A Comet Landing, and a Misplaced Media Firestorm
This post was originally published as part of the Nov. 14 weekly linkwrap, but has gotten long enough to warrant its own place here.
We landed on a comet!
XKCD live-comic'd the event, and if you missed that, you can view the unofficial replay compiled at xkcd1446.org. Current status, xkcd's depiction notwithstanding: ESA: "Our Lander's Asleep" (ESA blog).
We, the interested public, now turn to one of the most crucial questions surrounding the historic landing: What was astrophysicist Matt Taylor wearing when Philae landed?
No, wait. That's nowhere on the list of crucial questions. Those are things like:
Maybe it's too early to say how the data are comparing to those from the Rosetta orbiter, but could you give us an overview with how the [Philae] lander data are going to compare with those we've been able to collect from the orbiter?
(If you didn't watch the video, Taylor's answer to Emily Baldwin's question--the one I quoted above--is: "Guys, the shirt I wore this week...I made a big mistake, and offended many people, and I'm very sorry about this." He then takes a few moments to collect himself, obviously trying not to cry; a friend pats him on his back.)
Oh, come on, people! Are we tuning to watch history being made or a media circus about the irony-soaked fashion choices of geeks "covered shoulder-to-ankle in garish tattoos, [sporting] the requisite ironic hipster beard[,] and [holding] international press conferences in surf shorts, purple socks and skater shoes." (thanks, Ricochet!)
The shirt, for those of you with curiosities now piqued, is pictured in this video, right after the part where we as a human race land a mobile science lab on a two-mile-wide iceball 300 million miles away:
Right so. Garish; gaudy; not the sort of thing I'd wear to lab meetings. (But then again, I don't work at the CEA, and I can't perform a soft landing on a comet somewhere outside the asteroid belt, so I won't snipe.) Very clearly an homage to the trashy sci-fi novels this generation of scientists read growing up. And not half as demeaning to women in STEM as some D-list blogger [I'm not going to give em the dignity of a link here] opining on how many years all women in STEM have been set back by a trashy shirt some guy chose to wear in irony on his big day. (I really hope I'm not presuming too much to suppose that when Matt gets dressed in the morning, he does so ironically. c.f. hipster beard, tatoos, etc.)
I'm furious. This is simply unacceptable. It is not ok to let the bullies win. I've spent years telling my daughters that it's ok to be different, to not dress like every other girl in school. It's ok for them to be geeks, to love science, to be in band, to not do what all the cool kids think they ought to do. And now, this comes along and suddenly all the work I have done is set back by the prissy mean girls who can’t stand that geeks are Odds.
My initial comment on this stands. "Arguing that this is why women don’t go into science is beyond ludicrous. Based on my observations at school, most women don't go into science because it would mess up their hair and chip their nails, and they went to school where they passed because they were girls, and science is HARD, so they switch to journalism. And the few, the proud, the insanely weird like all the others we know and love in the field, we keep going because Science is cool, and that's where the boys are (and who wants to hang out with a bunch of girls who are only interested in critiquing your shirt?)." (...)
...how's that for P. un-C.?
And please, liberal media. We support women in STEM by telling the stories of influential women in STEM (Lovelace, Hopper, Noether [in a post coming in March],...); we support women in STEM by talking about the actual issues that middle- and high- school girls face in their science, math, and compsci classrooms, in the cafeteria, in their afterschool clubs, and when they do tune into the media cycle. We support women in STEM by making conscious efforts to normalize gender parity when we present ourselves as role models to young students.
We do not support women in STEM by pillorying unfortunate fashion decisions. What is this, 2004?