The hilarious story behind #reviewforscience

This week, scientists on Twitter have been sharing their odd uses for everyday items in their experiments using the #reviewforscience hashtag. Here’s the story of how this hashtag stemmed from a single review of a tea strainer.

It was a Sunday night and I was shopping for a tea strainer online. Productive use of an evening, I know. After a quick search, I found myself on the page of the number one best-selling tea strainer on Amazon. Superior to all other tea strainers.

Hastily, I scrolled down to the reviews. I mean, if I was going to spend my student dollar, I wanted to know for sure that this tea strainer was good quality. I came across a 4-star review by a guy called John Birch, one that began: “to be honest, these were not being used to strain tea, but in a zoology experiment involving ants.”

John had allegedly used the tea strainer to translocate ants into a different colony, to see what the response might be from the two groups. To me, this was hilarious. I thought it a wonderful example of British humour that John wrote “to be honest…” at the start of his review just because he used an object for something other than it’s intended purpose. Plus, the use was zoological, and it was an innovative idea. So, I posted the review on Twitter, thinking that perhaps one or two other people might enjoy it.

One or two people. Not twenty-three thousand.

The tweet got shared and completely blew up overnight, much to my surprise.

In the midst of the madness, Dani Rabaiotti (of #DoesItFart? fame) had the fantastic idea of inviting other scientists to share their use of everyday objects in the name of science, via a hashtag, #reviewforscience .

The response to this was huge! Hundreds of scientists shared their scientific uses for everyday items, and it was brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the various objects that people use to weigh birds in e.g. pillowcase for gull, jug for goose, film cannisters for small birds. 

Here are four of my favourite reviews:

The best thing about #reviewforscience, in my opinion, is that it shows scientists are creative, innovative and also hilarious! Like, you know, real people. A big part of science communication is about breaking stereotypes of what a scientist should be like, and so I was really pleased that many people who wouldn’t normally be involved in science engaged with the tag. Also, hashtags like this are great for the community of scientists on Twitter to engage with each other – I found many new cool people to follow from this tag!

Several news and science websites picked up the story. #Reviewforscience was covered by The Washington Post, Gizmodo, Australian Geographic, BuzzFeed, IFL Science, Live Science, Teen Vogue, was mentioned on BBC Radio 4 and ABC Canberra Radio, and in Science Magazine (vol 359, issue 6376). In particular, the WaPo article was shared by astrophysicist Katie Mack, TheBrainScoop’s Emily Graslie and science journalist ED YONG, who said that he wished he could have covered the story (eep!).

Just when I thought this week couldn’t get any crazier, THEE ACTUAL John Birch, original writer of the Amazon review, got in touch via Twitter. He revealed it was actually his son Graham, a masters student at the University of Exeter, who used the tea strainers for his ant experiments. It turns out that John writes witty reviews on Amazon Graham’s behalf, as he’s in a competition with his colleague to see who can become the most highly rated reviewer on Amazon. I think right now he is winning.

Thankfully, John and son Graham were good sports about the whole thing. Graham posted a response on Amazon to questions about the review (basically: “WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE ANTS?”), and The University of Exeter has since published a news article on their website. John has been asking people on Twitter to please rate his review as “useful” so that he could get a one-up on his colleague.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you browse the #reviewforscience tag on Twitter. At the very least, you’ll chuckle. At best, you’ll get some good ideas for equipment to use during experiments in the future!

Thank you to everyone who participated and shared their equipment reviews, and I hope you enjoyed the tag as much as I did! Special thanks go to Dani for coming up with the #reviewforscience tag, and of course John, for being hilarious.

And now, it is time for me to actually buy the tea strainer…

 

 

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