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Do you know Elise Andrew? Columbia Journalism Review interviews the creator of I F-ing Love Science...

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I never knew the story of the IFLS woman before... Wow!

In retrospect, I could easily have ignored the picture that appeared on my Facebook feed on a lazy Sunday two years ago, labeled simply “Sand under a 250x magnification.” Cheesy, I thought, glancing at the post, not noticing until my nose grazed the monitor that I’d leaned in closer to look. The grains looked like tiny manmade sculptures, ceramic bulbs of fuchsia, orange, and beige. The gee-whiz appeal of the image was sort of embarrassing, but the result was unquestionably beautiful—and the 5,000-plus people who debated its authenticity in the comments section, calling it, variously, “bullshit,” “impossible,” and “stunning, just stunning,” seemed to agree. In total, 102,832 people “liked” the image, which had been shared by a six-month-old Facebook page with an unforgettable name: “I Fucking Love Science,” or IFLS.

In its early days, the page focused on science-themed memes and jokes culled from around the Web: A photo of the sliced-apart central and peripheral nervous systems, a tangle of stringy sinew accompanied by a goofy joke—“So, it turns out that deep down we’re all just flying spaghetti monsters”; an image of the sun as an imperceptible dot in a galaxy, labeled “Just one of billions.”

Soon, it began including newsier finds, like the recurring listicle “This Week In Science,” which recounts fantastic scientific achievements—the discovery of an enzyme that could produce hangover-free beer, for instance, or a study showing that 14 adults had been “functionally cured of HIV.” The page has never suffered creationists, climate-change deniers, or their ilk. In early August, after a wave of scare stories about the resurgence of the Ebola virus, IFLS linked to a breakdown of how the virus works and an estimation of the slim likelihood of its spread through the United States with a curt note: “Seriously guys, enough with the fear mongering.”

Though the page already had over a million followers when that grain of sand caught my eye, I hadn’t heard of it and knew nothing of its creator. What I did know is that writing effectively about science is tough, requiring reporters to turn complicated papers into cautious prose that’s often dry. Science writing for a mass audience seemed almost impossible. That fall, I had started a graduate science-writing program that began with a two-week “boot camp” in physics. While my classmates grew excited as we worked our way through quantum mechanics, my boredom with the dense formulas made me feel like a fraud. I wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake. Then, as if on cue, IFLS began occupying my Facebook feed. The posts were captivating. IFLS declared, with no hint of irony, that science was amazing—and in desperate need of a digital-age evangelist to spread the word.

Elise Andrew was hardly who I expected that evangelist to be: a 22-year-old college student from suburban England, armed with a nearly completed degree in biology and no experience in journalism, who began a Facebook page to share her passion for science. From that simple premise—one that must be repeated dozens of times each day on Facebook—has come a phenomenon unlike anything the media world has seen.

Since it launched in March 2012, IFLS has attracted more than 17.9 million Facebook followers—more than Popular Science (2.7 million), Discover (2.7 million), Scientific American (1.9 million), and The New York Times (8 million) combined. Its following is larger than those of the world’s two most prominent science communicators: Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson (1.8 million) and Bill Nye The Science Guy (3.2 million), both of whom are fans of Andrew’s page. Her empire has since expanded to include a website,, which has a staff and publishes news stories, and a television show slated to start on the Science Channel this fall.

‘[T]hey can’t stand the idea of IFLS being run by a person,’ one fan tweeted when controversy erupted over Andrew’s identity. ‘You’re an idea, like Batman. Or Batgirl.’

IFLS website:

The connection between IFLS and io9:

“It was different from your typical I’m-here-to-learn-about-science kind of thing,” says Annalee Newitz, who emceed the event. Newitz, a science journalist who’s written three books and contributes to publications like Wired and The Atlantic, first encountered Andrew when her Facebook page linked to an old article on io9, the science site Newitz runs for the Gawker network. She was excited about IFLS—“ ‘fuck’ is one of my favorite words”—and messaged Andrew on Facebook. A digital friendship ensued.

She's bored with sexism and haters:

Andrew’s fame seemed to emerge gradually, even though it happened quickly. Partly this is due to the fact that, in addition to her avoidance of the fame apparatus, in the beginning no one knew who was behind IFLS, which appeared on the internet prefaced only by an Isaac Asimov quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny. . . .’ ” Rumors spread that deGrasse Tyson was involved.

The page’s raw, often prickly posts lack the polish of a celebrity production—a casual, no-bullshit approach that made peers of her readers and energized their comments. A month after launch, Andrew responded to criticism of the profanity in the page’s name in typically blunt fashion: “No, our name will never change. Ever. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t. But that’s irrelevant, because we don’t.” Her frequent rants followed suit: “Homeopathy, creationism, astrology etc etc are all bullshit,” reads one.

Then, in March 2013, Andrew posted her new personal Twitter account to the IFLS page, displaying a profile photo of a pert young woman with close-cropped red hair. The revelation that the force behind IFLS was someone so young, so pretty—so female—shocked thousands of the page’s followers, who commented under the image: “Dude, you’re a chick? Wtf.” “Wait . . .you’re a chick? And you’re hot?! lol.” The backlash created a media circus; Andrew felt compelled to appear on cbs, and gave a quote to The Independent. Typically, though, she saved her full-throated response for her Twitter account: “EVERY COMMENT on that thread is about how shocking it is that I’m a woman! Is this really 2013?” When The GuardianNational Geographic, and Scientific American wrote about the controversy, Andrew didn’t comment but tweeted the articles to her followers. Soon, she dropped the subject: “Bored with the whole sexism thing, for the rest of the day I will only be tweeting photos of nudibranches.”

People still hate on her, unfortunately:

IFLS is all about curation:

Still, her huge and passionate audience can fundamentally alter the popularity of anything that Andrew endorses. In July 2012, Katie McKissick, a former high-school teacher who publishes science comics on a personal blog and Facebook page called Beatrice the Biologist, sheepishly sent Andrew a comic called “Amoeba Hugs.” Andrew posted the comic to IFLS, and McKissick’s followers jumped from around 400 to nearly 3,000 in just a few hours. “My heart just stopped,” she recalls. Over the next year, Andrew shared several more of McKissick’s comics, helping build her audience to more than 170,000 followers. “Every time she shares something, I get 10,000 new people,” McKissick says.  

Both the clashes with critics and with journalistic etiquette, as well as the ability to essentially make someone’s career, indicate just how powerful—and polarizing—Andrew has become. “She’s stumbled a lot, but she’s managed to address it,” says Newitz. “There’s a lot of grumbling by traditional journalists saying, ‘Well, I had to learn to report,’ or ‘I didn’t have Facebook,’ or ‘I didn’t just get to say fuck all the time,’ but it’s only natural for there to be jealousy when a new form of journalism emerges.”

Whether IFLS is a new form of journalism—or even journalism at all—is debatable. But the operation began to resemble more traditional outlets with the launch of a website in November 2013. Unlike its creator, two of the site’s four writers have worked in journalism. But Lisa Winter, one of Andrew’s first hires, came from Andrew’s fan base. In spring 2012, Winter, then a senior at Arizona State majoring in cell biology, volunteered to curate content for a companion Facebook page Andrew was starting called “Evolution.” After completing her degree, Winter, who was tied to Arizona by her three kids and her husband’s military career, was struggling to find a lab job when a message popped onto her Facebook page. It was Andrew offering Winter a full-time job generating content for a to-be-launched science website.

While science news tends to focus on what’s “important” or “newsworthy” in a discovery, IFLS finds “what’s cool about it and tries to convey why it’s cool and how we know it’s true,” Winter explains. She and the other writers select topics to write about from a list that Andrew sends out daily.

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