Geoffrey Miller, evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico and lecturer at NYU, learned the hard way yesterday that what you say on the internet goes public. In a tweet he told Ph.D. applicants that if they're fat, they don’t have enough willpower to write a dissertation. He ended it with the hashtag #truth so I’m not sure how anybody questioned it.
But despite the fact that he hashtagged truth, people did question the validity and political correctness of his tweet and backlash soon followed. Chris Chambers, a cognitive neuroscientist at Cardiff University, publicized his letter of concern to the head of the psychology department at the University of New Mexico. But most people have taken to Twitter to teach Miller a lesson.
Miller deleted the tweet soon after, and around six hours later issued his two-tweet apology.
Nobody seems to believe his apology, probably because of the missing #truth. The most popular sentiment: If he had the willpower he tweets so freely about he might have resisted the temptation to make a public fat joke.
If he hadn’t apologized, Miller might have proved that, as a skinny man, he had both the time and presence of mind to think of a tweet, compose it, understand potential consequences, and then publish it. But he did apologize, causing intellectuals everywhere to post tons of .gifs and phrases like “mea culpas” in the comment section and congratulate each other for how smart they are.
The legitimate issues people have raised have to do with the fact that he has sat on graduate committees and from 2007 to 2008 was on the UNM Admissions Committee. And the fact that he teaches a postgraduate level course on human emotions.
In a statement released by the University of New Mexico in response to Miller’s tweet, Jane Ellen Smith, chair of the psychology department, said she has been in contact with Miller and he claims the tweet was part of a research project.
If this statement wasn’t part of a research project, the lesson is not that it’s wrong to make fun of people for their weight. The lesson is that Miller, along with the majority of people born before 1980, needs to learn what the rest of us have been told since we got our first AOL Instant Messenger Account in fourth grade: the Internet is a public place. Literally everything you put on it, no matter how private the settings, can fairly easily be found by smart people (who may or may not be fat).
Remember when a board member of Delta Gamma at the University of Maryland sent an "unsavory" email to her chapter and 20 minutes later the whole country knew about it?
If the tweet was for a research project, I hope your thesis is more interesting than, "The anonymity of the Internet gives people confidence to speak out against offensive remarks." And I hope you have a good laugh.