Last week, as all of planet Earth was glaring at a suspiciously glossy photo of Kim Kardashian’s unadorned caboose, the entire population of Comet 67P was forced into a humiliating show trial and confession over a cheesecake Hawaiian shirt. But the dark energy of space has now sucked sensitive scolds into a black hole, making Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor a celebrity and his Gunner Girls shirt a sellout hit.
— Rose Eveleth ▷▷ (@roseveleth) November 12, 2014
Atlantic reporter and soi-disant “science nerd” Rose Eveleth laid into Taylor after he did a press appearance wearing a shirt that featured cartoons of scantily clad women brandishing firearms. Such apparel doesn’t just normatize phallocentric gender identities and endanger society by encouraging beautiful half-naked women to fire heavy weapons in our streets. Eveleth asserted that the shirt also makes women feel unsafe in the scientific community.
Though she has a BS from UC-San Diego (in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution), it is not clear how Eveleth, whose MA degree from NYU is in “Science, Health and Environmental Reporting” and who lists “Social Media” and “HTML” among the technical skills in her résumé, can be considered a member of the scientific “community” in the same sense as Taylor, who landed a space probe on a comet 310 million miles from Earth.
Nevertheless, when challenged over her attack on Taylor, Eveleth accused her interlocutors of wanting to keep women out of the lab:
The correct response to women pointing out that something might discourage women in science is not: "stupid women stay out of science!"
— Rose Eveleth ▷▷ (@roseveleth) November 13, 2014
By Friday, pressure over the “casual misogyny” that “demeans 50 percent of the world’s population” had built to the point that Taylor had to make an emotional confession of thought crime. “The shirt I wore this week,” the scientist blubbered. “I made a big mistake and I’ve offended many people and I’m very sorry about this.” Having completed her teachable moment, Eveleth took a bow:
Glad to hear @mggtTaylor recognized his mistake & apologized (live stream isn't working for me) and we can both move along with our lives.
— Rose Eveleth ▷▷ (@roseveleth) November 14, 2014
The chastened Taylor, however, has become a cause in his own right, while the shirt (which was apparently made for Taylor by a friend) has become a collector’s item. With items starting at $45.95, Alohaland.com lists the New Gunner Girls Hawaiian shirt as “SOLD OUT.” Many commenters at the “10,000 Likes for Dr. Matt Taylor” Facebook page report being unable to find the shirt in stock. Elly Prizeman, who made the original shirt, says she is considering ramping up production to meet the new demand but warns customers, “there will be a considerable waiting list!”
The vapidity of the #Shirtstorm controversy has overwhelmed more central questions. The European Space Agency’s achievement in landing the Philae probe, even factoring in the unfortunate malfunctioning of the probe’s anchoring system, is drawing enthusiastic praise from the best scientists in the world. Landing on a comet, in fact, is a feat so impressive that “to ride the comet,” used to be an idiom meaning “to have a spectacular but fiery and short career.” The appropriateness of the heavily tattooed Taylor’s Casual Friday look at the press conference can be legitimately questioned, but the relevant question is: Dude, you’re addressing the peoples of Earth after landing a space probe on a comet; by Grabthar’s Hammer, couldn’t you put on a necktie and a dress shirt?
Update: Even in the glory days of mission control, ties were optional, as can be seen in this undated NASA photo of Eugene F. Kranz; Christopher C. Kraft; and Maxime A. Faget.