The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Scientist apologizes for his sexist shirt, but the Internet still wants women to shut up and die

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.

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:

But one thing is for sure:

Taylor's apology didn't stop the Internet rage machine on the other side of the argument.

Well, I don't know. Maybe it'll slow it down? Here's a sampling from before the briefing.

No we don't. Shut the f--- up about a stupid shirt and let's talk landing probes on comets.

No, you need to grow up and stop looking for fly s--- in pepper.

her article gave me ebola. This is just attacking men at this point so f--- that. Just live in peace.

b----, are you out of your fn mind? We landed on a comet. Can you set your petty bullshit aside?

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.

Don't worry about me though, I think I've been a real champ about it.

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.