PBS Digital Studios Offensive Thanksgiving Special includes Einstein sexually assaulting Marie Curie

Wow.  I just do not know even what to say here really.  My Facebook feed is filling up with discussion about this video “A Very Special Thanksgiving Special | It’s Okay to be Smart” from PBS Digital Studios and I thought it would be important to share this with a wider audience.

The video includes scenes like the following:

Marie Curie is the only female scientist represented who says “It was very nice to be included”.

Later there is a scene of Einstein harassing Marie Curie.

Which ends with Einstein telling Marie Curie he wants her to “wear him like a Parka”

Einstein gets spontaneously naked at the party.
And then Einstein “accidentally” falls on Marie Curie and starts to sexually assault her.

Funny isn’t it?  Really funny no?

What a fu#*@ disgrace from PBS.  They should be ashamed.

UPDATE 11/16/13 9:45 AM

I just wanted to note one extra thing here.  I think this would be offensive no matter what female scientist was used as a character.  But it was extra painful to me that this had Marie Curie in it.  As a child I had one major hero – Marie Curie (yes, I was a bit of a geek – but my mom is a physical chemist so Curie appealed to me in many ways).  Every time there was an assignment to write about a historical figure or a famous person, I wrote about her.  So when I was in Paris for the first time last week I was very excited to go near places associated with Marie Curie.

So this AM, after posting about this awful video,  I went in to my box of old papers and found some of those things I wrote about Marie Curie when I was in elementary and junior high school and I scanned them in.

Here are some of them:


Whole Booklet About Marie Curie

Essay Rough Draft

Notes for one essay

UPDATE 2: 11/17/13 4:52 AM: I made a Storify of some of the discussions of this post.

UPDATE 3: 11/17/13 5:20 AM Producer of the video has issued an apology / explanation.

UPDATE 4: 11/19/13 4:22 PM PBS Responds

The Ombudsperson for PBS has posted some comments about this here.  A key section:

What astounds me is that, while risk-taking is often to be applauded, this depiction of Einstein and Curie is so not funny, so off-the-wall, so not likely to be understood yet virtually guaranteed to anger a huge segment of a viewing audience for no good reason that one wonders how it was decided to show it. On the other hand, in an era where clicks count the most, maybe it is not so dumb.

He also posts what is supposedly an official PBS Response:

Joe Hanson issued a sincere apology on his blog, which is the channel he chose to discuss this issue. It included a detailed explanation of how the video was created, what he was trying to accomplish and the statement, “this video makes a joke to call attention to the sexual harassment that many women still today experience, often from wannabe Einsteins. The joke is uncomfortable because these issues are uncomfortable. To be very clear: that joke is not an endorsement of sexism in science. We aimed to ridicule miscues of science in society, past and present, using dolls, and we failed.” 

He also asks in the post that people form their opinions based on his past videos and writings, such as the video from the previous week, where he examines the fact that the vast majority of Nobel prize winners have been white men and criticizes women’s “Nobel snubbing” as a “symptom of a larger problem,” that “women are under-represented in science in general.” 

There have been a number of comments about “A Very Special Thanksgiving Special” since it debuted that have ranged from critical to laudatory. With this video, Joe has opened up an important, though difficult, debate. We believe we are meeting our public service mission by providing an open forum where this and other conversations about complex subjects can take place.

Are you fu$*## kidding me?  “With this video, Joe has opened up an important, though difficult, debate.”  Are they serious?  Joe opened up an important debate?  By posting an offensive video?  Seriously?  I mean – I have avoided ANY types of personal comments about the people behind this video.  But this response by PBS is awful, condescending, misleading, and, well pathetic.  What a joke.

UPDATE 5 11/21/13 1 AM The producer of the video has removed it from Youtube with the following comments:

I have decided to remove “A Very Special Thanksgiving Special” from the It’s Okay to Be Smart channel. We failed in using satire to shine some light on the problem of women’s under-representation in science and the on-going disrespect and harassment women face in the field. I hope it is clear that I never set out to offend anyone. Harassment is real and unacceptable — I never meant for my work to indicate anything other than that. I am looking forward to continuing what has always been my mission for It’s Okay To Be Smart: Inspiring people – all people – to learn about the beauty and wonder of science

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

12 thoughts on “PBS Digital Studios Offensive Thanksgiving Special includes Einstein sexually assaulting Marie Curie”

  1. Get over it. It's no more than a lame video. The only reason they should be ashamed of it is that it isn't funny. Had it actually been funny it might have been interesting; and had it had some sharp point to make, it might have been interesting. The religious are tiresome with their taking of offence. We don't need to jump on that bandwagon.


  2. “Get over it. It's no more than a lame video. The only reason they should be ashamed of it is that it isn't funny. Had it actually been funny it might have been interesting”. Imagining it could have been funny in any way suggests you don't know anyone who has been sexually assaulted. Religion has nothing to do with finding this offending. Get some information about this before making insensitive comments.


  3. I'm so very angry about this. I won't even address the nonsensical “get over it.” Tax dollars were spent on this, and the people who did this need to be made accountable. No oversight, clearly. And PBS does NOT need this kind of PR. What on Earth were they thinking?


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