Matt Taylor, who's a great scientist and seems to also be a pretty cool dude, gave a teary, heartfelt apology for his choice of attire on the day of Rosetta's probe landing.
"I made a big mistake, and I offended many people," Taylor said at Friday's media briefing, his voice trembling, "and I'm very sorry about this."
With that, the briefing moved onto the science (as it should -- Philae's days are numbered, and we want to find out as much as we can from the little probe that could). Taylor seemed to have trouble speaking for a few minutes, but perked up by the end. Many praised his apology on Twitter, and whether or not he was aware of that response, it seemed to have taken a weight off his shoulders.
— Thomas Levenson (@TomLevenson) November 14, 2014
.@mggtTaylor’s apology seems heartfelt and genuine, and he’s still the amazing scientist he was before wearing the wrong shirt
— Rachel Feltman (@RachelFeltman) November 14, 2014
Because none of the people calling out Taylor's attire wanted him blacklisted from science, or punished, or to run into a corner and cry. The coolest people in the world (like the ones who land probes on comets) should also be held to the highest standards -- they're the ones that the children of the world are watching for cues.
And for young women in the world, a shirt covered in hyper-sexualized women does not send a good message, conscious or otherwise.
Of course, I personally hope that one day (when he's a little less busy) Taylor will say a bit more on the subject, and show that he understands why the shirt wasn't okay. Science is not a welcoming place for women, even today, and the only people who can truly make it more welcoming are the men who run the show. If a stellar scientist walks into work -- and then says hello to the whole world -- wearing a sexist shirt, what kind of message are we sending to future scientists?
And some still have their doubts in regards to Taylor's understanding of the issue:
— Pröf-like Substance (@ProfLikeSubst) November 14, 2014
But one thing is for sure:
Taylor's apology didn't stop the Internet rage machine on the other side of the argument.
@RachelFeltman When women stop looking for any reason to get offended then we can all get along sensibly
— Percy (@smashedrat) November 14, 2014
@RachelFeltman so at this point feminists care more about what shirts people's where, than major scientific advancements. I applaud you.
— Chuka The Kid (@ChukaTheKid) November 14, 2014
— Thiago Oliveira (@guruthesla) November 14, 2014
Well, I don't know. Maybe it'll slow it down? Here's a sampling from before the briefing.
— AlisonandI (@AlisonandI) November 14, 2014
— The Bandog (@njweber83) November 14, 2014
— Richard Johnson (@rjizzle1220) November 14, 2014
But hey, I didn't get any death threats -- which makes me luckier than some who objected to Taylor's choice of attire.
But not luckier than men who complained, because the Internet is actually even less welcoming to women than science is.
— Matthew R. Francis (@DrMRFrancis) November 14, 2014
Don't worry about me though, I think I've been a real champ about it.
— Rachel Feltman (@RachelFeltman) November 13, 2014
My take: As usual, the thoughtlessness of one man and the communications department who could have stopped him are nothing compared to the ridiculous backlash against those who complained about the sexism. Hopefully this will be one of many, many incidents that leads to constructive discourse among science, engineering, technology and mathematics professionals. But I'm not surprised that Twitter isn't ready to join in on that chat without making things terribly ugly along the way.