Your Weekly Sexist Scientist

(Edit: See below for my response to Tim Hunt’s resignation)

Okay, it’s partly because I’m in marking hell right now and don’t have the time to write a big post, but it’s partly because this shit keeps happening.

Nobel prize winner, Tim Hunt, addresses a collection of female scientists and says:

“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.”

Alleges the Guardian this morning.

And then of course, after reading this, you get the joy of reading below the line Guardian comments, including such gems as …

  • there is clearly something in what he says

  • In a world of open omnivorous sexuality, it’s all meant to shut down as you walk through the lab door. Hmm.

  • You must have a very low opinion of young women to believe that [this makes science less inclusive]

I don’t know about anyone else but I think I feel the tears happening already. It wasn’t like last week I was saying that each woman needs to decide for herself what she will or will not tolerate. It wasn’t that a few weeks before I was explaining why representation matters in all we do. It wasn’t that a few months ago we had reviewers saying a man should look over a manuscript, just assuming that the foolish women hadn’t already done so, even if it were a legitimate complaint. It’s not that even with the best of intentions, we can’t help but portray women in science as dangerous Eves, meddling just too far for mankind.

While it’s tempting to make a joke here, to leave off with a light hearted ‘see, I’m the fun kind of a feminist’ statement, something like “Who wants to come smuggle some scientists out of Hunt’s lab on a War Rig and paint their forehead black with me?” – I can’t.

I am tired of making the same argument over and over. I am tired of being told by older white men that I should be grateful for inclusion into a field I am damned good at. I am tired of having younger white men start to nod their heads. My beloved science needs to get over its representation problem.

And I bloody well hope that in forty three years time, when I’m advocating for separate human-AI labs, someone tells me to sit down and shut up. Because it won’t be my future I’m jeopardising then.

Tim Hunt has today resigned from his honourary professorship at UCL. Predictably, the radio this morning was full of old men bleating “political correctness gone mad!”.

A few misconceptions to clear up: the man’s contribution to science is not ‘lost’, nor is anyone throwing out what he’s achieved with his Nobel Prize winning innovations. This was an honourary position and so is supposed to reflect what the organisation wants to be. UCL prides themselves on being inclusive, and I think they’re absolutely right to say this resignation fits with their policies. Whether he jumped or was pushed is immaterial. Academic environments need and demand trust and faith in other scientists, you need to be able to evaluate one another on individual merits, not the makeup of your chromosomes.

And finally – no, I actually wish he hadn’t resigned. I wish he’d said “I have caused offense and I don’t understand why, so my employers are supporting me by sending me to equality and diversity training. I want to be open about this process, and we will review the situation after I have attended the requisite courses. I hope you can appreciate my openness and willingness to investigate opposing points of view”.

That, to me, would have illustrated a truly intelligent and incisive mind. And if, after, he maintained that he didn’t understand how he could have caused offence, then the UCL would be at liberty to open the door or push him out. Now he ends his career as a wounded beast, instead of one who is objectively more than clever enough to listen to what others have to say and feel.

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