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Philae researcher criticized for shirt covered in scantily clad women

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
updated 2:58 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
  • NEW: Scientist Matt Taylor apologizes for shirt
  • Taylor wore a shirt featuring women dressed in lingerie
  • Some say the shirt is sexist; he changed clothes during live stream
  • The tattooed Taylor is known for being unconventional

(CNN) -- While the world watched the historic landing of a space probe on a comet 310 million miles from Earth, many were distracted by what was happening closer to home.

Rosetta Project scientist Matt Taylor caused a firestorm with his choice of fashion during the European Space Agency's live stream of Wednesday's Philae landing. Taylor initially sported a shirt featuring women in lingerie, possibly not the wisest choice of attire given all of the discussion surrounding the challenges for women in the tech and science fields.

"The fact that a scientist of any gender, but especially a man, would think it's a good idea to wear a shirt covered in naked women while representing a major space agency and a significant research project is appalling; and clearly, he had no idea that he was engaging in exactly the kind of casual sexism that drives women away from STEM," S.E. Smith wrote in an article on XOJane.

STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and women in those disciplines have long complained of sexism and other difficulties in their male-dominated fields.

The shirt quickly spawned its own hashtag on Twitter -- #shirtstorm -- as both sexes took Taylor to task.

"No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt," tweeted The Atlantic tech writer Rose Eveleth.

"I don't care what scientists wear. But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn't appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in STEM," tweeted astrophysicist Katie Mack.

"You think a shirt like this makes women feel welcome? I don't," Mack added when another Twitter user questioned whether she was going too far.

Smith wrote that the shirt was sexist and that "The people who were upset by it weren't just those silly oversensitive feminists who can't take a joke. Scientists from all perspectives were unimpressed with the shirt, both on professional grounds and gendered ones. "

Taylor has been one of the most public faces of the mission and is known as an unconventional scientist. He sports tattoos all over his arms and, in honor of the Rosetta mission, got some new ink in January: a drawing of the space probe landing on the comet.

During a recent Wall Street Journal Facebook Q&A, Taylor was asked about whether tattooed men can achieve greatness and said, "The people I work with don't judge me by my looks but only by the work I have done and can do. Simple."

Taylor reportedly changed out of the shirt during the live stream.

On Friday, he made an emotional apology during another live stream about the mission.

"The shirt I wore this week, I made a big mistake, and I've offended many people, and I am very sorry about this," Taylor said before wiping his eyes.

We can land on a comet, but we can't ...