My 2c worth on latest sexism in science debacle

By Siouxsie Wiles 11/06/2015 77


If you aren’t aware of it, this week another eminent old white guy (OWG) dug himself into a hole. This time it was Oxbridge-educated Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt, also a Fellow of the Royal Society. In other words a privileged old white guy in a position of power and authority. At the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul he apparently made some rather stunning comments about women in science, saying gender-segregated labs were better for science, because women cause trouble for men by falling in love and crying, or something to that effect. His comments were live-tweeted by Connie St Louis.

He has since apologised for upsetting people but stands by his comments – he says he was just being honest and humorous. It’s worth noting that according to Wikipedia, Sir Hunt also sits on the Shaw Prize Life Science and Medicine selection committee; just one of the 25 people awarded this Prize has been a woman*. The Royal Society have released a statement distancing themselves from the debacle, saying Sir Hunt was speaking as an individual and adding “Too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender” and that the Society is committed to helping solve the problem.

I want to raise two points:

1. That’s not an apology.

Sir Hunt has made the classic mistake of thinking he has apologised when he hasn’t. This is what an apology should look like:

I am sorry that I hold such unsubstantiated biased views. I apologise to all the women I have disadvantaged as a result of holding these views while also holding positions of power and influence. Similarly, I apologise to the men I have advantaged, further perpetuating the endemic bias and privilege in the sciences.

2. The Royal Society (and other such bodies) need to do more to solve the problem.

It is not enough for the Royal Society to just distancing themselves from comments like these by people they have bestowed honours on, and pointing to what they are doing to try to help. Here is another suggestion. Give all your Fellows and Council training to recognise ALL their unconscious biases and to see that they are unjustified. Such a move is crucial to tackle the systemic disadvantage faced by many who aren’t privileged OWGs, or privileged OWGs in training.

*This year, the amazing and fantastic Bonnie Bassler. Woohoo!


77 Responses to “My 2c worth on latest sexism in science debacle”

  • I absolutely agree that discrimination on the basis of gender is one of the great sins of the world. To isolate half the population of the world is a disaster in every way you look at it, morally and pragmatically (if there’s a difference).

    I also believe discrimination on the basis of colour is also a blight on any chance of living in a world of peace.

    In addition I find ageism sad, when you are past your prime the last thing you need is to face hostility from the young.

    OWG? You fit all these ‘isms’ into a nice acronym. You must be proud. Three wrongs don’t make a right. An apology might

    • Hi Simbosan

      Thanks for commenting. I’ll apologise for calling an old white guy an old white guy (which is actually an accurate description) when he stops referring to professional women as girls.

  • He made a rather bad joke and now his career has ended for this “old white guy”. By the way, I find that an incredibly patronising and disrepectful way to talk about a Nobel Prize winning scientist who has made enormous contributions to society.

    Has anyone read The Guardian interview with Tim Hunt? There is quite a different picture painted there.

    I feel sorry for anyone entering science or any other profession where media training is a requirement. What is the point in entering a profession where a lifetime of public service and Nobel Prize winning research can be thrown into the trash because a throwaway remark offended someone?

    • Hi Andy

      When that old white guy stops calling women girls, I’ll stop calling him an old white guy.

      Yes I’ve read the interview. Have you read Deborah Blum’s piece?

      His lifetime of research hasn’t been “thrown into the trash”. A retired professor left an honorary position, which is not a paid post but one based on reputation, when the persona he was portraying was at odds with what they want to be seen as supporting. That seems reasonable to me.

  • He was making a joke. Obviously for the “girls” this is too overbearing. The fact that an “old white guy” made a crap joke is little reason to end his career.

    Maybe when Neil de Grass Tyson makes a bad joke you can use the term “old black guy”. But then again maybe not, because this would be offensive and even “girls” wouldn’t be this crass

    If there ever was a reason for “girls” not to enter science as a profession it is perfectly demonstrated in this post. which shows that even women can be bigoted, intolerant, humourless bores.

    • Seriously Andy. Have you read this blog post or Deborah Blum’s piece properly? Stop being so melodramatic. His comments haven’t ended his career in science – just his career swanning about telling bad jokes to inspire people into science. Pardon me for not being sad about that.

  • Science will not put restriction on the gender of its enthusiasts. It’s only about innovation, wisdom, devotion, thus the remarks are really offensive for female scientists and sciences workers. BOC Sciences (http://www.bocsci.com ) owns several labs and we never select the sex of the workers. Hope the old opinion about female scientists will be directed into an impartial state.

  • Besides as a well educated Nobel prize laureate, he should know respect is the basic property of a human. He really shouldn’t have said that. As a female science worker, I felt very angry the moment I saw the news.

  • I would like to add that when I use the term “lab science bitch”, I am using it in the modern gender neutral sense.

    As for anyone that wants a career in science. Don’t bother.

    The pages of “sciblogs” are testament to the dead end groupthink that science is these days.

  • Andy, I see you are applying the “if you don’t have anything useful to say then fling insults and pout” approach to posting.

    If you don’t like sciblogs, feel free not to come back.

  • Speaking herein purely as an unaffiliated individual person, with the right to freedom of speech and the right to hold and express my own opinions, I personally find the above article by Siouxsie Wiles to be far more offensive than anything Tim Hunt may have said. I’m sure that any psychologist/sociologist can confirm that attractions in the workplace are a fact of life (and indeed such attractions presumably also happen in a homosexual context?) Tim Hunt made an error of judgement in publicly saying what he did, but it is being blown up out of all proportion and used to crucify him. Nothing that he said in any way implies that he is also biased against grant applications by women! He didn’t say or imply that men do better science than women. He may be an OWG, but the authoress of the above article is perhaps being abn AFG (Aggressively Feminist Girl, where ‘girl’ is the feminine equivalent of ‘guy’, i.e. “guys and girls”, yet she objects to women being called ‘girls’ while calling Tim Hunt the masculine equivalent!)

  • Dr Wiles: for what it is worth, your thoughts eco mine and are appropriate, especially the suggestion of how the Royal Society can move to limit the impact of bias on women and minority scientists. Great idea.

    Clearly there are comments here that suggest Dr Willes’s assertive point of view is challenging some readers. I remind them that scientists are trained and expected to question and that that includes questioning current institutions and ways of thinking.

    As Carl Sagan put it:
    “The business of scepticism is to be dangerous. Scepticism challenges established institutions. If we teach everybody, including, say, high school students, habits of sceptical thought, they will probably not restrict their scepticism to UFOs, aspirin commercials and 35,000-year-old channellees. Maybe they’ll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions. Perhaps they’ll challenge the opinions of those in power. Then where would we be?”
    ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

    Dr Wiles: thank you and keep up the good work.

  • Stephen,

    Girls is the female equivalent of boys, which would have a similarly dismissive tone if it was used

    Here is what Sir Tim said

    “‘Let me tell you about my trouble with girls.
    ‘Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.’

    Lets change this

    “Let me tell you about my trouble with boys. Three things happen when they are in the lab…”

    Sounds very dismissive to me. Especially if you imagine it coming from, perhaps, a female Nobel laureate.

    Also, I’ve had the privilege of working with quite a few very talented female scientists – I haven’t seen any of them cry when they have been criticised.

    I disagree that Sir Tim should have been expected to resign, but it would have been nice if he had seen the problems with what he said and made a genuine apology.
    I see Siouxsie has suggested some training for scientists around recognising their own biases which seems like a good idea.

    Also, if one of your intentions is to take Siouxsie to task for name calling (i.e. OWG) then it is hypocritical for you to do so and in the same post to refer to her as an Aggressively Feminist Girl. Also, I would suggest you look up the term “aggressively” because I’m not sure you’ve got that right.

    By the way, a female author is an author not an authoress.

  • Michael,

    No, girls is also the female equivalent of guys in colloquial language. Many words in the English language have more than one meaning. I know what Sir Tim said, but he has been quoted out of context, and is probably guilty of nothing more than a bad sense of humour. I reiterate that he did NOT say or imply that men are better scientists than women. I my opinion, Siouxsie’s post is nothing more than a poorly thought through rant by someone with an obvious axe to grind. For one thing, why the racial stereotype? Is Bill Cosby an OWG? Are sexist attitudes more prevalent in older white males (where’s the evidence?) Also, calling someone “old” when they haven’t yet reached retirement age is also quite rude and inaccurate. It seems to be very trendy these days to crucify an “OWG”, but at least in this case it has been blown up out of all proportion.

    By the way, authoress can mean a female author, see: https://www.google.co.nz/search?q=authoress&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=hN2FVZyzIYvp8AXc_ZKIAQ

    You might prefer not to use the term, but that’s just POV.

  • Stephen,

    No one is saying that he said men are better scientists than women, so I’m not sure where you are getting that from. It is about his sexist comments which make is sound like women are less welcome in labs and the incorrect suggestion that women in labs cry when they are criticised (unless you have evidence to the contrary).
    When such comments are made by a Nobel Laureate people pay more attention so he should have known better.

    And I disagree it has been taken out of context. It is very clearly a demeaning/patronising comment, one which when given the chance to clarify, he maintained it was what he really thought.

    Girls is the female equivalent to boys; gals is the female equivalent to guys.
    Do you really think given the tone of his comments that he didn’t mean girls in the same way I used “boys” in my previous comment?

    I’m guessing the OWG (old white guy) term is a reference to the fact that science still seems to be dominated by older white men who assume they have the right to say whatever they like, whenever they like, and not be challenged on it. Probably not the best term, but no better than your AFG comment.

    I don’t think he should have been forced to resign – I’m sure suitable social pressure could have made him rethink his comments.

    Of course you can choose to use the term “authoress” despite common use now of “author” for both genders, though I do wonder why it would be necessary to define someone as a female author rather than just an author.

  • I guess Sir Tim is a bit surprised with the response. From his comments he probably expected any offended women to have a little cry.

  • > It is very clearly a demeaning/patronising comment <

    I disagree! You have chosen to interpret it that way. Apart from the crying remark, what he actually said cuts both ways, i.e. [quote]you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you[unquote]. This can be read simply as a somewhat clumsy way of saying that heterosexual attractions do occur in the workplace, and can be distracting. Fact. If anything, he just failed to consider that the same thing may hold also for homosexual attractions. Note that S. Wiles quoted him rather misleadingly as having said that [quote]women cause trouble for men by falling in love and crying, or something to that effect[unquote]. Additionally, I don't have any hard facts on the matter, but I find it highly plausible that women in the workplace are more likely to cry when criticised than men are. At any rate, it isn't something to blow up out of all proportion. This is just a classic case of the PC world gone mad. It also illustrates the way that we build people up only to take any excuse to shoot them down. It is ugly. I respect someone who actually says what they really think, rather than pretending to be what they are not.

  • Stephen,
    Really, you interpret Siouxsie’s post as shooting him down? She called him an “old white guy who had “dug himself into a hole”, and suggested that scientific bodies should provide some training for scientists re understanding their own biases.
    I would hardly call that shooting him down.

    I don’t know how you can’t interpret a comment which says he has trouble with “girls” as patronising.

    “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls”

    And I don’t understand your comments re it failing to consider homosexual attractions – Sir Tim is presumably heterosexual so his comments are from a heterosexual perspective.

  • Yes, I most certainly do interpret S. Wiles post as shooting him down! She misquoted him and then hacked into him for saying something that he didn’t in fact say! To quote him as having said [quote]women cause trouble for men by falling in love and crying, or something to that effect[unquote] is really unforgiveable on the part of S. Wiles. Let’s rewrite what Tim Hunt said in a vague and loaded way to make him sound like a sexist pig! Charming!

    At any rate, the real problem here is that the system is deeply flawed. The “Sir Tim” and “Royal Society” stuff is all really just meaningless snobbery. Probably the only reason he got to this stage in his career was by managing to somehow keep his mouth shut and not offend anyone thus far. You can be sure that although he did in the end open his mouth, he only said what the majority of people like him are thinking anyway, and, in this case, that’s OK, because he didn’t actually say anything of any significance, just that attractions happen in the workplace and can be distracting, and that women have a tendency to cry more than men (S. Wiles read into this some sort of connection between the falling in love and the crying, but I read it as two independent things). And we still don’t know the context in which he said what he did. He could have meant what he said, but at the same time expressed it in a somewhat satirical tone. It may or may not have been appropriate to do so, but is this sort of mistake sufficient to end a perhaps somewhat illustrious career in disgrace? I think not. And I still maintain that, in colloquial language, girls is often used as in “guys and girls” (see https://www.google.co.nz/search?q=%22guys+and+girls%22&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=PxmGVYG1A4iY8QWovIOAAg), not necessarily as in “boys and girls”.

  • I think Sir Tim used three sentences that were supposed to be funny, but obviously this got lost in translation somewhere (I didn’t find it funny, but then this is true of most academic jokes)

    Nevertheless, the permanently offended people that patrol the Twittersphere have made their feelings felt.

    Fiona Fox, director of the UK Science Media Centre, has a more reasoned and less hysterical view on this matter

    http://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/2015/06/15/call-off-the-hunt-fiona-fox-on-tim-hunt/

  • And Fiona Fox is (almost) absolutely correct! What a refreshingly competent sort of girl (as opposed to guy!) to be employed in a science media centre. The only thing she got wrong was not going so far as to admit that what Hunt has some truth in it, i.e. attractions are a factor in the workplace (lab or wherever), potentially distracting from the work, and quite possibly females do have more of a tendency to cry than males, which I can imagine could be rather awkward if you have to reprimand or criticise someone in the workplace. I really don’t see any sexism here, or discrimination of any kind. I don’t see racial stereotyping (“OWG”), or labelling of still working people as “old”, etc. Nobody is perfect, not even a knighted member of the Royal Society, but we can’t execute everyone who steals a chocolate bar, so let’s keep things in perspective, shall we?

  • Stephen,
    I agree some of the reaction overseas has been somewhat excessive, but I can’t see that Siouxsie simply criticising him and suggesting training for people to understand biases is particularly “hysterical”.
    Also, I don’t see that Siouxsie misquoted Sir Tim, she simply gave her interpretation of what he had said.

    With regards to relationships occurring in the lab, of course that happens, however, when such an observation comes after the statement “‘Let me tell you about my trouble with girls”, it seems to be implying that for some reason this is the fault of women. If his issue is relationships in labs why single out one half of (most) relationships?

    ps the easiest way to avoid confusion about whether or not the term “girls” is patronising or not is to just use the term “women”.

  • Stephen, I understand that I’ve offended you calling Tim Hunt an old white guy but I’m curious why you wrote this:

    “calling someone “old” when they haven’t yet reached retirement age is also quite rude and inaccurate”

    Tim Hunt’s Wikipedia page puts his birth year as 1943 which makes him 72. In the UK, men collect their pension at 65, which has long been equated with retirement age. At 72, Tim Hunt is what is often referred to as an old-aged pensioner (OAP). What age are you referring to when you say retirement age? What do you think I got wrong?

  • Siouxsie:
    Yes, you’ve got me on a minor technicality, in that I didn’t check his actual age, but that is deflecting from the main point. You haven’t offended me by calling him an OWG. You have annoyed me by putting a misleading spin on what he actually said, and then launching into a big hatchet job on him, thereby joining in with an angry mob who are out for his blood. Your post was neither accurate nor balanced. He did not say [quoting you]women cause trouble for men by falling in love and crying[unquote]. He said, I suggest, that attractions are a factor in the workplace, and can be distracting, and also that women have a tendency to cry when criticised, which can be awkward to have to deal with. To what extent these comments are true or false is not really the point. The point is that they are being blown up out of all proportion. They do not suggest that Sir Tim has inappropriate attitudes towards women. To put it in perspective, if you want to see someone who really does have inappropriate attitudes towards women, how about this guy recently in the news and now in prison: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/hutt-valley/68334221/Philip-Hansen-found-guilty-of-pulling-womens-teeth-with-pliers Now, that guy deserves what he got, and yet Sir Tim’s career has ended in disgrace for simply saying that attractions can be a distraction in the workplace! Even John Key got off more lightly that Sir Tim for something arguably more serious, i.e. hair pulling a waitress. I remind you below of the apology you have penned above on Sir Tim’s behalf (I just don’t see how you get that from what he actually said):

    I am sorry that I hold such unsubstantiated biased views. I apologise to all the women I have disadvantaged as a result of holding these views while also holding positions of power and influence. Similarly, I apologise to the men I have advantaged, further perpetuating the endemic bias and privilege in the sciences.

  • @Andy

    Yes, indeed. In this PC age, one must be very careful to choose the currently accepted terminology, or else risk suffering the fate of Sir Tim at the hands of angry mobs!

  • @Michael Edmonds

    Siouxsie’s reaction is equally “somewhat excessive” in my opinion. I did not use the word “hysterical”, so please don’t make it look like I did! Your distinction between “misquoting” and “simply giving an interpretation of what was said” is entirely contrived to try to vindicate Siouxsie.

  • Stephen

    Apologies, I muddled your comments with Andy’s which is where I got the term “hysterical” from.

    Siouxsie doesn’t need to be “vindicated” in any way, shape or form.

    She did not misquote Tim Hunt because she did not quote him directly (hence no quote marks were used). Her phrasing clearly indicates that it was her interpretation of what he said as it finished with “or something to that effect”.

    Your definition of “somewhat excessive” is certainly different from mine – commenting on his behaviour and suggesting better training for scientists, comes nowhere close to all of those who pushed him to resign.
    You are interpreting Siouxsie’s comments with the same excessive negative bias that you seem to be rallying against in those who criticised Sir Tim – quite ironic really – with far less justification

    But then perhaps that is only my interpretation

  • Siouxsie doesn’t need to be “vindicated” in any way, shape or form.

    No, she used the pejorative term “old white guy” to describe a Nobel Prize winning scientist who happened to use some terms that offended the Twitterati.

    Oh poor dears, take some time out in your “safe spaces” and mop your fevered brows. Those horrid white guys will soon go away and you can be inclusive with each other (but not them)

    Meanwhile, Lubos Motl gives us an Eastern European perspective on this insanity

    http://motls.blogspot.co.nz/2015/06/tim-hunt-vs-distractingly-sexy-girls.html

  • @Michael Edmonds

    I suggest that you read up on the so-called “principle of charity”, and related principles (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity), in order to see that S. Wiles’ rhetoric misleadingly quoted Sir Tim, thus setting up a straw man (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man), and then setting fire to him!

    I reiterate once again that I cannot see how the apology that S. Wiles wrote on Sir Tim’s behalf (see below) relates to what was actually said. There is a leap the width of the Grand Canyon!

    [Quoting S. Wiles]I am sorry that I hold such unsubstantiated biased views. I apologise to all the women I have disadvantaged as a result of holding these views while also holding positions of power and influence. Similarly, I apologise to the men I have advantaged, further perpetuating the endemic bias and privilege in the sciences[unquote]

  • Andy,

    “Oh poor dears, take some time out in your “safe spaces” and mop your fevered brows. Those horrid white guys will soon go away and you can be inclusive with each other (but not them)”

    Ah, the sarcasm and insults again. Never mind.

    As eventually I may become an old white guy, I intend to be included and be inclusive by not saying silly sexist things..

  • My insults are fully justified imho.

    Universities and the west in general are becoming a joke. A bastion of ultra-conservativism. A bunch of “you can’t say that” Victorian “Grande Dammes” who strut around and tut tut at anything deemed inappropriate, that may shock and confront them, that needs “safe spaces” to hide from reality.

    Given that out social mores are changing around us at an accelerating pace, who is to say what will be “appropriate” in 5 or 10 years that you may accidentally disapprove of (because you are not allowed to, remember?)

    Gosh, even clapping has been deemed inappropriate by the National Union of Students in the UK, and “Jazz Hands” were suggested as an alternative

    Does anyone outside the bubble actually take these clowns seriously?

  • woah. As a nonscientist HR person who is old, white and a guy, let me pose a question:

    Had the learned professor jocularly noted that the problem with blacks in the lab is they get jiggy with it all the time, you can only see them when the light glints off their teeth, and you have to count the test tubes after they leave, would he have been considered “funny” or “racist”?

    Here’s the test of whether something is a joke – if the person or group who is the subject of the wit appreciate the humour. If they do not, its likely that, while the comment is funny to some, it is actually doing so at the price of offending someone or, in this case, an entire class of people.

    For a public figure, that’s just not good practise.

    • Thanks for chiming in Ashton! Nice to have another reasonable voice appearing amongst the Siouxsie-bashing currently going on.

      And thanks Michael for your support.

      I didn’t call for Tim Hunt’s career to be ended, so am quite fascinated by what Andy and Stephen are getting their y-fronts in a twist about and how they don’t see what we “Twitterati” are upset about: all the people whose careers have been disadvantaged by those with unconscious biases in positions of power. Tim Hunt’s comments hit a real nerve as many of us are dealing with the reality of sexism on a day to day basis. And this member of the Twitterati is getting more and more peeved by the number of shouty annoyed men who can’t see the woods for their privileged trees.

  • Please don’t take this personally Siouxsie, this isn’t a witch hunt against you.

    Russell Brand is not a scientist (I think we can all agree on that), yet he left an obscene message on Andrew Sach’s answerphone to the effect that he had “done” his granddaughter (not the exact word he used, if you take my meaning), much to the delight of his cohost Jonathan Ross on BBC Radio. They were both suspended from the BBC for six months, yet Brand is now regularly wheeled out as a guest on BBC Question Time as a “political commentator”

    So on one side we have an ex-Junkie who has made sexist and obscene comments on national radio, still with a job, and on the other hand we have a scientist who has devoted his life to ground breaking research, who is now persona non grata for making some fairly lame comments at a conference in Korea, that no one can even name.

    It does seem a little unbalanced, no?

  • Russell Brand (like or loathe) is a comedian – its his job to be funny and, by extension, to offend.

    A Nobel prize winning scientist, not so much.

    I generally wouldn’t have thought this needed explaining or clarifying. Perhaps my expectations are a bit high.

  • So on one side we have an ex-Junkie who has made sexist and obscene comments on national radio, still with a job, and on the other hand we have a scientist who has devoted his life to ground breaking research, who is now persona non grata for making some fairly lame comments at a conference in Korea, that no one can even name.

    In fact, most of the job of the aged Nobelist is to speak to young scientists and advocate for science. The only other “job” he lost was an honoury position designed to lend some of his mana to an institution he had not actual research connection with.

    His statements are just not compatible with those roles. I wish all those who get so worked up about Hunt losing this sinecure would spend half that energy on the many more women who are lost to science because of attitudes like his.

  • @David Winter

    Can you back up your statement that women are lost to science because of attitudes like those of Sir Tim Hunt? What attitudes? The only “attitude” I can see is refreshingly frank honesty. Sure he didn’t word it in the best possible manner, but is that sufficient to end a career in disgrace? Save the bullets for the villians. What Sir Tim said is just an insignificant minor trip up at worst, being blown up out of all proportion, as an excuse for those with chips on their shoulders to stick the knife in. What Sir Tim actually said can be interpreted as something along the lines of “attractions are a factor in the workplace, which can be distracting, and women have a tendency to cry when criticized, which can be awkward to deal with”. He didn’t say “so we should therefore ban women from science!” There is absolutely no evidence in what he said to suggest that any women have been disadvantaged by Sir Tim. Again [Quoting S. Wiles’ “apology” on behalf of Sir Tim]I am sorry that I hold such unsubstantiated biased views. I apologise to all the women I have disadvantaged as a result of holding these views while also holding positions of power and influence. Similarly, I apologise to the men I have advantaged, further perpetuating the endemic bias and privilege in the sciences[unquote]. Sir Tim isn’t the villian here ..

  • Russell Brand is not a comedian. At least, I don’t find him funny.
    He has written a book called “Revolution”, has been interviewed by Jeremy Paxman as some kind of new age philosopher, and makes appearances on BBC Question Time, fielding comments about current affairs and politics.

    He is apparently a voice for the politically disenfranchised yoof of Britain, and has appeared on BBC Radion bragging that he f***ed Andrew Sach’s granddaughter.

    But hey lets pick on the scientist, who has not shown any sexist behaviour in his professional life whatsoever, but made a lame joke at a little known science communication conference in Korea.

    I have any idea. Lets ban all jokes. I think it is inappropriate the scientists should make jokes at conferences. They should just be dull, tedious, beige and unappealing.

    After all, stand up comedians have all but given up doing gigs at Universities these days, as seen in Jerry Seinfield’s latest pronouncements

    Western universities (particularly in the USA) have become bastions of political correctness and conformity

    The fact that so many here seem to support this witch hunt seems quite depressing.

  • Needless to say the term “Old White Guy” isn’t racist, sexist or ageist, because “old white guys” hold no cards in the game of Victim Poker.

  • Stephen,

    I suggest you listen to some women in science about the barriers they face. I think you’ll find colleagues and communities can limit people’s careers without explicitly stating (or even thinking) women should be excluded from science(!).

  • @David Winter

    I did not say that women aren’t being disadvantaged by sexist attitudes! I simply said that there was little or nothing to suggest that Sir Tim is responsible for any of this. But I guess that since we already have him strung up by the balls, we might as well apply the electrodes …

  • I’m not sure you read the comment Stephen.

    In your attempts to stick up for Hunt you’d made you own translation of his comments (not the one he gave when given the chance to explain himself) and then tried to set up a new standard for what constitutes a damaging attitude (saying “so we should therefore ban women from science”).

    It should be obvious sexism doesn’t need to be this explicit to be a problem.

    Again, I hope you spend half as much energy trying to make the playing field more level for women in science as you do finding a reason to feel sympathy for Tim Hunt.

  • @David Winter

    No, I made the most conservative interpretation of his comments that is consistent with his actual words, as is the right and proper thing to do under the circumstances. Otherwise it is all too easy to make a straw man. I also did not imply that “so we should therefore ban women from science” would be the only attitude which causes damage. I implied that it would be the only attitude which would justify the severity of the reaction against Hunt. Don’t execute the man for stealing a chocolate bar! The punishment is out of all proportion to the “crime”.

  • @David Winter

    Furthermore, it is misleading of you to suggest that I am attempting to stick up for Hunt. I’m not. I’d not even heard of him until this business. I’ve just had personal experience of being at the sharp end of an angry mob who disregard reason. It is ugly.

  • Eventually those of us that conform to the gender binary (sorry if that’s offensive) will become either old men or old women, who may or may not be “of colour” (somehow white is not a colour, but black is, I’m confused) and most of us will die of boredom being offended by something we read on Twitter.

  • On the subject of the overly PC world we live in, someone once told me [quote]sometimes what you write is very good, but other times you say things as they are, and people really don’t like that[unquote]. This guy worked in a CRI, and was very much a “yes man”, trying not to offend anyone or step out of line. A couple of years out from retirement, he was made redundant!

  • @Stephen Thorpe

    “The only “attitude” I can see is refreshingly frank honesty”

    And herein lies the problem. You have interpreted Tim Hunt’s in your own way and refuse to accept that the way it was phrased other people can interpret it another way (and with more evidence). Your ongoing inability to see this smacks of privilege.

    You continue to maintain that the “three points” Sir Tim made were honest but you have not explained why he began his statement by saying
    “‘Let me tell you about my trouble with girls.”

    This strongly suggests he is blaming women for all of the falling in love in labs, etc. If it wasn’t intended to be sexist and patronising why did he start with this?
    Falling in love in the lab in most cases involves a man and a woman – why blame it on the woman?

    .

  • @Michael Edmonds

    There is more than one possible interpretation of Hunt’s words. I am simply doing the only right and proper thing and choosing the most conservative interpretation which is consistent with his actual words. The phrase that he started with, i.e. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls” is pretty meaningless. It would be an inappropriate thing to say in the context of a formal speech, but in a more relaxed and informal context it could mean just about anything (or nothing!) It may have been said in a satirical tone. At any rate, it is nowhere near serious enough to warrant the severity of the reaction against Hunt. All that is going to achieve is to make similar people even more paranoid about what they say, but it won’t actually change their attitudes, and it is the latter which matter, not what they say.

  • “Falling in love in the lab in most cases involves a man and a woman – why blame it on the woman?”

    Because he is a man and he is describing it from his perspective

  • “He is stating as fact”

    It was supposed to be a joke, not a scientific presentation

    I’ve got a good one.
    A person, a person and a person walk into a bar….

  • The British sense of humour can be a bit too subtle, particularly for Americans. Hunt was clearly being sarcastic/satirical. At any rate, what he actually said was very mild. He said “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them [for anything] they cry”. Nothing in that quote blames women for anything, except for having a tendency to cry when criticised. It cuts both ways. Women without men wouldn’t be “distracted” and men without women wouldn’t be “distracted” (except perhaps for homosexuals). It is just a fact of life that attractions happen in the workplace (e.g. “the lab”), nobody is “to blame”. The problem would be solved somewhat by segregation, but that ain’t gonna happen, and even if it did it would not disadvantage women any more than it would disadvantage men. Whoever linked Hunt’s comments to women scientists being disadvantaged at the hands of sexist men is the real villian here.

  • Stephen,

    “There is more than one possible interpretation of Hunt’s words. I am simply doing the only right and proper thing and choosing the most conservative interpretation which is consistent with his actual words.”

    Don’t you mean choosing the interpretation of Hunt’s words that suits your purpose?

    “The phrase that he started with, i.e. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls” is pretty meaningless.”

    No it is not meaningless, otherwise it would have not received the response it did

    “At any rate, it is nowhere near serious enough to warrant the severity of the reaction against Hunt.”

    Here we agree. He should not have been forced into resigning, something Siouxsie also thinks was excessive.

    I find it amazing that you are able to dismiss the comments he made while simultaneously making a fuss over Siouxsie calling him an old white guy (which is after all factually correct)

  • Michael,

    No way! Anybody can take a quote from anyone else, interpret it in the most outrageous way possible, and then argue against it. It is called “the straw man fallacy”. My only purpose is to keep things real and keep things in perspective. I have been at the sharp end of aggressive mobs who twisted everything I said, so I know what it is like. It is ugly.

    Let me try to put this another way: The interpretation of Hunt which S. Wiles and others are reacting against goes well beyond what he actually said. All Hunt actually said was that there can be problems (how big a problem, Hunt doesn’t say) with mixed gender labs, resulting from attractions (sometimes mutual attractions, or at least attractions in both directions), and there can also be problems trying to criticize women, as they tend to cry. These are putative facts. But it is a huge jump from this to the claim that therefore Hunt discriminates against women, hold their careers back, and/or is biased against grant applications by women. For all anyone knows, Hunt tries his utmost to maintain fairness and be unbiased in the face of these problems. He certainly did not say what he did as any kind of justification for disadvantaging women in science! He just said “these are the problems”. Whether the problems are big enough to keep him awake at night, or just a minor irritation, we really don’t know. Don’t go beyond what he actually said into the world of speculation.

  • Stephen

    “All Hunt actually said was that there can be problems (how big a problem, Hunt doesn’t say) with mixed gender labs, resulting from attractions (sometimes mutual attractions, or at least attractions in both directions), and there can also be problems trying to criticize women, as they tend to cry.”

    I find it ironic that you have just done what you accused Siouxsie of doing earlier

    “Note that S. Wiles quoted him rather misleadingly as having said that [quote]women cause trouble for men by falling in love and crying, or something to that effect[unquote].”

    By reinterpreting what he said you are now putting a spin on it that suits your argument. Can you not take a couple of steps back, look at his comments objectively and consider that they could come across as patronising to women?

  • Michael,

    Why do you seem to be incapable of understanding the Principle of Charity? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity ‘… the goal of this methodological principle is to avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others’ statements, when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available’

    The interpretation of Hunt by S. Wiles is a straw man, my interpretation of Hunt is in line with the Principle of Charity. That’s the difference, the BIG difference.

    At any rate, public opinion should not be judge, jury and executioner of Hunt or anyone else. If he has done something illegal, then let the law deal with it. If he hasn’t, then leave him alone.

  • Stephen,

    “the goal of this methodological principle is to avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others’ statements, when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available”

    Again you are assuming your interpretation is better/more correct than others. I would suggest that it is a perfectly coherent and rational interpretation to say the comments reflected underlying sexist attitude, attitudes which when voiced in front of an audience containing a large number of women in science would be patronising.
    I appreciate the concept of being charitable, but I think allowing such silly and offensive comments to unchallenged is wrong. And Siouxsie’s comments were fairly mild.

  • The natural extension of the Principle of Charity is to assume good faith and not attribute to anyone an outrageous interpretation of their words when a more conservative interpretation is available. As something of a science analogy, don’t go beyond the data, use Occam’s Razor, etc.

    And, no, the comments of S. Wiles were not “fairly mild”.

    Letting offensive remarks go unchallenged is part of life. What some people find funny, others find offensive, but we cannot impose our preferences on others. Particularly in this case where the role of humour is not quite clear, i.e., it is not clear to what extent Hunt was being sarcastic/satirical. At any rate, there is absolutely no evidence that Hunt put any women at any disadvantage in his career. People often do things in an unbiased manner, as a matter of duty, even if certain things annoy them about it. For all we know, Hunt is one of those people.

  • Stephen,

    So why aren’t you able to apply the Principle of Charity to Siouxsie, whereby you would assume that her comments were made with good intent to deal with what she found to be offensive comments.

    And I will again point out that by stating that

    “no, the comments of S. Wiles were not “fairly mild”.”

    you are assuming that your interpretation is more valid /correct than others.

  • The British sense of humour can be a bit too subtle, particularly for Americans.

    and for Kiwis too, it would appear

  • Michael,

    You seem hell bent on twisting things (e.g. the Principle of Charity) to vindicate S. Wiles, but it is clearly contrived.

    Just wanted to do 69! 🙂

  • Stephen,

    It is quite clear that you are only capable of seeing Sir Tim’s and Siouxsie’s comment from your point of view which you deem to be the rational and only possible interpretation.
    This is a perfect demonstration of the issues which occur with some “old white guys” in science – they are incapable of seeing the world from any other view than that of an old white guy.

    There are more than just old white guys in the world and in science labs and their views also count.

  • Looks like an apology needs to be offered. But, from Connie St. Louis. Her cv on the University’s web site, which is used to attract these students, has more holes than a Swiss cheese.she hasn’t written for most of the newspapers she claims, and I don’t think one appearance in 10 years hardly qualifies her as a regular contributor. Shame the media didn’t check the story before rushing to run the Nobel prize winner down.

  • You may take this article in the Daily Fail with a suitable level of scepticism ( as the article itself suggests)
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3136897/Sexist-Nobel-winner-went-praise-women-scientists-controversial-comments-jokingly-branded-chauvinist-monster.html

    in which the person reporting the alleged “offences” has a somewhat embellished CV

    Nevertheless, in a world where over 50% of the world’s population live in societies that practise gender apartheid, and where the “right on” group are changing their Facebook to rainbow colours, whilst the “region of peace” throws gays to their death from multi-storey building, and in the unlikely event that they survive the fall, they are stoned to death by groups that include children, we might possibly question our sense of priorities.

    But, of course, our “sense of priorities” merely pander to our narcissistic selves. We don’t actually give a stuff about women’s or gay rights. Just so long as we are “right on”

    Check your privilege you cis-genered old white racist mofos

  • Andy, interesting article.

    I most agree with the view of the following professor.

    “While Cambridge academic Mary Beard said she would ‘like to smack his bottom’ and ‘give him a piece of my mind’ – but that she wouldn’t she ‘wouldn’t drum him out of the academic town’.”

    Neither Siouxsie or I think he should have lost his position. But he needed to have been challenged on his comments.
    It seems that some people think there were only two options (ignore his comments or have him removed from his positions). A far better choice would have been for him to have been challenged on his comments but not for him to lose his positions etc.

    ALL Siouxsie did was was give her opinion of his comments, and her advice was that scientific staff receive better training to understand their biases – hardly witch hunt material.

    I’m not sure what you are on about with your last two comments – it seems to come with a hell of a lot of (inaccurate) assumptions about other people here

  • It’s great that we are crucifying a Nobel Prize winner for using irony based solely on the reports of a woman who has lied about her academic career.

    Such an awesome day for science