The first day of April is abuzz with mischief in the air. Those aware of the prank tradition look over their shoulders all day, suspicious of everything and everyone—much to the annoyance of those uninterested in the custom. Many scientists partake in this tradition as well, channeling their intelligence into crafting convincing ruses to trick their colleagues, students, or advisors. Such antics often foster lab camaraderie and provide memorable stories for years to come. I fondly remember the times during my graduate studies when some of us fibbed about stolen bicycles and “lost” samples to incite momentary panic in teammates.

However, there is a limit, and innocent jokes can cause harm. In my opinion, any science joke that extends into the public realm is dangerous territory. When it comes to science communication, small lies pose a big risk. Scientists may post fake scientific findings on public platforms with an innocuous intent, expecting the readers to go through a rollercoaster of reactions: the initial shock on reading an outlandish claim and the eventual chuckle as they realize they fell for the ruse. This works in the ideal scenario, but life is hardly ever that simple. Some readers might miss a disclaimer while skimming a write up amidst their busy routines, or some might not check the platform on the following day when the update is issued. They may consequently believe the lie and share it, unintentionally propagating scientific misinformation. 

All year round, scientists and science communicators pride themselves on their abilities to disseminate accurate information to keep the world informed about the latest updates in science. I worry that if those in charge of upholding scientific integrity contribute to the spread of misinformation—even for a day—they could damage the trust and credibility they have built over time. 

It’s time to retire science fibs from the repertoire of April Fools’ Day pranks. If anyone believes the lies beyond the day, the joke is on the jester. Do you agree?

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