Nobel prize-winning immunologist accidentally asks Twitter when he'll be able to get a drink

Australian Prof Peter Doherty, whose eponymous institute has led the country’s coronavirus research, lit up the internet with an Ed Balls moment on Monday

If you’ve found yourself needing a stiff drink more often than usual to get you through life in the time of coronavirus, it turns out you are in esteemed company.

Prof Peter Doherty, a Nobel Laureate for his work on immunology and patron of the Doherty Institute, which has been at the forefront of Australia’s response to the pandemic, gave people on the internet a much needed distraction on Monday after he confused the social media site Twitter for Google and inadvertently asked his more than 26,000 followers for the opening hours of the alcohol retailer Dan Murphy’s.

Dan Murphy opening hours

— Prof. Peter Doherty (@ProfPCDoherty) April 27, 2020

The University of Melbourne laureate professor and former Australian of the year, 79, did not shy away from the errant tweet.

After firing off the misguided missive at 1.40pm on a Monday afternoon, Doherty confirmed to one of a flood of replies that it was a classic case of too many open tabs, before taking the time to riff on everything from the US president Donald Trump and his less-than-scientific musings on a coronavirus cure to the dating app Tinder.

Jokingly asked by one Twitter user whether he was recruiting for a new clinical trial, Doherty mused that alcohol was a “whole lot safer than bleach”. When another follower suggested it was fortunate he hadn’t mistaken Twitter for Tinder, Doherty suggested that would be “profoundly sad”.

Yes, wires got crossed. Too much time in front of a screen.

— Prof. Peter Doherty (@ProfPCDoherty) April 27, 2020

Whole lot safer than bleach.

— Prof. Peter Doherty (@ProfPCDoherty) April 27, 2020

Doherty also proved that even, or perhaps especially, the experts find it all a bit too much at times and made those of us making a few more furtive trips to the bottle shop than we would like to admit feel better about it in the process.

The days just run into each on day....tweet on tweet....this way lies madness

— Prof. Peter Doherty (@ProfPCDoherty) April 27, 2020

Doherty’s unexpected foray into comedy received a delighted response on Twitter. The ABC’s already much-memed political editor Andrew Probyn offered to do a pickup for the professor.

The vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, Brian Schmidt, who moonlights as a winemaker, offered a “deep discount”. Doherty replied that even Schmidt’s discounted product would be “way above my usual quality”.

I'll do pick up for you.

— Andrew Probyn (@andrewprobyn) April 27, 2020

Even with a discount, way above my usual quality...

— Prof. Peter Doherty (@ProfPCDoherty) April 27, 2020

He also, finally, got an answer to his original question.

Many thanks, just what I was trying to find out. Why bother with Google, where I was meaning to be, when there's so much help available via Twitter?

— Prof. Peter Doherty (@ProfPCDoherty) April 27, 2020

Doherty won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1996 with his Swiss colleague Rolf Zinkernagel for “their discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell-mediated immune defence and the biological role of the major histocompatibility complex”.

But he now joins another illustrious group: prominent people who have accidentally tweeted things. Wednesday will mark the ninth anniversary of what is indisputably the most famous example of the genre. In 2011, the UK’s former shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, tweeted the words “Ed Balls”. For a time, the tweet prompted a semi-official “Ed Balls day” in the UK, complete with London tube advertisements.

Morning all and Happy Ed Balls Day. Just spotted this at Balham. #EdBallsDay

— Andy Lang (@HRH_Duke_of_Url) April 28, 2015

Australia’s most famous example to date also came from a politician. In 2010, the then New South Wales opposition leader, Barry O’Farrell, fired off a “deeply off the record” tweet to the journalist Latika Bourke in which he appeared to call the then prime minister Julia Gillard a “ranga”.

O’Farrell appeared to publicly answer a private question from Bourke, writing: “deeply off the record – I think the timetable & struggle to get candidates reflects internal poll – pre & post the ranga”.

He quickly deleted the tweet, but not before it was captured for posterity.


Michael McGowan

The GuardianTramp

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