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Creepy comic, Hawking joins Monty Python and that shirt

Frame 142 in Randall Munroe's series of Philae sketches (Courtesy:

Frame 142 in Randall Munroe’s series of Philae sketches. (Courtesy:

By Hamish Johnston

The big story this week is that Rosetta’s Philae lander has touched down on a comet. During the descent, cartoonist and former physicist Randall Munroe captured the event in a series of 142 sketches. You can see the final instalment above, presumably drawn before Philae’s various problems were widely known.

But despite all the good news about Rosetta, things got a little bit overshadowed by a social-media furore surrounding Rosetta spokesperson and physicist Matt Taylor, who wrote a feature article about the mission in the October issue of Physics World. In a “you’re not going out dressed like that” moment, he wore a short-sleeved shirt festooned with scantily clad women when he was presenting updates about the Philae lander. Taylor has since apologized for his inappropriate (and offensive) choice of attire for such an auspicious event.

I am a physicist, and if you were to ask me to name my profession’s most undesirable trait I would say that we tend to be a bunch of know-it-alls – especially when it comes to things other than physics. This particular trait is captured beautifully in this rather disturbing comic highlighted by Steve Hsu on his Information Processing blog. I do have reservations about how the physicist is depicted as being older because I think that physicists of all ages can suffer from delusions of omniscience!

And now for something completely different…another common trait among physicists is a love for Monty Python and Stephen Hawking is no exception. In this fantastic clip, the renowned cosmologist joins forces with Python Eric Idle to have a laugh at the expense of TV physicist Brian Cox.

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  1. M. Asghar

    The Philae lander’s tribulations resulted from the lack of its “weighing down” on a comet with little gravity: The poor thing weighed just about three grammes and the supposed clamping down system did not work and it bounced around helplessly till it got stuck by the “geometry” of the landscape!

  2. Kasuha

    I feel immensely sorry for Matt Taylor. Yes I agree that his shirt and general attire was not appropriate for the occasion but I don’t find it offensive in the slightest and I definitely don’t think such person should be forced to public apology. There was a woman wearing jeans beside men all in suits in the control room all the time and nobody was offended by that.

    • The very fact that you are comparing a man wearing a shirt with images of semi-naked women on it, to a woman wearing a pair of jeans is reason enough for Taylor to have apologised. It would have been fine if he had worn that shirt while not in his official capacity. The fact that he was publicly representing a governmental office and a field of science that often seems to be a man’s territory — this sends out just one message to the many young women & men following the story — that it is a man’s domain and that a woman would be uncomfortable & unwelcomed in that world. That is an awful message to be sending across to all the young people inspired by science and I am quite sure that Taylor did not mean to do so. In any case, his apology seemed heartfelt and genuine rather than forced — and that gave me hope.

  3. Trackback: Physics Viewpoint | Creepy comic, Hawking joins Monty Python and that shirt

  4. Trackback: Ceiba3D Studio | The world of physics in 2015

  5. Amen, Hamish ! That paragraph on delusional omniscience was one of the most refreshing I’ve read in a long time. One of the things that’s always been hard for me as a physicist is watching the way colleagues treat non-physicists (well and sometimes other physicists for that matter…). I suppose breeding a sense of confidence in school is important for trying to tackle difficult intellectual challenges but the ubiquitous tendency for that to blossom into an almost comical arrogance is a little baffling to me.


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