Over the weekend Dr. Phil Plait, also known as the Bad Astronomer, put up an episode of his really cool show Crash Course Astronomy. I LOVE the Crash Course series and use them as review for classes regularly. Dr. Plait’s show is particularly good if you like Astronomy and want to learn more.
However, the episode this weekend included a problematic joke. The joke was fairly mild, but cissexist. It upset some folks, but I didn’t actually hear about it until after it had already been edited to fix the problem.
What I really want to write about here is the apology that Dr. Plait put up on his blog at Slate today. I want to draw attention to this because it’s a beautifully done apology.
What Dr. Plait did right:
1) He explained what happened, how it happened, and how he and his team responded to the criticism the episode received. The timeline was clear and the context was easy to understand. He explained what the intention was for the joke, without excusing it at all.
2) He explained why the joke was problematic and exactly who was hurt by it and why. It is absolutely clear to me that he and his team took the concerns they heard very seriously and considered the harm done by this joke to be important enough to respond to quickly. Dr. Plait clearly understands some of the struggles transgender people (and all marginalized people) face and considers our experiences to be important.
3) He explained what was done to fix the problem and made clear that this was done because he and his team really believed that changing the video was the right thing to do – not just bowing to pressure, but that the really learned a lesson.
4) Most importantly, Dr. Plait responded to those who are criticizing him for changing the video. He has been accused of being an SJW and instead of denying that he very clearly sides with those in favor of increased justice in the world. He refuses to bow down to the demands of those who think that changing a hurtful joke is more harmful than working to make our media less cissexist.
I have always really respected Phil Plait. I love his books, I read his blog, and it’s always exciting to hear him turn up on my podcasts and radio. He’s enthusiastic about science communication in general, astronomy specifically, and issues of justice and fairness. He’s one of the good guys and this incident increased my appreciation for him even more.