First, some backstory: On November 12, the Rosetta space probe’s Philae lander was the first spacecraft to land on a comet. During a televised broadcast of the event, ESA project scientist Matt Taylor wore #thatshirt, creating an internet #shirtstorm. I was sympathetic in that I get what Taylor was trying to accomplish in wearing the shirt, though I desperately wish he’d picked a different one. By the time I got around to saying anything about the shirt, Taylor had publicly apologized, and trolls had started harassing women on the internet in full force (for me, it was about 72 hours of nonstop nastiness, though there were some who’ve gotten it much worse than me). I was pretty desperate by the weekend for something positive to come out of this, and in a Twitter discussion with @WhySharksMatter, came up with the idea to have scientists show themselves at work in professionally appropriate, geeky, creative clothing.
From the 17th through the 21st of November, I curated the #scishirt hashtag — not just scientists, and not just shirts, but a celebration of creativity and inclusion in science. It was welcoming, fun, and positive. According to some hashtag analytics, #scishirt was used by more than 1000 people, and reached more than 3 million including all the retweets, with more than 6 million views. We didn’t even get trolled once (something I was constantly on alert for). You can see them all here (sadly, Storify only goes back a week, so if anyone storified all the entries, I’d love to link to it!). There’s also a really nice wrap-up post by Startorialist here (which is an awesome blog I just discovered!), and Alexander Brown from CERN even did a #scishirt giveaway!
I think, ultimately, that we succeeded in celebrating diversity, inclusion, and fun in science. Some folks raised important points that the shirts might run the risk of being too much of an inside-joke thing (though there was such a diversity of fields represented I doubt anyone would have gotten most of them). I encouraged folks to ask about shirts they didn’t get– I’m not sure if anyone did, but it seems to me as though a geeky bit of clothing is a fantastic outreach opportunity.
We had a fantastic diversity of fields, people, and workplaces represented — scientists in the field, at their desks, in suits and ties, in wrinkled t-shirts, in skirts and tights, dancing, playing, at the bench, on the ice, giving talks, digging in the dirt, wearing lab coats, wearing costumes, wearing funky jewelry and scarves, wearing military fatigues and space suits and snow suits.
Some folks wore a different #scishirt for every day of the week. The hashtag is still being used, and people have suggested we do this every year. I think #scishirt intersects nicely with #thisiswhatascientistlookslike and other diversity initiatives. I don’t know how much of an in-group activity this was, or if it broadened anyone’s ideas about what scientists do or what we look like, or how approachable we are. Mostly, we had fun, and there’s a lot to be said for a strong dose of positivity on a week when the culture of science has you down.
Hashtag activism has its limits, but #scishirt really felt to me like a way to demonstrate solidarity with diversity and inclusion in science. It took very little effort on my part to conceive and promote, relative to other things we can do to make a difference. What’s challenging is measuring the impact; I don’t even know if most of the participants knew why I started #scishirt in the first place, though I did my best to make sure of it as I curated the hashtag.
I hope #scishirt started conversations — about the shirts, about why we were wearing them, about the science on the shirts, about who does science and how we can make it more inclusive, and that scientists can be fun and creative. I’d love to hear your anecdotes from #scishirt week in the comments!
Finally, here’s the BEAST Lab #scishirt group photo: