera leans more on the readable side (1.76):

readability-bioephemera

Instead of plotting readability levels, you can limit search results to specific readability levels.

Let me add a digression. Google’s help page on this new readability option suggests ’A scientist searching for the latest findings from the experts may want to limit results to those at advanced reading levels.’ While this might help lift more formal science blog articles rise above the noise, you’d still have to eliminate crank websites. The word-based score will likely also rank crank websites as ‘advanced’ because their efforts to sound technical, and hence creditable. (Having seen silly claims for creditability from some people that follow crank websites, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if some of these people claim ‘advanced’ readability scores indicate creditability, silly as the idea is.) Here, for example, is what we get for the articles at–as Orac might describe it–’that warehouse of woo’, mercola.com (score=2.44):

readability-mercola-articles

I say ‘blog articles’ in the previous paragraph because to locate articles in the peer-reviewed literature, you’d expect you’d be better off with the more established means of searching the literature such as PubMed, Google Scholar or the like. As for science popularisation sites, we’ve already seen that many rate ‘intermediate’. This doesn’t mean that they are less creditable, but that they are targeted at a wider audience.

Footnotes

If you use Mac OS X, you may find it useful to use shortcuts to copy URLs. To copy the URL of a link control-click on the link: a pop-up menu will appear – choose ‘Copy link’.

* A quirk (read: bug) means that when you move to the advanced search from the basic search page, it’ll take the search terms in the web browser’s URL (location field)–not the textbox–into the advanced search. As a result you will want to either start with an empty search page with no search terms in the URL, or start by first searching the URL you want to test (thus moving your search terms into the browser’s location field). In my opinion Google’s form-processing software should be checking if the search testbox is not empty and if so, using these contents. Either way, you’ll have to work around this.


Older articles on Code for life (these from my first month of  blogging):

Scientists can’t write?

Book excerpt – Losing the faces of your wife and children

Autistic children and blood mercury levels

Three kinds of knowledge about science and journalism

Forgetting older science

Monkey business, or is my uncle also my Dad?