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RAEL’S COMMENT: I want a shirt like that!


Rosetta stoning: Social media’s secular Puritans are putting Western civilization on trial

Published time: November 22, 2014 23:14 
Matt Taylor (Image from

Matt Taylor (Image from

It was easy enough to defend Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor from the venomous enforcers of social mores, but even when they lose, the guardians and their enablers are poisoning the public sphere, making people jittery, and damaging Western societies.

The Twitter outcry over Taylor’s Hawaiian shirt was simultaneously the reductio ad absurdum and the generic template for a modern-day media scandal.

For those few innocent enough to have followed only the scientific progress of Rosetta, the first space probe to ever land on a comet last week, here is a quick recap.

During a broadcast in the hours before it made its descent onto the fast-moving space rock, Rosetta’s project scientist Matt Taylor appeared on a web broadcast wearing a shirt, decorated with garish comic-book depictions of nubile, but not naked, women.

This immediately sparked an outpouring of outrage on social media – with the requisite catchy hashtag #Shirtstorm – branding Taylor the perpetrator of a range of offenses, from vanilla misogyny, to being exactly the type of man that discourages young girls from choosing a career in science.

Two days later, a contrite (and plainly dressed) Taylor choked up while spontaneously apologizing to the world in front of evidently mortified and sympathetic colleagues.

Ink was spilled to both defend and excoriate the British scientist, empty threats and insults were flung on Twitter, but within days the watchtower of denunciation retrained its sights on a new target (US comedian Bill Cosby, as it happened to be) and nothing was left but an aftertaste.

But that aftertaste might be more of a toxic residue.

Even if Taylor scales even greater heights of scientific achievement, or maybe, particularly if he does, he will now have the incident associated with him for the rest of his life. Any public move he makes will be from a position where he first has to explain that he is not a misogynist, though there is no evidence to say he was. Did this make him a better person, benefit his life, or society at large?

His self-professed feminist accusers, and the liberal-minded defenders got a chance to air their views in front of a sizeable audience. Working themselves up into a rhetorical lather may have been satisfying, though the debate was so cartoonish, the gap in perception so gaping, that it seems unlikely that a significant percentage of neutrals were convinced by the torrent of tweets to change their mind.

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