09 June 2015

Time to give Tim Hunt the hook

For. Crying. Out. Loud. Was June declared “national sexism month” while I wasn’t looking?

It wasn’t even ten days ago that we had bad advice from one senior scientist of how to handle bad behaviour (“put up with it”).

And today, we have another senior scientist, a Nobel prize winner no less, talking about his “trouble with girls.” That he started off referring to grown women as girls would have been the first bad sign. Tim Hunt is reported to have said - in front of a gathering of women scientists no less:

You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry!

I’m always torn about reacting to asinine comments like this. On the one hand, I want to focus on positive. Talk about cool science. Try to maybe give some insider’s perspective on career advice. And I think, “What’s one more blog post or tweet going to do when others, who are far more articulate and better placed to say, ‘This hurts me, and is not okay!’ have taken this to task and brought attention to the problem?”

But the flip side is that silence can seen as agreement. Sometimes you have to be part of the chorus, saying, “That is stupid and harmful. Knock it off.”

Tim Hunt, what you said was stupid, bigoted, and hurtful. Knock it off.

While the Royal Society euphemistically “distanced” itself from Hunt’s comments, I’m hoping that other organizations will take a more proactive approach and stop inviting Hunt as a speaker, asking for interviews, and what have you.

Hunt’s comment proves the truth of something else he said, not too long ago:

(W)inning a Nobel Prize isn’t about being clever at all(.)

Truth. Because Hunt’s views on women are the exact opposite of clever.

Update, 10 June 2015: Unsurprisingly, Hunt apologized... but that apology ain’t with a damn, because he believes what he said was true.

More additional, 10 June 2015: Tim Hunt as resigned his honorary professorship at University College London. It would not be surprising to me if this resignation was a case of someone saying to HUnt, “I expect your resignation letter on my desk by tomorrow...”.

Yet more additional, 10 June 2015: The president of the European Research Council... just... ugh.

Sir Tim Hunt has already apologised and explained that his impromptu comments were meant to be “light-hearted” and “ironic”, and that it was not his intention to demean women.

No, what Hunt said in response does not make what he said go away. It does not make it okay. It barely counts as acknowledgement, and certainly doesn’t merit being called an apology.

The PDF doesn’t even have the president’s name on it. Based on this page, it’s Jean-Pierre Bourguignon. Remember that name, since he just put himself on the wrong side of this issue. Hat tip to Carl Zimmer.

Additional, 13 June 2015: The Guardian interviews Hunt and calls his remarks a “quip” in its subheading. The text gets even worse, referring to

(T)he innate cruelty of social media, and in particular the savage power of Twitter(.)

Wow, it’s as if words have the power to hurt, so we should pick them wisely. But Hunt needed that lesson before those of us commenting on social media did.

It must be nice to have such a sympathetic ear to write up your story in a major international news forum. The entire article is starting from a premise that Hunt did nothing wrong. And that’s just not so.

Related posts

“You don’t have to be clever to make a discovery”

External links

Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt shocks journalists with sexist comments
Sir Tim Hunt 'sorry' over 'trouble with girls' comments

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