Earlier this week, the Swedish Academy, announced the physics Nobel Prize laureates for 2018. Among others, French physicist Gérard Mourou, of the École Polytechnique and MIT, obtained the prestigious prize essentially for his inventions concerning the amplification of the laser pulses. However, the respect of the worldwide scientific community gave its place to some outrage, as an old video, with Gérard Mourou appearing on it, busted the media, mostly the french ones.
In this video, which is thought to be recorded in the early 2010s, Gerard Mourou appears to dance and lip syncing a soul music style song, accompanied by some senior colleagues and some younger people, very probably students. First of all, the aesthetics of the clip are really bad, with ridiculous dance moves, wrong lip syncing and not clear lyrics in English. However, one can say that this is not the most objective argument and of course, such a “mistake” doesn’t generate any rage.
One real problem is the goal of this video. Does it serve the scientific communication? Is it an effort of vulgarisation? Not at all! Nobody can understand any idea of physics by watching these 4 minutes. Even its creators never pretended to have this goal. According to french media, this video was made in order to show that scientists are not real nerds and in thick lines “they can be fun”. Oh yes, they totally failed! It is so awkward to watch these arrhythmic moves and the bad song, that everybody will think the same thing: a nice try by the nerds.
The main issue, however, is the personality of the scientist, exposed in this clip. First of all, everything turns around the main character, the protagonist, the professor, the one who accomplishes his dream. It serves his narcissism, that no-one could be aware before watching it. The huge respect to a Nobel laureate transforms into a disgust for his lack of humility. There are many other brilliant scientists who offered great scientific communication projects, other famous, others not. The result was good by default because the protagonist of their creation was science and not their ego.
All this, in order to talk about the most important source of outrage: sexism! You’re making a “scientific communication video” and you put there young women, aligned from the front to the back according to their physical charm, dressed with hot shorts and strip-out their lab clothes? Yes. In that case not only you humiliate yourself, but you commit a much greater crime, you humiliate every notion of science and scientific values. In this case the problem isn’t only the idea of the professor, but also the agreement of all the rest participants. Unfortunately this reflects a real problem in scientific institutions today (and maybe in the past, hopefully not in the future), the amount of yes-men or yes-women who are ready to do the most ridiculous things in order to stay close to a mentor, who obtains the freedom to behave like a master.
If this video serves at something, this is the reflection of the human relationships in scientific institutions, which should change. Thanks for this, Prof Mourou, but I won’t thank you at all for transforming my enthusiasm for your scientific achievements into rage for your narcissist and sexist non-scientific behavior.
If science teaches something to us, apart of knowledge about the “secrets” of the cosmos, is the importance of our attitude, of how we treat each other and how we understand our existence as part of humanity, on our planet and in the universe.