The big boob persuasion: does it work for science, too?

Could using naked boobs help attract people’s attention to science? The Tumblr blog Boobs for Science has just proved it’s no joke. The blog requires volunteers to send photos of themselves naked or wearing underwear, together with a sign featuring a scientific statement of their choice. Some pictures are then published with a concise scientific explanation on the chosen topic.

The initiative was born in Italy, where the parent blog Tette per la Scienza has already made a splash and the Facebook page has gathered more than 20,000 fans since late October 2014.

Following a few complaints of sexism, the blog has also started to welcome photos of male models.

Credit Boobs for Science

It’s easy to get attention with naked bodies on the internet, but the blog is not just another click bait: its goal is actually to foster discussion about scientific topics.

So, does it actually work to engage people in science?

I spoke on the phone with Lara Tait, a 30-years old web marketer with a background in paleoanthropology. She created the blog together with her boyfriend from Milan, Italy. Lara kindly agreed to answer my questions. Below is an edited version of our interview:

According to Tait, people are not just interested in the saucy pictures. Apparently, she is getting much more feedback on the scientific messages than on the anatomy of the models.

When I looked at the Italian Facebook page--an English version has just been opened--the majority of discussions where indeed about scientific topics. And I had a hard time finding someone drooling over the nude photos. It may simply depend on careful filtering operated by Tait, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a sign that the strategy works for a number of people.

Will it work in the long run?

Boobs for Science is doing quite well in the short term. However, science communication needs a long-term vision, and photos of naked or semi-naked bodies won’t work forever as an eye-catcher.

How long will it take before even boobs will become a bore for the audience? Tait is confident about the future of her blog: she believes that if people will get bored by nudes, well, they will read the science. I am not so optimistic about it. In the long term, people may look elsewhere for funny or exciting new stuff and the site may just lose audience.

The bottom line

Whatever the future will bring, I believe the blog has done a good job engaging people into the discussion. The project has indeed assembled a bunch of contributors of both sexes with a genuine interest in science.

The approach is somewhat naïve (e.g. regarding the choice of topics) and many would find it inappropriate for the composed world of science. But it seems to work, at least in the short term. You would be amazed to see how many bigger–read: expensive–initiatives are failing to reach a reasonable amount of public – including a few EU-sponsored projects that I have seen in my line of work. If only for this reason, Boobs for Science has my sympathy. And it doesn’t cost a euro to the taxpayer.

Featured image credit: Boobs for Science

Sergio Pistoi

Visit his website at Greedy Brain
Sergio is an experienced science writer and book author with a PhD in molecular biology. He also teaches and investigates new models and strategies for science communication and outreach. His book “DNA Meets Facebook” won the Galileo Literary Award in 2013 in Italy. His credits include Scientific American, Reuters, the New Scientist, Nature and many Italian publications. He can still be found travelling on an unconventional DNA roadshow.
Sergio Pistoi

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3 thoughts on “The big boob persuasion: does it work for science, too?”

  1. If this boob effect is true, we should get comments on this article, shouldn’t we? Form vs. content! Berlusconi vs. Pasolini! Sense of humour vs psychorigidity! Stark morality of science vs the unbearable lightness of being! Come on!
    For my part, I feel divided in my deepest being between laughing and crying! Docteur Freud, are you here? At the same time, the open letter “They have chosen ignorance” did not get yet 20 000 signatures! Our campaign was not in the most attractive form, wasn´t it?

    1. Dear Gilles,
      In my line of work as a communicator, I have seen, applied and reported many different strategies for dissemination, and this is just one of them. So I am not writing here to be an advocate of the boob persuasion in science. Nobody in their right minds would suggest that nudity would be the best way to disseminate science in most instances.

      But the fact that nudity could elicit a feedback about science (comments on their facebook page are mostly about science, and not about the models’s boobs) is interesting. They made people actually discuss about scientific topics. If Berlusconi had ever used boobs to convey Pasolini’s critical view about the TV, the story of the media would have been different from now (he didn’t :-)). In his movies, Pasolini himself made an extensive use of nudity to convey very profound messages.

      My personal (and technical) view is that juxtaposing “form vs. content” as you suggest may have a philosophical ground but does not make much sense in communication. Any communication strategy takes into account form and content at the same time.

      Regarding the campaign “against ignorance” I have no idea about which strategy was employed, the target and the precise goal, so I am unable to comment in detail. I appreciate your irony but I don’t think that your campaign and boobs for science are really comparable, and of course nobody is suggesting that you should use nudity to reach your goal. It’s two different initiatives requiring different strategies. An expert in communication knows how to make a very attractive campaign without recurring to nude, kittens or similar stuff. Is your campaign attractive to your target? I don’t know but there are ways to measure that. I would say, in general, that nobody launching a public campaign expects to be successful without a solid communication strategy behind, and a realistic way to monitor the results.