A shirtstorm of comet-shaming

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  • 08/21/2022

I really hope there aren't any advanced extraterrestrial species checking us out for membership in galactic civilization following the successful Rosetta Project comet intercept, because if they get a load of the neurotic Internet flash mob that drove one of the scientists to tears and a public apology for his supposedly outrageous choice of shirt, the aliens will boogie for the nearest wormhole and fence off our Solar System as an intellectual toxic waste dump.  On behalf of my species, I beg you, star-farers: do not judge us by the actions of online nincompoops with too much time on their hands.

This is British scientist Matt Taylor, happily celebrating the achievement of a lifetime in the shirt that got him devoured by social-justice piranha:


As you can see, Taylor is an eccentric soul who likes body art and loud shirts covered with cartoon characters.  This particular batch of cartoon characters are women dressed in somewhat provocative clothing.  Naturally the Furies descended upon Taylor and tore him to shreds for being a sexist goon and objectifying women.  The UK Daily Mail surveys the carnage:

The British scientist on the Rosetta Project who came under fire over wearing a shirt with semi-dressed cartoons while appearing on TV after the Philae landing, has apologised.

Dr Matt Taylor spoke about the European Space Agency's mission to land a robot on a comet for the first time in history, while dressed in a colourful bowling shirt featuring scantily clad women.

Soon afterwards, #shirtgate and slightly more humorous #shirtstorm, began trending on Twitter in response to the London-born father-of-two.

Today, during a Rosetta project briefing on the European Space Agency's YouTube channel, a visibly upset Dr Taylor addressed the internet furore and said sorry.

'I made a big mistake,' the 40-year-old, who has a PhD in space plasma physics from Imperial College London said.

'And I have offended many people. I'm very sorry about this.'

If you're "offended" by this guy's shirt, you need to be offended, frequently, until your emotional core develops a healthy layer of scar tissue, and you can finally enter society as someone our grandparents would have judged to be "adult."  Granted that our progenitors would probably have chastised Taylor for wearing anything but the most sober shirt-and-tie apparel at such a significant moment - the gentlemen on the other end of that famous "Houston, we have a problem" distress call were not wearing Hawaiian shirts and football jerseys - but lashing Taylor into tears of shame because he violated social-justice taboos is ridiculous.

According to the Daily Mail, "several commentators claimed that Dr. Taylor's choice of shirt was sexist and particularly inappropriate as science is a field long dominated by men."  Maybe that's because the men who dominate the field of science don't devolve into quivering masses of outrage over the socio-political implications of somebody's shirt.  If your appetite for science is shut down because one of the men who landed a probe on a comet was wearing a shirt that depicted cartoon girls wearing bikinis and little black dresses, your hunger for knowledge wasn't that deep to begin with.

If anything, based upon his comments, Taylor was trying to make science hip and appealing to young people, an effort that might be criticized for its goofiness, but not for his sincerity:

During an interview about the landing, Dr Taylor had branded the comet landing 'the sexiest mission there???s ever been.

'She???s sexy, but I never said she was easy.'

Before the emergence of #shirtgate, Dr Taylor, a father-of-two and the son of a brick layer, praised on Twitter for being 'a proper cool scientist' and 'definitely not boring'.

One Twitter user wrote: 'Dr Matt Taylor is what every scientist should look like - rad shirt, sleeve tattoos. Rad,' while another said: 'Matt Taylor causing thousands of people to choke on their cornflakes this morning.'

And then some of them made Taylor choke on his shirt.

We get these Internet mob actions so frequently, over such trivial affairs, because they're easy.  In an early day, staging a demonstration, or even writing a letter of protest, would have taken some effort, especially if the outcry was loud enough to be noticed  by major media.  Now it's the easiest thing in the world to join a mob by popping off a Tweet with the right hashtag.  The cost of participation is nil, while the satisfaction gained from destroying someone's career or forcing a tearful apology from them is considerable.

No resource has ever been less expensive to produce than Internet bile.  Forgive me, feminist legions, if I find the fate of Yazidi girls at the hands of ISIS a far more important War on Women than anything happening on Matt Taylor's shirt.  You're not doing the real cause of women's rights any favors by allowing yourselves to be distracted into trivial pursuits, high-fiving each other because you made a science nerd cry.  But this is all about low-effort, high-reward entertainment, isn't it?  As we've seen from the insipid online campaign against the slavers of Boko Haram, it's not much fun throwing hashtags of shame at savages who couldn't care less about social media campaigns.  (By the way, for any social-justice warriors keeping score out there, Boko Haram just overran the village it kidnapped those girls from.  But who cares, right?  You guys are all over the cheesecake shirt menace.)

It's a shame that the greatest medium for the exchange of ideas ever created would devolve into a system for imposing ideological conformity, but maybe it was inevitable.  Imposing conformity is fun.  The Internet made it cheap fun.  Let me know when politically-correct outrage manages to rescue an actual woman from the hands of a real monster, or lands a spaceship on a comet.