Why you should care
Face it: It takes sex, swearing or cute pandas to make most of us pay attention to science.
Elise Andrew has to put up with a lot of sh*t. And why? Because she’s young, she’s a woman, and she f*cking loves science. So much so that she created a Facebook page that now boasts an audience of over 7 million.
Andrew is the driving force behind the insanely popular “I Fucking Love Science” page. The 24-year old British blogger who now lives and works in Canada, created the page back in March 2012, while still at university. There was no big plan; she started the page “in a fit of boredom” as a collection of the cool science stories she had read. The next day, the page had 1,000 likes. Sixteen months later, that number has skyrocketed into the millions and there’s still really no plan. In an interview with ScienceWorld she explained her approach, “I just keep sharing things I think are amazing, and people keep agreeing with me.”
And fans think it’s pretty amazing, too. Taking a look through the timeline photos, you begin to realize just how popular IFLS posts are, with many images seeing “likes” and “shares” in the tens of thousands. Take, for example, a cute little representaton of hydrophobicity or how kittens illustrate concavity and convexity. The vast collection of cartoons, news snippets, photos and other tidbits all work to make science fun and humorous. Even the IFLS cover photo spells it out with a quote by Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny.’”
Andrew told World News Australia that her aim is to keep the site surprising and entertaining. “I try to keep it light,” she said. ”I try to keep it acceptable and interesting to everyone on all levels.”
It’s this personal, all-inclusive approach that makes the page so irresistible. ”Elise has an excellent eye for funny, quirky items, and that’s why I think so many people like IFLS, ” says Fred Guterl, executive editor of Scientific American.
And, of course, there’s the site’s ”unapologetic” title. Aerin Jacob, a PhD candidate in biology at McGill University, thinks this helps fuel curiosity about the page. “The idea of scientists as geeks playing with test tubes or stodgy old people writing equations on blackboards is still pervasive in popular culture, so having someone say that they f*cking love science really makes a statement.”
But not everyone thinks IFLS is so amazing or funny. And this brings us back to the “shit” part. In recent months Andrew has been the target of a barrage of misogynistic comments and other forms of backlash – most of which have nothing to do with science.
Popular posts include a cute little representation of hydrophobicity or how kittens illustrate concavity and convexity.
It all started when people found out she was, in fact, a woman (gasp!). Earlier this year while at a conference, Andrew mentioned her Twitter account on IFLS. Why did that become such a big deal? Because her profile featured a photo. At last (for many), the face behind the popular science site was revealed. Nobody expected what followed. The next time she checked the page, there were over 10,000 comments below the posts – many of which, as Andrew puts it, exclaimed, “Oh my god, you’re a girl.” Worse comments followed.
So did all this vitriol cause her to hang up her virtual lab coat? Hell no. Andrew brought her unique IFLS approach – cheeky humor and cleverness in spades – to the situation. She started to call them out, regularly posting a Crazy of the Day to Twitter, calling out a particularly strange or nasty comment on Facebook, and inviting the public to comment.
Despite all the “crazy” she continues to update the site daily and even invites people into her personal life via her personal social media pages. Like when she bought a pair of Catwoman pumps and when a creepy guest showed up to her Sept. 13 wedding.
Andrew continues to move at the speed of light, with a path of science-hungry followers in her wake. In August, she teamed up with Discovery Digital Networks to bring some of her Facebook phenomenon to online video, with a new series for the network’s Test Tube channel. The weekly show has covered topics such as supporting ugly animals (and not just cute pandas), listening for traces of Big Bang, a car-melting building, tracing the ginger gene, and turning sewage into power.
”There was a natural fit for us to work together,” says Ryan Vance, Senior VP of Programming Development for Discovery. ”Not only does she have a huge audience, she has a very smart audience. We felt there was a natural match between the people who follow her and our audience on the Test Tube network.” Plus, she’s “extremely nice” and a “joy to work with.”
When her photo went public, there were over 10,000 comments on the site – many of which, exclaimed, ’Oh my god, you’re a girl.’
A month into the series, IFLS is already one of the most popular shows on Test Tube. Vance credits this success to Andrew’s role as a “super curator” in which she spends ”just about every waking moment finding content” to share with her audience.
Most recently Andrew has been taking the IFLS show on the road, participating in a Science Week event in Australia with other ”Internet science rockstars” and hosting a sold-out, adults-only event at the Ontario Science Centre.
But despite popularity of the video series, the Facebook page, and her guest appearances around the world, Elise Andrew is a reluctant celebrity. After seeing that she made Cosmopolitian’s list of “Girls making geeky stuff cool,” she Facebooked: “I feel oddly conflicted by this.”
Well, 7.2 million Facebook fans might beg to differ.