The internet went all a-twitter over the weekend about a video posted by Joe Hanson (@jtotheizzoe) in which he imagines the scientist bobble-heads in his collection joining him for Thanksgiving dinner. In it, the Einstein bobble-head repeatedly makes sexual advances toward the Curie figure, assaulting her at the end of the piece. Certainly tasteless, even with bobble-heads, especially given recent events in the world of online science communication. Sophomoric? Certainly. Criminal? Hardly.
This video is part of Hanson's work for PBS Digital Studios, an ongoing series called It's Okay to be Smart. I am still unclear what this video had to do with Thanksgiving, being smart, or anything else, other than an excuse to play with bobble-heads. An apology eventually appeared, but the video remains on the internet. I wish PBS would take it down, but they haven't. There have been calls to fire Hanson. That seems a bit over-the-top to me, but then I watch Family Guy.
Then it came out that Joe Hanson will be moderating a session at Science Online in 2014. Moderaters were selected weeks ago; those in control could not have anticipated this unfortunate turn of events. At this point I tweeted a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that we dress up as Curie and beat the snot out of him at his session. I imagined a group of 20 bobble-head look-alikes coming at him...well, my attempt at humor also bombed. Repeated tweets have called for a serious, non-violent response.
It's kind of like TSA began running twitter: "Do not joke about weapons on the plane" or violence at the unconference.
What I would like to point out is the real problem here: Marie Curie is the only female bobble-head! In that setting, gender becomes the most obvious characteristic of the bobble-head. Why should the male bobble-heads consider her scientific accomplishments when she is merely the token woman? Clearly, her only raison d'etre must be her sex! In real life, such tokenism contibutes to an environment that permits marginalization of women (and other minorities) and likely contibutes to harassment. Does that excuse Einstein's douchebaggery? Hell no - dudes (even resin bobble-heads) should be able to keep their pants on and zipped! But the dynamics would have been different had Rosalind Franklin, Gerty Cori, and Linda Buck bobble-heads joined the party. Why can't I buy bobble-heads of these Nobel laureates? It's like Marie Curie is the only woman scientist ever!
So perhaps we should all step back and take a deep breath. We have an episode here that illustrates a lot of issues that lead to a hostile environment for women in science. No one has been physically harmed, although good taste was violated. Let's use this episode to learn and grow, rather than blame and shame.