A supportive note to Nobel Laureate, Tim Hunt, who resigned after comments on female scientists

This appears today in the New York Times:

A Nobel laureate has resigned as honorary professor at University College London after saying that female scientists should be segregated from male colleagues because women cry when criticized and are a romantic distraction in the laboratory.

The comments by Tim Hunt, 72, a biochemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001 for groundbreaking work on cell division, unleashed a torrent of fury and added fuel to a global cultural debate about gender bias and discrimination against women in science.

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” Mr. Hunt told an audience on Monday at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. “Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”

Within minutes, the comments, which were greeted with stony silence and no little anger at the conference, spurred a global backlash. The remarks gained wide attention after they were first noted on Twitter by Connie St Louis, the director of the science journalism program at City University London.

. . . .

Dan Bilefsky, Nobel Laureate Resigns Post After Comments on Female Scientists, New York Times (June 11, 2015).

"Sir Tim Hunt in 2001 after winning the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine." Mirror on Line

“Sir Tim Hunt in 2001 after winning the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.” Credit: Jess Wilson, Same Web, Katie Hopkins approves Tim Hunt’s “Sexist” Remarks, [Daily] Mirror on Line (June 10, 2015). [Ironically, the Daily Mirror, a British national daily tabloid, was launched in 1903 by Alfred Harmsworth as a newspaper “for women, run by women.”]

Professor Hunt, I feel your pain. What’s more, I understand and, dare I say, even appreciate your ill-advised attempt at humor. Indeed, I believe you when you later said that your “comments were meant to be ironic and lighthearted but had been ‘interpreted deadly seriously by my audience.’” Id. at Nobel Laureate Resigns Post After Comments on Female Scientists, New York Times. However, take it from someone who knows from experience, old guys like you and me can’t joke about such things. In a way, that’s terribly sad.

But, look on the bright side. Given our ages, we’ll both be gone fairly soon.

RGK

 

20 responses

  1. Ill advised? My wife said, “…, that’s true, so what.” The problem lies with what people think under their breath; what they say, should be examined and given thought. I got removed for less.

  2. Judge:
    You’ll forgive my being a contrarian but now is the time for all of us who respect free expression to defend such sentiments or else face living in a society which only allows politically correct ideas. Anything else is capitulation (you’ll note that Professor Hunt apologized but nonetheless ended up resigning). Since the opposition will not be placated, I say oppose them unequivocally and ridicule them every chance you get. To paraphrase someone famous, we have nothing to lose but our chains.
    Robert

  3. There are no “chains” involved — he said something stupid and paid for it. Denigrating/making fun of another sex/gender may be “free expression” — but it is not without repercussions. How far are you willing to go in asserting that opposition to offensive statements entails “living in a society which [sic] only allows politically correct ideas”? I will be happy to walk you out that limb as far as you want to go.

  4. Norm,

    I had that limb cut out from under me a number of times already. Thanks for the offer, but no thanks.

    RGK

    PS From whence came the quote you siced?

  5. Norm,

    Forget the PS.

    Anyway, and it is probably just me, but when I use “sic” I frequently intend snark. If I intend snark, I should be explicitly snarky or I risk being seen as a passive aggressive prick. I know you aren’t. Just sayin.

    All the best.

    RGK

  6. Norm:
    “Repercussions?” Norm, I gotta’ ask: who made you the speech police? Professor Hunt made a joke that fell flat. That’s it. Believe to or not, there was a time when that would be the end of it. Now, a Nobel Laureate’s career is immediately destroyed because people get in a snit about what he said and “repercussions” ensue. Two points: first, where does it end? When they turn on YOU for something you’ve said which doesn’t meet the prevailing orthodoxy? Second, how do you square political correctness with living in a supposed free society? While Professor Hunt was attacked and his career was prematurely ended, the real victims are those in the future who will think twice about saying similar things (and likely engage in precensorship rather than put up with similar “repercussions”). Is that the sort of society that you are comfortable living in? If so, count me out.
    Robert

  7. My wife is currently on her walk but I expert her back soon. She is a biochemist for a pharmaceutical company, and I’m going to have her take a look at this for her take and comment. Be warned, the next reply may be from her, and I can’t promise it will be gentle. Fortunately you have well established rules about posting on your blog, and can delete her comments if necessary. Hopefully if she is banished from future posting, I will still be allowed.

  8. I am now back from my walk and would like to reply to the posts. I have worked in the same lab for about 18 years with the same team members who are mostly men. I consider some of them as close as brothers. However, I have also noticed that my “brothers” can be very selfish at times. For example, when you are using an instrument in the lab and they expect you to immediately stop using the instrument when they need it instead of waiting their turn. So Dr. Hunt needs to realize that women scientists consider male scientists to be a distraction as well. At the same time, my male colleagues also consider me to be a valuable member of the team so not all male scientists consider woman scientists to be a distraction but instead value both their technical and intellectual contributions. As far as being a cry baby, nothing beats a man with a large ego. Everything is considered to be a major criticism and a mortal blow. Tomorrow, I am going to show your blog to my female colleagues to get their opinions. PS you cannot criticize the way we woman scientists dress in the lab since we all wear white coats but the sexy underwear underneath is our secret 😈

  9. Dear Anonymous,

    When you show them this post, please also show them another one of my posts which you can find here.

    I look forward to hearing your report. All the best.

    RGK

  10. Pingback: The Nobel Prize In Sexism | Simple Justice

  11. The freedom to say offensive jokes or non jokes is why being independently wealthy should be everyone’s goals. If your world depends on the income of you job, profession, license, we are not free.

  12. Ahhhhh I learned almost 15 years ago that the world had lost its sense of humor…and I say as a trained chemist and a woman who has made some, albeit limited, mark in in a traditional professional male domain (God forbid, not law).

  13. Deb,

    Unlike those quick to take offense at virtually anything, you wear your big boy pants no matter the slight and you do so with humor. In addition to being one of the smartest people I know, you are in fact among the funniest. The huge, complex, and cutting edge scientific instution you help run would do well to make you King. (Queen is beneath you.)

    OK, now it is time for me to go play with my valence.

    All the best.

    Rich

  14. Whether the world has lost its sense of humor or not, as long as I can remember it has not been considered proper for someone in a position of authority to make a joke publicly at the expense of those without authority. (Except on special occasions such as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.) When it does happen, it is correct to interpret it as a form of aggression. Hunt invited his audience to join him in laughing at the cry-baby girls in the lab. They did not do so.

  15. Billikin,

    A form of aggression? That possibility did not occur to me. I will give it some thought. Thanks for taking the time to write.

    RGK

  16. “However, take it from someone who knows from experience, old guys like you and me can’t joke about such things.”

    Tim Hunt has resigned, which is evidence in favor of the proposition that old guys like him can’t joke about such things. You (fortunately IMO) have not resigned, which tends to show that old guys like you definitely can joke about such things (as long as you’re willing to sustain a little well-earned criticism in return).

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