Is humour good in popular science articles?


Studies suggest that the use of humour in science communication “has the potential to make science more appealing”, although it might also “discourage the audience from taking action” or be misinterpreted as “what may please one audience might alienate another.”

Driven by the curiosity of finding out more about how people react to humorous sentences when reading about controversial science issues, Bruno Pinto (researcher on marine science communication at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon) and Hauke Riesch (lecturer in sociology in the department of Social Sciences, Media and Communications at Brunel University London) have conducted a study focused on testing the perceptions of audiences to positive and non-aggressive humour in two popular articles.

The researchers have produced two articles, both published on-line at a Portuguese environmental site, focused on the themes of the effects of climate change on biodiversity and the over-exploitation of species. A total of 159 readers of these articles answered to an on-line survey.

As Pinto and Riesch explain in their paper Are audiences receptive to humour in popular science articles? An exploratory study using articles on environmental issues, just published on JCOM, the articles had one to two humorous sentences inserted either at the beginning or at the end of each of their six paragraphs, thus integrating it with serious information.

Among other things, outcomes of the analysis of data collected through the readers’ survey confirm “the views of previous authors that the use of humour in science communication implies risks, thus creating the possibility of polarizing the opinions of readers”.