More Lies on IFLScience

In Pseudoscience by Brian Koberlein12 Comments

You won’t believe what they’ve done this time.

If you’ve read this far, I want to be clear that the headline was linkbait. This post isn’t about some new transgression from IFLScience, but rather about why hype in science reporting is so harmful. For my regular readers I promise never to pull this kind of thing again. For those who have come because of the outrageous headline, hear me out.

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate. Credit: Kim Martini

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate. Credit: Kim Martini

A few days ago I wrote a post callout out IFLScience for misrepresenting research on solar cycles. It created a bit of a firestorm, with lots of people defending the site’s use of linkbait headlines:

Who cares if they grab some attention with their headlines. They’re pulling people away from main stream media which is a good thing.

These science websites have to bring in the non-science-degreed people.

I don’t blame IFLscience for having the odd attention grabbing article/headline, anything that gets more people into science and away from celebrity obsession is a good thing.

Hypothetically, the word “sun spots,” “ice age,” and “science,” were used in a conversation between two adults whose lives probably very rarely revolve around this. They’ve gotten people into the discussion. I don’t care how.

There was also a great deal of accusation that I was being elitist by calling out IFLScience:

IFLScience isn’t a technical journal, and it’s not pretending to be. It’s trying to make science news accessible to the masses.

IFLS is not a scientific journal, and as a social media page it should not be held to the standards of a scientific journal, or even a scientific news source such as Scientific American.

The fact is IFLS isn’t a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It’s a science and entertainment site.

What I find most disheartening about these kinds of comments is how deeply they underestimate people’s intelligence. It reinforces a common misconception that science is only for “smart” people, and it isn’t relevant to most people’s lives. Neither of these are true. People don’t need to be coddled or lied to in order to interest them in science, they need to be engaged in a clear and honest way. Science isn’t perfect, but it is a deeply powerful method for gaining knowledge. The more knowledge we have about the universe, the more readily we can face the challenges ahead. Hyping results and misrepresenting research only serves to strengthen the argument that scientists don’t really know what they’re talking about. That’s why it’s anti-science, and that’s why I called IFLScience out. They can be a voice for good, but when they willfully mislead it is deeply harmful. The same is true for any site that misrepresents scientific research.

The main argument of those defending hyped and misleading headlines is that it starts a conversation. To them I would say use this to start a conversation. Feel free to share this post with your friends, but better yet write your own. We deserve better than hyped headlines to spark a discussion.

Note: The image for this post? It was created by Andy Brunning as seen on (you guessed it) IFLScience.


  1. I had noticed this series of headlines as well and while I’m not a scientist this is a topic I need to understand as a professional. Do you have other examples of IFLS consistently trading in bad science to get views or is this a one-off? You implied the former so I’m just looking for more evidence. Thanks.

  2. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole subject (so far). I don’t believe in “hype” in any cliche, including science. Misleading people to repost (which I have done hundreds of times on IFLS) is just wrong for the masses, and I have skipped many posts that I didn’t feel supported the scientific community… but, if I can lead a single person to look at the “big picture”, instead of some fairy tail, I believe it is worth it. JMO…

  3. I think all you try its to be more notorius and to bring to your blog more iflscience followers… I don’t know whos behind that iflscience page but i appreciate his job about doing accesible the science to people who dont want to know the evolution of the egg throw the history and only want to know whats first, the chicken or the egg… that’s the
    And as i can read here, it is not a scientific journal… and if you are a scientific you have a problem… or you can’t do science accesible to everyone or you are jealousy about iflscience repecusion…

    1. Her – and when they outright lie and refuse to correct their errors it IS a problem, and it makes science look unreliable and unsure where it isnt. Rather than making science accessible they are making it seem like a pack of idiots.
      It is a pity because back before it was click bait for ads it was decent.
      It is pretty funny you think that of him when he is trying to correct a problem but not of them when they outright lie for clicks (and steal peoples work). I love your fanboy trope that pops up for every one of the worst figures in our culture – anyone who criticizes them just HAS to be jealous, no matter how smiley they are. People like you would say people are jealous of Charles Manson for criticizing him.

  4. Good post, but i think you overestimate the average intelligence and willingness to learn. Most people are too worn down from the life that’s enforced upon them… they don’t have time to inform themselves, that’s why most people keep watching television.

  5. It isn’t just the headlines either. A lot of the time, they spout whatever someone else said about a science topic, rewording it only to make sure it’s as hyperbolic as possible—sometimes exaggerating to extremes that aren’t just wrong, they’re complete fiction—all without reading the original study or interview. Sometimes there is no published study or interview (I’m thinking specifically of the over-hyped declaration that bras are bad for women that was based on a throwaway statement by a French researcher who had neither completed nor published any study on the matter).

    Lazy science journalism is bad enough, but the sensationalized form that exists only to drive traffic to a specific site is dangerous. It’s the kind of thing that drives half-brained politicians to hold up snowballs and claim that climate change is a myth. It also undermines actual science because people read it, then a week later, the same site publishes something that says the exact opposite, which leads people to believe that scientists have no idea what they’re doing.

  6. yeah most of the E-press wbsites are run by amateur who lack of journalistic integrity , proffesionnalism and they use sensationnal healdines , or linkbaits to attract people and get succes , sad fact it leads most part of the time to missinformation , because these amateur don’t do the real journalistic job .missinformation is worst than ignorance .

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