Sewing Seeds of Skepticism: Science Communication on a Fashion Blog
Hi! My name is Annika and I am an aspiring neuroscientist and a skeptic.
Hi! My name is Annika and I am a fashion blogger.
If you had asked me at the start of last year to draw you a Venn diagram of fashion bloggers who are also scientists, it probably would have gone down something like this::
But last year I took the plunge and “came out”, so to speak, to the 1000+ people who read my fashion blog each day, as a scientist. In fact, I re-introduced myself to my readers as someone who is very deeply and enthusiastically interested in all things science. At the same time, I also started introducing (in small amounts at first) basic scientific concepts and scientific discoveries alongside all my fashion posts.
At first I was terrified that I’d scare away all my readers. Or – best case scenario – they would mostly just ignore it. It is, after all, a world where you’re unlikely to ever come across science. (In fact, it is a place where you’re much more likely to stumble across natural remedies for nice hair and skin, detoxes, diets, naturopathy, anti-medical establishment sentiments, astrology and various other superstitions.) So my approach was to introduce science slowly. Not to dumb it down, just to try and explain things simply and effectively, and to also often try to relate it to fashion in some way. For example, my first science post featured me wearing a bright pink dress and placing it alongside a Minute Physics video that explains that there is no pink light on the visible spectrum.
So can the two worlds really interact, or was this a deluded dream that never went anywhere? (I guess you probably know the answer or I probably wouldn’t have been asked to write this guest post. That or the Young Australian Skeptics are sadists who like to upset their readers.)
One amazing thing that happened after introducing science to my blog was that I discovered a whole community of fashion bloggers who are also secretly scientists. I’ve met a lingerie blogger who is an astrophysicist, and we have chats about quantum physics. I’ve met a burlesque dancer (Petra Dish is her stage name) who is also a science communicator. I’ve met biochemists who are nail artists, geneticists who own vintage boutiques, and pharmacists who dye their hair pastel pink.
On the other hand, I’ve been able to effectively reach out to a whole spectrum of people who never would have otherwise been exposed to science. I have been contacted by various people who found science uninteresting or irrelevant in school, who now find science fascinating and hang out for the science parts of my posts. One of the best feelings is having young women (plural!) email me to tell me they now want to choose science subjects at school/major in science at university because of the science stories they have read on my blog. Other people now feel like going into science is an option for them because I’ve dismantled their notions of scientists as being an uninteresting, uncreative and totally unfashionable bunch of people.
Very recently, I’ve also tried to introduce a little bit of skepticism to my blog. This kind of approach may be useful for anyone trying to introduce skepticism to an audience who have perhaps never come across it before. Sometimes as a skeptic, you just want everyone around you to understand right away that Bigfoot doesn’t exist/ghosts aren’t real/psychics are con people/homeopathy is nonsense, but (and I know from experience) if you try to explain this all at once to your friends and family, you do tend to come off as a crazy cynic. And introducing skepticism to people you don’t know — from around the world, from totally different cultures, who have come to your blog expecting fashion — is on a whole other level. I really didn’t want to insult anybody’s ego too greatly by overturning some deeply-held beliefs, so that ruled out most of the things that skeptics talk about. I’m treading very lightly at the moment. My aim was to just introduce the idea that you can think critically about received wisdom, and that you shouldn’t just believe everything you hear. The post consisted of “science myths”, which had me debunking the Corolis effect, the myth that you only use 10% of your brain (a favourite of psychics to justify their “powers”, but I let people research that one further only if they wanted to) and the myth that you swallow 8 spiders per year.
I’m not 100% sure where I’m going to take it from here, but I will continue placing science and a sprinkling of skepticism alongside my fashion posts, in the hope that it’ll spark the interest of at least a couple more people who would otherwise not actively seek out science. And I’ll continue enjoying the fact that I can have a discussion about the Pauli Exclusion Principle right in the middle of an in-depth analysis about the Bambi skirt I’m wearing.
[All images courtesy of Annika Victoria and The Pineneedle Collective]