Boris Johnson is a scary sight when he’s mad, and he is absolutely furious at the horrible treatment meted out to hero scientist Dr. Matt Taylor. Shoals of twitter morons made the poor man cry because they objected to the shirt he was wearing. In his Daily Telegraph article today, Boris unleashed his own personal storm.Boris begins: “The other day the brilliant space scientist Dr Matt Taylor was asked to give a report on the progress of Philae, the astonishing little landing craft that has travelled, in all, four billion miles to become the first representative of humanity to visit the surface of a comet. Dr Taylor leant forwards. He started to speak. Then his voice went husky, and it became painfully obvious to viewers that he was actually crying. And of course he has many very good reasons to feel emotional. The London-born astrophysicist has been part of a mind-blowing success.
For 10 years he and his colleagues at the European Space Agency have been guiding this 15-stone probe to a place so far from us that it takes radio signals 28 minutes to reach our scanners. With unbelievable skill and accuracy, they have managed to get within striking distance of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
They were able to detach Philae, the probe, from the mother craft, called Rosetta. They sent Philae towards the comet – a peanut-shaped glob of freezing rock and dust about two miles long. They landed their milk crate gizmo on the comet, even though it is hurtling through space at 135,000 miles an hour, and for hour after hour – until its batteries finally went flat – the gallant machine was able to send information back to Earth about our wandering celestial relative.
Where does it come from, Comet 67P? Perhaps it is a close cousin, a relic of those primal events in the solar system that formed the Earth and the rest of the planets. Perhaps it was born from the same stuff as the sun – a piece of frozen shrapnel from some cosmic explosion.
Or maybe it is a long-haired wanderer from some place further away, whizzing along until it was captured by the sun’s gravitational field. Perhaps there is in that dust a richer dust concealed, something strange and new and suggestive.
It may be that we can learn some more about the role of comets in transporting ice, and therefore water, through the heavens – and there are some who have speculated that we have comets to thank for the existence of the oceans on our planet.
At this very moment the scientists will be beginning to process the data – to understand more about the elements, the minerals, the isotopes, the molecules. There may be clues about our past and pointers to our future.
This mission is a colossal achievement. Millions of us have been watching Philae’s heart-stopping journey. Everyone in this country should be proud of Dr Taylor and his colleagues, and he has every right to let his feelings show.
Except, of course, that he wasn’t crying with relief. He wasn’t weeping with sheer excitement at this interstellar rendezvous. I am afraid he was crying because he felt he had sinned. He was overcome with guilt and shame for wearing what some people decided was an “inappropriate” shirt on television. “I have made a big mistake,” he said brokenly. “I have offended people and I am sorry about this.”
I watched that clip of Dr Taylor’s apology – at the moment of his supreme professional triumph – and I felt the red mist come down. It was like something from the show trials of Stalin, or from the sobbing testimony of the enemies of Kim Il-sung, before they were taken away and shot. It was like a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution when weeping intellectuals were forced to confess their crimes against the people.
Why was he forced into this humiliation? Because he was subjected to an unrelenting tweetstorm of abuse. He was bombarded across the internet with a hurtling dustcloud of hate, orchestrated by lobby groups and politically correct media organisations.
And so I want, naturally, to defend this blameless man. And as for all those who have monstered him and convicted him in the kangaroo court of the web – they should all be ashamed of themselves.
Yes, I suppose some might say that his Hawaii shirt was a bit garish, a bit of an eyeful. But the man is not a priest, for heaven’s sake. He is an space scientist with a fine collection of tattoos, and if you are an extrovert space scientist, that is the kind of shirt that you are allowed to wear.
As for the design of the garment, I have studied it as closely as the photos will allow, and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I suppose there are women with long flowing hair and a certain amount of décolletage. But let’s not mince our words: there are no nipples; there are no buttocks; there is not even an exposed midriff, as far as I can see.
It’s the hypocrisy of it all that irritates me. Here is Kim Kardashian – a heroine and idol to some members of my family – deciding to bust out all over the place, and good for her. No one seeks to engulf her in a tweetstorm of rage. But why is she held to be noble and pure, while Dr Taylor is attacked for being vulgar and tasteless?
I think his critics should go to the National Gallery and look at the Rokeby Venus by Velázquez. Or look at the stuff by Rubens. Are we saying that these glorious images should be torn from the walls?
What are we all – a bunch of Islamist maniacs who think any representation of the human form is an offence against God? This is the 21st century, for goodness’ sake. And if you ask yourself why so few have come to the defence of the scientist, the answer is that no one dares.
No one wants to take on the rage of the web – by which people use social media to externalise their own resentments and anxieties, often anonymously and with far more vehemence than they really intend. No one wants to dissent – and no wonder our politics sometimes feels so sterilised and homogenised.”
Boris concludes: “There must be room in our world for eccentricity, even if it offends the prudes, and room for the vague other-worldliness that often goes with genius. Dr Taylor deserves the applause of our country, and those who bash him should hang their own heads and apologise. ”