The Mayor Of London And These Scientists Are Defending Tim Hunt And His Sexist Remarks
On Saturday, Nobel laureate Tim Hunt said he'd been "hung out to dry" by academic institutions for his offensive remarks about women in science. London Mayor Boris Johnson and scientists such as Richard Dawkins are now coming to Hunt's defense.
This weekend, after biologist Tim Hunt lost several prestigious academic appointments for making shockingly sexist remarks at a journalism conference, the Nobel winner and his wife complained to The Guardian about the social media mob raging against him.
Hunt's comments — which included support for sex-segregated labs, because the "trouble with girls" is that "you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry!" — were wrong, Hunt admitted to the paper. But he feels that his punishment has gone too far. "I have been hung out to dry," he said.
"I am finished," Hunt told The Guardian. "I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but I cannot see how that can happen. I have become toxic. I have been hung to dry by academic institutes who have not even bothered to ask me for my side of affairs."
On Monday, however, University College London updated its statement to rebut Hunt's claims.
"Media and online commentary played no part in UCL's decision to accept his resignation," the statement reads. "UCL sought on more than one occasion to make contact with Sir Tim to discuss the situation, but his resignation was received before direct contact was established."
Now some scientists, as well as London Mayor Boris Johnson, are coming to Hunt's defense.
"Whether you say it is a function of biology or social expectation, it is a fact that — on the whole — men and women express emotion differently," Johnson wrote Sunday in The Telegraph.
"Sir Tim Hunt was doing what he has done all his life – pointing out a natural phenomenon he had observed. He did not deserve to be pilloried, and should be reinstated forthwith to his academic positions."
Richard Dawkins, a prominent evolutionary biologist, is also pushing to #ReinstateTimHunt, as he tweeted Sunday:
Some scientists, while acknowledging that Hunt's comments were awful, worry that the response to him has gone too far.
Alice Dreger, a bioethicist at Northwestern University, wrote a blog post Sunday outlining her concerns about the loss of academic freedom.
"What if Hunt's remarks, rather than being purely glib sexist stupidity, actually did represent an ideology he held?" Dreger wrote. "What if he genuinely believed that females are bad for science?
"Would we then worry a little more about academic freedom — about his right to hold an unpopular view and still be a member of the academic community?"
Fiona Fox, chief executive of the Science Media Centre charity, expressed similar concerns, writing that some of Hunt's colleagues claim that he has advanced the careers of many women scientists.
"[T]here is huge difference between slamming his comments as out of date, and calling for his head on a plate," Fox wrote. "Has this advanced the cause of women in science? I fear not. The very real issues which women in science face at each stage of their careers are not being addressed by tokenistic gestures and a rush to judge."
But other scientists have little sympathy for Hunt, pointing out that he hasn't fully apologized for his remarks, and that the consequences were fairly minor.
Earlier this year, Michael Eisen, a biologist at UC Berkeley, met Hunt at a meeting in Kashmir of young Indian scientists. As Eisen recounted Sunday on his blog, he and Hunt sat next to each other during a session in which young women scientists told "horrible" stories about how sexism had limited their careers.
In thinking about the recent hoopla about Hunt, "I am not thinking about how Twitter hordes brought down a good man because he had a bad day," Eisen wrote. "I am instead thinking about what it says to the women in that room in Kashmir that this leading man of science — who it was clear everybody at the meeting revered — had listened to their stories and absorbed nothing."
He continued: "I will take him at his word that he did not mean to cause harm. But the fact that he did not realize that those words would cause harm is worse even than the words themselves. That a person as smart as Hunt could go his entire career without realizing that a Nobel Prizewinner deriding women — even in a joking way — is bad just serves to show how far we have to go."
This post has been updated with a new statement from University College London.