IFLScience – a case of (positive) hype around science

Science communication
Elise Andrew at an event for I Fucking Love Science
Elise Andrew at an event for I Fucking Love Science

If you haven’t heard of I Fucking Love Science (or IFLS for any sensitive readers out there) then let me give you a quick run down. Established sometime in March 2012 by Elise Andrew, IFLS has accumulated over 18 million Facebook followers and over 120 000 followers on Twitter, which is pretty incredible given the readership for a national paper like the Australian is sitting at 3,264,000 people. To put this in perspective – 18 million individual followers is nine times the current population of Brisbane, Australia.

So, why is it so successful?

The (rather crude but true) three word maxim presents a reason – the three word maxim is (that all stories must contain at least one of) sex, death or money. IFLS stories fall roughly into these categories with a little creative editing for the internet audience with categories that I’ll call cute, gross and concerning.

Some examples are…this “cute” sleepy whale waking up, some “gross” action when baby spiders ‘exploded’ from their mother when she encountered another spider, and a “concerning”video of Jimmy Kimmel asking people from LA whether they know what a GMO is….

What does IFLS tell us about the appetite for science stories online? There’s an actively interested audience. Most popular stories seem to revolve around videos, citizen science (science you can do at home) and shareable content.

Seal-Otter IFLScience
Seal-Otter IFLScience

How does it meet the criteria for hype? The titles aren’t exactly what you find in a scientific journal. They are simplified and internet friendly (so – attention grabbing), and usually accompanied by visuals.

Does hype means it’s bad? Hype can be good. IFLS was reportedly established as a way for the creator to collect interesting science stories that she found online. While she’s been wildly successful, this doesn’t take away from the point that IFLS’s main aim is to entertain and inform. It’s like your friendly neighbour reporter just armed with more interesting stories about science rather than developments at the local train station.

If you’re looking for a model for Public Engagement with Science online, IFLS is a good place to start (it’s not to say it’s all good – sometimes the titles are a little misleading as a result of simplification).

It’s important to remember that she’s not claiming to be a science expert, rather she’s a science communicator who is showing off cute, gross and concerning things about science for anyone with an interest (and internet access). If this is the place that most people get their daily dose of science and tech stories, then I can think of worse things.

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