Compound Eye

Compound Eye

The many facets of science photography

Facebook's "I F*cking Love Science" does not f*cking love artists


Elise Andrew runs the most popular Science page on facebook. I know so, because I see her content reshared dozens of times daily in my news feed. Well, it's not really her content, but I'll get back to that in a minute. The point is, I F*cking Love Science is big. By posting photos, cartoons, news snippets and other science-related tidbits gathered off the internet, it has gathered nearly 5 million followers.

The page's success is not owed only to a steady stream of posts. Andrew herself is bright & witty, and her feed is not just pro-science but critically so. By fact-checking, enforcing a consistent message, and purging activist pseudoscience, she has deservedly become something of an outreach hero.

The strong points of IFLS are not the subject of this post, however. This is a science photography blog, and in areas related to science imagery Elise Andrew really f*cking pisses me off.

After finding one of my photographs posted to IFLS yesterday without permission, I surveyed the most recent 100 images in the IFLS stream and tallied the percentage of images that were credited (26%), uncredited but with the linked site giving a credit (15% - hint: still not legal), and not credited at all (59%). Most of the material on I F*cking Love Science is pirated.

Consider this example, one of the 59 images I tallied without credit:

The spaceman is a t-shirt design by Katie Campbell and is called "Never Date an Astronaut." The source is not acknowledged, like most of IFLS's art. If Andrew did not receive permission from Katie Campbell, then the posting violates both Campbell's copyright and facebook's terms of service.

What's the issue? Andrew has taken another t-shirt designer's work, stripped of without attribution, and is using it to drive traffic on the IFLS page where it helps sell her own t-shirts. That's cheeky.

Her own t-shirts? Yes.

The page may have started as a hobby, but Andrew now runs IFLS as a commercial venture. In addition to selling merchandise, Andrew also has a television show in the works. She is building a career from IFLS.

Yet the people who actually made the content that drives Andrew's ascendant business- the professional scientific illustrators, the photographers, the cartoonists, the graphic designers- aren't given anything in return. They aren't paid. They aren't acknowledged. They aren't even asked.

The sad bit is, the creative community and IFLS are perched very near the brink of a mutually beneficial relationship. Apart from the intellectual property violations, and perhaps apart from a few foibles related to public profanity and whatever's good for the children these days, most scientific creatives are philosophically aligned with what Andrew is doing and they'd benefit from the exposure, if done right. Likewise, IFLS could generate even better content with a few well-placed alliances with artists.

This giant leap for IFLS-kind needs only one small step from IFLS. Perhaps a few extra minutes to contact the creators beforehand so as to remain within the boundaries of facebook's terms, or maybe IFLS could establish a small artists' fund to help the community return something for the favor of great science art.

Anway, this rant has gone on long enough. Here's hoping Elise Andrew uses her newfound fame and coming fortune for good, not just for the public image of science, but to give back to the photography and art communities who made her possible. I hope it's not too f*cking much to ask.

*update: The IFLS post with Katie Campbell's "Never Date an Astronaut" has been updated with a credit.

*update 2 (4/25): Progress! All new posts at IFLS appear to have image credits.

*update 3 (11/3/2013): IFLS has lapsed back into their earlier habit of crediting at whim.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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