Scientists Fall For Clickbait Too, According To Scientists


Clickbait is everywhere, despite Facebook’s best attempts to kill it. Positively framed, teasing titles naturally appeal to human beings. And a scientist is now sending up his entire field, rather hilariously, for being just as clickbaity and gullible as the rest of us.

To be fair, Gwilym Lockwood of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics isn’t exactly taking the high-minded tone most academic papers have. His first citation is Jacobellis V. Ohio, an obscenity ruling, which you don’t usually find in scientific articles. But once he digs into the data, studying the titles of a major psychology journal, there are some pretty interesting points, not the least of which is that his fellow academics seem to love clickbait. He lays out just why clickbait works, and then, hilariously, applies it to two articles of his very obscure field, iconicity in Japanese ideophones. You won’t believe what happens next: The clickbait title he uses gets far, far more attention.

Underneath the puckish humor, though, is a larger point. Lockwood notes what appears to be driving this is the acceptance of “altmetrics,” measuring the success of an article based not on fellow academics citing it, which can take years, but on Facebook likes, media attention, and other methods of attention that pile up quickly, especially around attention-getting research. That can become a serious problem, as more often than not, journalists don’t bother reading the articles they’re covering, and clickbait just discourages that more. Some sites won’t even link through to the study. So while it’s funny that highly-trained, rigorously-skeptical academics fall for the same cheap tricks as the rest of us, this study ultimately reminds us to click through and read the whole thing.

(Via The Winnower)