New requirement for scientists: You cannot be a sexist pigdog


I live in the city where Richard Feynman did a bunch of amazing things. I’ve chatted with a number of people who knew him. He is fondly remembered as an inspiring teacher, engaging writer and phenomenal scientist. He is also remembered as a creepy guy who frequented a local strip club, and for misogynist quips, even in his popular writing.

In a scientific world that was almost all men, Feynman was able to finesse being a wonderful human being and a lech.

We have a lot more women in STEM now than we did in Feynman’s time, but the situation is still far, far from equitable. Here’s one indicator that we have long way to go:


This is a photo of Matt Taylor. He was watched by millions as he landed his robot on a comet, while wearing an exploitative sexualized shirt.

His shirt says to girls watching from their elementary classrooms: Science is not for you. You shouldn’t be an engineer sending robots into space.

His shirt says to women in STEM: I have no respect for you as a professional. When I look at you, I see a sex object, and not a colleague.

Matt Taylor should be getting into some big trouble right now. But there are bunch of dudes in science out there who feel like giving him a pass. This overt sexism can only become unacceptable when we, as the scientific community, keep the perpetrators accountable. In this instance, if you’re not a part of the solution, then you are genuinely part of the problem by keeping the sexism in science.

This form of pigdoggery doesn’t belong in this century. If we mildly tolerate his behavior, as we tolerated Feynman, we are passing the responsibility for gender equity to the next generation. Taylor is not only guilty of a fashion crime; he is harassing his colleagues by creating a climate antithetical to equity in the workplace. Taylor just failed in his duty as an ambassador for science.

We need to grab this moment to announce to our colleagues and our students and our children that science is the place for them, and this kind of harassment is not tolerated. If you’re in Europe, let the European Space Agency know about how your feel about he represents your government. If you’re in the US, then he is also high profiled as a part of NASA project, and you can contact NASA. Your best bet would be to take to your favorite social media platform. Getting upset isn’t getting caught up in a passing social trend — it’s actually the only reasonable course of action.

36 thoughts on “New requirement for scientists: You cannot be a sexist pigdog

  1. Thanks for writing this Terry. I was so disappointed with this story. I’m all for scientists being seen as ‘normal’ people, tattoos and all but do we need to be so harshly reminded what a sexist place science can be? It has got to change.

  2. Completely agree with you. He declares his underlying attitude to women by wearing a shirt like that on such a high profile occasion, in fact by wearing it at all. Very sad.

  3. Engineers are often brilliant …and completely clueless.
    Thanks for bring this to his -and others’- attention.

  4. One might say that Taylor has taken a giant step forward for science but an enormous step backwards for scientists. Thank you Terry for adding your advocacy to this conversation. And thank you to all folks out there who can see these problems and are advocating for shifts in the dominant paradigm of how we show up as a scientist – i.e. aware of our social conditioning, behaving in a conscious and inclusive manner, and at the very least avoiding outright racism, lechery and sexist pigdoggery.

    • Very well put, Emma. “To be aware of our social condition” is as much a requirement for being a scientists, as scientific training itself. Enough of social and political alienation!

  5. I’ve deleted a number of comments that don’t add to the conversation. Notably, they’re not death threats, which some women have gotten for making the same points I have made.

    All deleted commenters said is something along the lines of “Lighten up, a shirt is just a shirt. It might be ugly but he can wear whatever he wants.” These comments are merely direct contradiction to the main point of the post without adding any additional information or context.

    These commenters think that wearing a shirt with half-naked women is okay, or at least is not an unintended message to women. If that’s all your comment has to stay, don’t bother, because your opinion is (unfortunately) the status quo. To merely contradict me with a contradictory opinion without any support for that opinion isn’t really adding to the conversation.

    You want to express an opinion about this? Find a space where you’re welcome. (It’ll take you one minute to start your own blog on wordpress, or set up a twitter account, or post a ‘public’ post on facebook in which you can tag me.)

    This site isn’t going to host a debate about the merits of misogyny.

  6. Often, I don’t feel that we, as men, take our actions into consideration. For example, if a woman were to wear a shirt with speedo wearing buff men, what kind of outrage would that induce in the male society? (That’s not a rhetorical question.)

    I noticed this yesterday as well, and smacked my head a bit. Sure, guys can be a bit clueless, but this is just blatant disregard.

  7. An interesting question – if a woman were to wear a shirt with buff men on it, I can imagine some being more offended by at and others less. But in either case, that doesn’t really inform us as to how offensive this particular shirt is to women or how negatively it affects both genders.

  8. I think you defeat the purpose of having comments and opinions if you delete anybody who disagrees with your viewpoint. Obviously, you have the right to do anything that you want with this site. A more thoughtful and academic approach would be to engage and challenge those who disagree with you. This modality of thought is another problem in academia in addition to the pervasive sexism as described earlier.

    • Of course the point of comments is for disagreement, and more! You might go through the archives to see for yourself.

      In this particular case, asserting or attempting to argue that the shirt is not sexist lacks any rational merit. And I have yet to see any argument with merit despite seeing far too many of them in the last day.

      It’s quite obvious that those who have disagreed with me haven’t been interested in coming to any mutual understanding. They were here to argue their point with the readers, to convince the readers that I am wrong, but not to actually learn from what I have written, or to specifically address the points I raised. So, if I engaged in an argument or debate with people who disagreed with me, in this case, I merely would be giving yet another platform to the people who tolerate sexism in the sciences and beyond.

      I’m all for airing out differing opinions and ideas. But not when it comes to what constitutes a hostile workplace for women. That’s not up for debate, because anybody wanting to debate it really isn’t looking to convince me, but just to pick a fight and take women down a notch in the meantime. You also might find this to be very intriguing reading:

      The claim that the shirt isn’t sexist in a work context is itself a rhetorical derailing tactic that perpetuates the harm to women in science. If someone needs a lesson in what constitues sexism, there are other venues for that. I’m not going to devalue my site arguing with ignoramuses about whether sexist behavior is sexist. This maintains quality of discourse and lets people who are reasonable that comments are for reason and not to insult women. Until today, I’ve deleted 2 comments over two years.

      • “The claim that the shirt isn’t sexist in a work context is itself a rhetorical derailing tactic that perpetuates the harm to women in science. ”

        I am of the opinion that the above quoted comment by Terry McGlynn BEST summarizes the whole question.

        I can also add that by using that SHIT, the ESA “engineer” did also harm the whole scientific endeavour with such a big public appeal as is the Rosetta Mission.

        Freeman Dyson once wrote (in his nice autobiography, “Disturbing the Universe”): “We are human beings in first place, and scientists in second place”. This is quite true, but I still strive for the image of Scientists as a rational, enlightened group of Women and Men who, by struggling to uncover the secrets of Nature, are themselves making of them the best — not the worst! — of Mankind. Such an idealistic, even naive and foolish picture, I know very well — but at least it is not a bad one.

  9. It’s an awful shirt. It’s awful that he thinks it’s ok to wear it around female colleagues, and awful that he thinks it’s appropriate in a professional capacity, period. In fact I can’t think of single venue where it would be appropriate to wear it other than a porn convention or a strip club. Being the head of scientific operations should require a modicum of professionalism, especially at a PRESS CONFERENCE. He’s not hanging out in his mom’s basement, he’s representing his professional organization for fuck’s sake.

  10. This scientist was not ready for “Prime Time”. The biggest stage of his career and he blew it. Where were his friends? I’m curious to know if prior to going before world media he ask anyone about what he was planning to wear and on the day of the media event if any of his coworkers advise him against going forward with his attire. OK, so there goes a first impression. Yet with the world’s attention still in focus there must still be some opportunity for redemption. What talk shows wouldn’t book this guy? I admit I would stay up late to see him. If he has any showmanship he could use such opportunities to play up to his social ignorance, recant his actions, encourage women in the sciences and even promote space exploration. Yet my guess is that someone capable of such a gaffe lacks the required awareness and character to redeem themself in such a way.

  11. “I’m all for airing out differing opinions and ideas. But…”

    That really says it all.

    anybody wanting to debate it really isn’t looking to convince me, but just to pick a fight and take women down a notch in the meantime

    What a HORRIBLE, disingenuous, false characterization of the people who disagree with you!

    I’m a female astrophysicist. I’m also sexy as hell, and I like being degraded and sexually humiliated. Like pro-sex, lesbian, feminist humanities professor Camille Paglia; I see men’s driven obsessions—including with the female body—as being responsible for their noble achievements.

    Am I allowed to disagree with you? Do I get censored for trying to “take women down a notch?”

    You presumptuous bastard!

    On p.53 of Sexual Personae, Paglia says,

    “In philosophy and mathematics, the only materials are pen and paper. Male conspiracy cannot explain all female failures. I am convinced that, even without restrictions, there still would have been no female Pascal, Milton, or Kant. Genius is not checked by social obstacles: it will overcome. Men’s egotism, so disgusting in the talentless, is the source of their greatness as a sex. . . . Even now, with all vocations open, I marvel at the rarity of the woman driven by artistic or intellectual obsession, that self-mutilating derangement of social relationship which, in its alternate forms of crime and ideation, is the disgrace and glory of the human species. There has been no female Einstein for the same reason there has been no female Marquis de Sade.”

    Matt Taylor is an emotionally immature attention-seeker who is amazed that he gets to be on TV. That’s why, the day before “shirtgate,” he wore short pants to show off his comet tattoos. (And purple socks, and dirty sneakers). He like being the “weirdo” iconoclast, an identity he probably learned in high school hell.

    But he is no more emotionally immature than every other geek; he just has the opportunity to indulge his fragile ego. The fact that he cried on TV when criticized instead of just apologizing with dignity is another example.

    But just as he is immature like all geeks, he is sex-obsessed like all men. Sex is what we all have to be, just like every other animal. Technically, it’s the only reason we exist and our only mandatory purpose. Men’s brains didn’t evolve in a women’s studies class; they evolved on the African veldt. And not only isn’t that Matt’s fault, but there is no “fault” to be had. The idea that men who see women as mating opportunities are “bad” isn’t a fact; it’s an OPINION. My opinion differs from yours, and so do the opinions of all the commenters you so cowardly muted.

    My more extensive criticism of your opinion on “shameful” sexual behavior is in this blog post. I shan’t write it here because this comment will likely be suppressed.

    …That is, unless I’ve shamed you into publishing it. You seem to be the kind of person who is driven by shame.

    One more thing. Your criticism of Feynman for ANYTHING he did—including write his theories down in a naked dancer bar where he felt comfortable—is contemptible. You not only spit on his remains, you spit on whatever remains of your emotional integrity.

    • You didn’t shame me into publishing it. You contributed to the conversation. That’s all. Have a nice weekend.

  12. It seems that many respondents to this blog are dismissive of the potential magnitude of Matt Taylor’s gaffe. To them I encourage a brief exploration on the concept of symbolic power ( Politicians and business leaders take this stuff very seriously and commit extensive resources to support experts in public relations to both study such ideas and implement them.

    In addition, the article at this address: article summarizes a very rational public relations perspective on why Matt Taylor’s actions are problematic and how organizations can avoid such problems in the future.

  13. The shirt is ridiculous, and I don’t think that it is”only” a shirt. But we shouldn’t generalize that way. The silly shirt tells girls in elementary schools that HE is a misogynist who doesn’t even realize that he is so. It doesn’t tell them that they are inappropriate for science or to send robots to space. He can’t tell them that! Let’s stop giving him power that he doesn’t have and making up things and meanings. We need to help girls realize that idiots like that are there, and that they better watch out.
    . For the same reason, there is something good to get from this: this guy doesn’t know that his shirt is so wrong! This was his moment and he picked that shirt to wear. This IS the evite evidence, or more evidence, that prejudice is still there. It may or may not be rampant, but it definitely is out there. Even among to scientists. So, when NIH and NSF work on policies to reduce the effects of the bias, we now have these photos to point to and say ” you see? Top scientists can be idiots. The policies are needed”.
    . Not sure if my comment will be posted since I seem to only partially agree with the blog owner. I hope so.

  14. Because you delete comments of people who disagree with you, that’s why.

    Other than mine, the only ones you allowed all repeat what you said. That makes your blog both boring and intellectually revolting. They do that on Faux News sites.

    “I suppressed them because anyone who disagrees with me shouldn’t be taken seriously” is the most contemptible thing I’ve ever heard another smart person say on a blog.

    • Faye, I’m not sure who you’re quoting.

      This post is taking for granted that the actions of Taylor are sexist and exclusionary. At my discretion, I’ve decided that the comments cannot be used to derail the conversation by disagreeing with that premise.

      You don’t like that premise, then this isn’t the place
      for you.

      It might make it more boring for you, but it also makes it more useful by preventing trolls from running a conversation on my site.

      This blog is built to support the careers of junior scientists. It’s not designed for you to promote your own views. That’s the great thing about running a blog. It gets to be about what I want to be about. In this particular instance, it doesn’t get to be about the definition of sexism.

  15. I would guess that a lot of the comments had to be taken down because of terrible language as well. There were at least 10 comments our blog took down on a pingback post to this one just because the language was horrendous for a family-friendly science blog.

  16. Curious if the reaction to the shirt would have been the same had it been a reproduction of the Garden of Earthly Delights (Bosch) or one of Klimt’s nudes? I ask because I don’t see where you get “exploitive” from depiction of nude women alone. His girlfriend, who made the shirt, I assume did not view it that way. No question that it was the wrong shirt to wear for a media interview.

    • The above comment is an example of a deliberately obtuse and disrespectful response. And it is also factually incorrect, or an accusation that Taylor is cheating on his spouse with his friend who made the shirt. Just because you say it wasn’t wrong doesn’t make it true.

      • How is my comment “deliberately obtuse and disrespecful reponse”? I asked if the origin of the nude image would make a difference and gave examples. What is obtuse or disrespectful about that? (Apologies for my mis-remembering the origin of the shirt.)

        • It’s deliberately obtuse and disrespectful because it intentionally overlooks the arguments in this post – and by many others in the last couple days – about how wearing that shirt to work is sexist. Attempting to equate pinup images with other historic art is clearly derailing from what actually did happen.

          Here’s a great summary from someone that posted to a Facebook thread, that I’m just sharing here.

          So here are a few things that I think people are failing to consider when defending this guy’s shirt:

          1. Just because a woman made it doesn’t give him the “get out of being an alienating creep” card. She doesn’t represent all women and her gender alone doesn’t absolve his crappy choices. That’s like saying “I know a non-white person totes down with the KKK, so they’re cool.”
          2. I think a lot of guys are taking this as a personal attack. It’s not. The women (AND men) upset about this are not calling YOU a sexist pigdog, so relax your butt. In the same way that the shirt-maker doesn’t generalize to all women, this guy doesn’t generalize to all men. However, if you’re lauding this guy to be the greatest American hero since G.I. Joe, then you probably are a sexist pigdog. Congrats!

          3. This incident illuminates longstanding trends in science as a “boys’ club.” It doesn’t matter if you’re personally offended by the shirt or not. The culture that has been established was here far before the ladies on his shirt took their pants off. No one is claiming that he is solely responsible for marginalizing women in science. It simply, and importantly, has opened up the conversation to a wider audience.

          4. He as a scientist has the responsibly of communicating scientific findings to the public in a friendly, open, and professional way. It doesn’t matter if he likes it or not. He is, for all intents and purposes, the Face of Science (at least for however long he’s onscreen). Imagine how a lot of women and little girls felt seeing the Face of Science wearing a “Girls Gone Wild” video on his torso. If your answer isn’t “weird, gross, and creeped out”, then bullshit must have replaced your capacity for human empathy.

          5. Lastly, think of the little boys that saw him. They’re going to think that it’s okay to see their colleagues as sex objects later on and the Wheel o’ Sexism will just keep on turning.

          It’s time to break the cycle, and the first step is admitting that there’s a problem.

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