What’s Changed? Anything? (#Just1action4WIS)

This was the year, amongst other things, of the #distractinglysexy hashtag, as discussed recently on BBC Radio4 here. This hashtag was itself part of the fallout of #Huntgate, the undeserved fall from grace of a Nobel prize winner on the back of an ill-judged joke in Seoul around which a whole mythology seems to have grown up.

As someone who knew Tim Hunt reasonably well through committee work (but hardly on terms of close friendship, both facts I have always disclosed) and so knew perfectly well the nature of his sense of humour as well as his active support of women, right from when his remarks were first brought to my attention I was convinced this was a joke that had gone horribly wrong. My reaction was that the stories that were abounding were unlikely to be an accurate representation of what had actually happened. Yet as a supporter of the cause of women in science it is clear that I was ‘expected’ to want to shoot the man. That, on the contrary – and like many women who knew and admired Tim – I wanted to express my support meant I became the target of those who thought I had ‘let down the sisterhood’ and that my views would apparently ever more be suspect. Indeed I became the target of some vitriol that certainly caused me to lose sleep (mild by comparison with many; there has been some truly horrendous abuse tossed around, none of which I condone).

What I did not foresee was the way the story would run, and run, and run: 6+ months on it is still rumbling on. It has long since ceased to be about Tim himself. People continue to try to get at the ‘truth’ and indeed new facts are still emerging, although also new red herrings. As lawyers know only too well, asking witnesses six months on what happened and how they felt is not likely to provide particularly reliable information. Yet there are those who attempt to base their case on such witness statements (which collectively seem to be about as contradictory as one might expect, sometimes internally self-contradictory too)*.

Tim’s apparent silence in the face of questions at a Sexism in Science session in Seoul, which fuelled much of the anger in some quarters, has been shown to be down to a case of misidentification. Tim has demonstrably been shown to be elsewhere – actually lending support at the talks of two women scientists. The person being questioned didn’t answer because they had nothing to do with the case. Even some of those most visible on the ‘anti’ side of the fence have accepted this misidentification. Yet that doesn’t seem to have caused the anger to abate as one would have hoped given this fresh concrete evidence and not all those who initiated that particular part of the story seem to have had the grace publicly to correct or retract what they said and wrote. Other people were made angry due to the initial misattribution of a quote about thanking ‘the ladies who had made lunch’, a remark actually made by a Korean female politician. Again, the clarification of who made this inane remark does not seem to have caused everyone to reconsider whether their anger at Tim was justified.

That in July I used Louise Mensch’s reports to support the ‘pro-Tim case’ seems also to have caused people to become angry specifically with me. I was surprised by the remarks I received privately and publicly from people I respect, taking this line. As far as I’m concerned when hard evidence is produced I regard it as evidence regardless of its source. It does not make me one of her ‘minions’, as some of her allies have been described, it does not mean I have ‘collaborated’ with her as others charged. Nor does it mean I have always approved of the tone of her writing and tweets; I haven’t. It does mean that where I knew facts that were not already in the public domain (from the ERC’s perspective in particular with regard to an earlier post of hers) I could see her investigations bore fruit.

Her latest analysis of when the outrage began building into the visible Twitterstorm that led to the media hounding of Tim does provide new, hard evidence demonstrating that the Twitter fury essentially occurred only after the misidentification of Tim at the Sexism in Science affair and not in the immediate aftermath of his ill-fated toast. I think that fact suggests that the outrage was not simply sparked by what he said, as has usually been implied.  (Indeed it seems that the journalists who have described their horror at his initial words did not themselves attempt to talk to him in the hours after his toast – privately to call him out – despite there being opportunities to do so.) My own attempt at an interpretation is that the understandable undercurrent of ill-feeling around the wider issues of sexism exploded into an ad hominem attack on Tim as an obvious high profile target (with subsequently many others caught up in it) in the face of ‘his’ apparent refusal to answer questions at the Sexism in Science session in Korea.

There is of course a huge problem about sexism in science, of which many women will have personal and painful experience. Everyday sexism abounds, in the lab as elsewhere; most certainly it gets hurled around on Twitter. But this big problem in day to day science is what we should be exerting our collective energies towards addressing and it does not seem to be.

Surely it is time for people to accept that mistakes were made by many on a variety of fronts in this sorry story. Tim may have been idiotic in making his self-confessed ironic comments (as he himself would admit) but others have got hold of misinformation and refused to let it go or accept its inaccuracy. Many folk have sought to build a case to hang the man, acting as judge and jury, based on very little hard evidence.

People seem determined to point fingers and to go on doing so – something I, for one, early on entreated we stopped doing. It is as if some people enjoy throwing mud more than moving the world forward. If everyone is so concerned about sexism in science, could we not just concentrate on that challenge and do something useful instead of expending energy attacking others who ultimately share the same goals? I said in July in the closing comment on my own post that I felt this sad saga resembled the story of the suffragettes versus the suffragists and nothing has made me change my mind.

There was a brief surge of enthusiasm for my call in June for #just1action4WIS (Just one action for Women in Science), but I do not see it has had any lasting impact. (Nor, as the recent BBC Radio4 broadcast spelled out, has #distractinglysexy succeeded in doing any better despite the huge number of tweets with that hashtag.) So let me remind you of my list of actions that all of us can and should bear in mind as we go about our daily lives.

  • Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimised;
  • Encourage women to dare, to take risks;
  • Act as a sponsor or mentor;
  • Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or acting to exclude anyone;
  • Seek out and remove microinequities wherever you spot them;
  • Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of female invited speakers;
  • Consider the imagery in your department and ensure it represents a diverse group of individuals;
  • Consider the daily working environment to see if anything inappropriate is lurking. If so, do something about it.
  • Demand/require mandatory unconscious bias training, in particular for appointment and promotion panels;
  • Call out teachers who tell girls they can’t/shouldn’t do maths, physics etc;
  • Don’t let the bold (male or female) monopolise the conversation in the classroom or the apparatus in the laboratory, at the expense of the timid (female or male);
  • Ask schools about their progression rates for girls into the traditionally male subjects at A level (or indeed, the traditionally female subjects for boys);
  • Nominate women for prizes, fellowships etc;
  • Tap women on the shoulder to encourage them to apply for opportunities they otherwise would be unaware of or feel they were not qualified for;
  • Move the dialogue on from part-time working equates to ‘isn’t serious’ to part-time working means balancing different demands;
  • Recognize the importance of family (and even love) for men and women;
  • Be prepared to be a visible role model;
  • Gather evidence, data and anecdote, to provide ammunition for management to change;
  • Listen and act if a woman starts hinting there are problems, don’t be dismissive because it makes you uncomfortable;
  • Think broadly when asked to make suggestions of names for any position or role.

Which of these can you personally, hand on heart, say you have acted upon during this six month period? Have you actually done anything actively to further some young woman’s career, or advised or mentored someone just a year or two behind you in the hierarchy? Have you pushed at your institution’s systems to see if they contain hidden bias? Or have you merely thought outrage over one man’s foolish remarks covers your contribution to women in science issues for the year and you can rest on such laurels? Please, as I have said privately but bluntly to key players on both sides of this wretched affair, please can we move on without flinging more insults, find some closure, accept that just about no one is without fault or comes out of the affair with particular credit. But can we instead concentrate on the important issue of making sure that genuine sexism is eradicated, in science as elsewhere in our society. That means identifying those who actively hold women back or promulgate structures which contain bias, not those whose taste in jokes is not the same as yours.

Whether you agree with my take on #Huntgate is irrelevant; we need to be working together to move the world on. Let us all start 2016 with a clean slate as regards vitriol and finger-pointing, but with a detailed checklist on the other side of that slate as to what each and every one of us can and will do to make sure those girls and women setting out now have a better time of it than those already on the scientific ladder.

*Added March 18th 2016

Reluctant that I am to do anything to reopen this topic, I have been asked by Dan Waddell to correct the impression he believes I give in what I’ve written in this post that he published witness reports after 6 months (although that isn’t quite how I expressed myself). I am happy to correct at a factual level: the report he published that I cited appeared 22 weeks after the toast by Tim Hunt. He wishes me to say that the witness reports were collected ‘over a period of nearly five months, but mainly between late June and early October‘.

I hope he will likewise correct some inaccuracies in his own report, such as that the ERC Korean National Contact Point – NCP – is a ‘representative’ of the ERC. As the ERC website makes explicitly clear, and as has been spelled out to Mr Waddell also explicitly, ‘NCP’s do not represent the ERC’. It is interesting to note that Mr Waddell is continuing to try to keep this story alive behind the scenes in various ways despite what he writes in his comment of December 18th 2015 (comment below) including that ‘I welcome any cessation of these hostilities’ and ‘I will still cleave to the idea this should never have run for so long’. He is continuing to cause distress to some by his ongoing actions.

It is only because Mr Waddell has been putting email pressure on me, containing what it is hard not to assume is meant to be a veiled threat (‘I don’t want to have to take the matter further.’ to quote his most recent email) that I am prepared to touch this blog again when I feel we all should long since have moved on. Our energies should be put in to improving the situation for women in science in general not rehashing old news, as I have repeatedly said. I agree wholeheartedly with what he wrote previously that this story should never have run so long and I sincerely hope he will now return to what he himself called the ‘real world’ and leave this sorry tale and everyone involved in it alone.

 

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69 Responses to What’s Changed? Anything? (#Just1action4WIS)

  1. Taswold says:

    “There is of course a huge problem about sexism in science, of which many women will have personal and painful experience. Everyday sexism abounds, in the lab as elsewhere”

    I like the “of course”. Having worked in a couple of areas, I saw no hint of sexism (against women, at least. I heard a few stupid remarks about men from women) – but I did see women claim sexism when they themselves had behaved badly and it didn’t go well for them.

    The problem here is the same with the everyday sexism project, which you alluded to. To quote one writer

    “Laura, and her ilk, believe that filling a website with unverified descriptions of events which may or may not have happened, perpetrated by unknown assailants, and relayed to us by anonymous internet users, equates to legitimate social research”.

    There are 2 problems. There is a tendency to believe every woman complaining about sexism without wondering for a second whether there might be an alternative view of the situation – and an ounce of common sense will tell you that there may well be.

    The second problem is political. Feminists see that fewer women are at the top in scientific fields. They don’t want to ask why, and maybe discover that women make different career & family decisions from men. Feminists WANT to think the disparity is because sexist remarks are forcing girls to choose different careers (they treat this as an article of faith. If you are scientists, where’s the evidence?).

    Hence the whole sad treatment of Tim Hunt and shirtstorm. It’s quite possible that sexism has very little to do with gender inequalities in science

    • I note you are using your own anecdotal experience as evidence, which isn’t very helpful. You may have worked in an enlightened organisation, there may have been women behaving badly, but that does not mean there is no sexism in the lab. Unfortunately. And the social science literature also demonstrates the ubiquity of unconscious bias which, in this context, I would include in the micro inequities too many women suffer.

  2. Thanks, Athene, for this characteristically thoughtful and constructive blog post.

    “Please, as I have said privately but bluntly to key players on both sides of this wretched affair, please can we move on without flinging more insults, find some closure, accept that just about no one is without fault or comes out of the affair with particular credit.”

    Indeed. I recall that you were one of the first to welcome me to Twitter when I joined about 18 months ago. I have now left Twitter because I was finding myself too often dragged down to exchanging playground insults in pointless spats. Twitter is good for many things but nuanced and intelligent debate is not one of them. (I explain in more detail here: https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/where-two-tribes-go-to-roar/)

    Your list of action points is exceptionally important and you are right to highlight it again. (I was particularly pleased to see that Louise Mensch had retweeted the link and has therefore hopefully raised awareness of the importance of university diversity committees/diversity programmes among her followers.) In the context of the Tim Hunt affair, however, this particular action point warrants some discussion and analysis:

    “Seek out and remove microinequities wherever you spot them.”

    Were there major deficiencies in the reporting of the context of Tim Hunt’s “joke”? Yes. I want to make that very clear before I go any further. (Luckily, comments on blogs can be rather more nuanced and considered than tweets.) Nonetheless, I find myself broadly in agreement with Colin Blakemore: “I remain appalled by the silliness of the 37 words of Hunt’s “joke” and the way in which they have energized sexist extremists.” [From his ABSW resignation statement — http://www.absw.org.uk/files/Statement_from_Professor_Sir_Colin_Blakemore.pdf ]

    Of course, Tim Hunt would be horrified to think that his misplaced joke energised sexists, as Blakemore puts it. But nonetheless, in the context of your action points, do you think that a joke like Hunt’s should receive censure as a “microinequity”? Or should we turn a deaf ear to it and other similarly “ironic” jokes?

    Philip

    • I have always said if people were offended and wanted to ‘call’ Tim out, seeing this as a micro inequity, the right thing to do would have been to talk to him spelling out what they didn’t like. As Louise Mensch’s blog makes absolutely plain, there was plenty of opportunity for all those who later claimed to have been offended to do just this in Seoul. They failed to do so.

      • Agreed, Athene, but that doesn’t quite address my point. You note the following in your post:

        “That means identifying those who actively hold women back or promulgate structures which contain bias, not those whose taste in jokes is not the same as yours.”

        That doesn’t seem to be entirely consistent with the idea of calling out microinequities. Blakemore said that he was appalled by the silliness of Tim Hunt’s “joke” (Blakemore’s quotes). You yourself (and Tim and Mary Collins) have stated that his joke was “idiotic”/”unbelievably stupid”.

        Therefore, if I were to follow your guidelines re microinequities above, this would seem to be inconsistent with your argument that we should just ignore the joke. Sure, I agree, the most appropriate thing is to approach the person who told the joke and ask them why they told such an “idiotic”/”unbelievably stupid” joke. But I can’t quite “square” your microinequities action point with the idea that “Well, we shouldn’t worry about those whose taste in jokes is not the same as our own”.

        As I said, I agree with Blakemore. I also agree with Dorothy Bishop’s THE piece a few months back on the trouble with jokes: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/the-trouble-with-jokes-about-girls

        It’s also interesting to note that the first comment in this thread (from Taswold — another anon commenter, unsurprisingly) tends to rather back up Blakemore’s comment about how this debacle has energised certain sexist viewpoints.

        • Sorry Phil, still don’t see what distinction you are making. I have no problem with complaining about a bad taste in jokes and I, like others who basically support Tim, have agreed what he said was ill-judged. My point was that you shouldn’t judge a person by their taste in jokes but by what they do. I have seen too many people be outwardly shocked and do absolutely damn all to support women. I know you are not in that category.

          But you now seem to be saying that Tim has to be held responsible because the media furore that others provoked (because they didn’t talk quietly and responsibly to him to express their distaste or anger) ‘energised certain viewpoints’. You are simply restating what I myself have said. Concentrate on stopping offenders gross actions, not make a scapegoat of one man who has done so much work supportive of women.

          Furthermore, if you believe that the nastiness has only been on one side against women, think again. You have left twitter but this morning, again, the nastiness is out there against women caught up in this on the ‘pro-Tim’ side. I am shocked that people still are attacking those caught up in this. You will have seen quite how vicious the abuse has been against Mary Collins. She hopes below the debate will move on but completely outrageous slurs have been made against her by those who claim to support women in science. Talk of a contradiction!

          • But you now seem to be saying that Tim has to be held responsible because the media furore that others provoked

            Sorry, Athene, but that’s not at all my argument, and I’ve been clear on this right from the start. Indeed, I even state explicitly in my first comment that “Of course, Tim Hunt would be horrified to think that his misplaced joke energised sexists, as Blakemore puts it.”

            Furthermore, if you believe that the nastiness has only been on one side against women, think again. You have left twitter but this morning, again, the nastiness is out there against women caught up in this on the ‘pro-Tim’ side.

            Similarly, at what point did I suggest this? Please point me to a statement where I even hinted that the abuse ran only in one direction. In the blog post to which I linked in my first comment I explicitly state that there have been faults on both sides.

            I of course agree entirely wit you re. the abuse directed at Mary Collins (and, indeed, Tim). This has been appalling and is, of course, utterly reprehensible. No-one should condone or defend that type of gutter-level abuse. But, again, the abuse runs both ways.

            However, none of that addresses the point I made. I reiterate: it is a position rather lacking in self-consistency to, on one hand (and very laudably), include as an action point that we should call out microinequities and yet in almost the same breath say that jokes don’t matter. Why was Blakemore appalled (his word, not mine) by Tim’s joke? Why did Mary Collins describe it as unbelievably stupid? (I realise that Prof Collins has commented in this thread but this is a rhetorical question to you, Athene. I entirely understand that, of course, Prof. Collins wants to move on from the Tim Hunt debate).

            If we should just ignore jokes — if they don’t matter (as you suggest above) — why did you describe that particular “joke” as idiotic?

    • Philip. It’s a pity that you’ve left twitter. I’ve found twitter useful scientifically as well as being the best way to spread links about every topic under the sun. In particular, I’ve had really useful discussions about statistical inference on twitter, often starting with @stephensenn, but with interested people from all over the world joining in. They’ve been remarkably good-natured, specially when one considers the passions that Bayesians vs the rest can stir up.

      I’ve encountered remarkably little abuse. The only real abuse was from Mensch and her followers, and that at least had the advantage of making me understand a little better what some women have suffered.

      My only grumble about twitter is its addictiveness. I doubt if I’d have had time when I was doing a real job.

      • Thanks, David.

        I left because I’m an argumentative sod and I’m too easily drawn into pointless spats. It’s frustrating to navigate the Twitter “mud” (to use Athene’s very apt metaphor) to pull out the nuggets of information. (And there are certainly nuggets there).

        It can also certainly be addictive, as you suggest. I was finding that, for me, the disadvantages outweighed the advantages. It’s not a place for any type of reasoned debate. And there are too many on Twitter who lack the honesty and integrity to debate openly but instead fling out abuse while hiding behind pseudonyms and avatars. That’s a mindset/type of behaviour that I find completely unacceptable and despicable.

        Have a great Christmas holiday, David, and I wish you and yours all the very best for the new year.

        Philip

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      “I remain appalled by the silliness of the 37 words of Hunt’s “joke” and the way in which they have energized sexist extremists.”

      Then maybe you need to come to terms with how you completely lack a sense of proportion. If the social justice lynch mob hadn’t decided to target him, on what freaking planet would “sexist extremists” have even _heard_ about an obscure, elderly scientist (yes, he won the Nobel Prize, but 99.99% of the world’s population couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup) who made a brief joke at a luncheon in Korea?

      You act as if Hunt’s joke was an inadvertent declaration of war that would have had battalions of sexists lining up to revoke female suffrage. Newsflash: if one or two journalists with an agenda hadn’t smelled easy prey, no one in the world would have ever heard of this.

  3. Mary Collins says:

    I am keen to move on from the #TimHunt debate as I’m sure everyone can imagine. I was for quite a while the Gender Equality Champion at UCL. The things that bothered me that I tried to fix were:
    1. equal pay for equal work, a feminist basic. At UCL the professors are banded according to cv, women and men in the same band must be paid the same.
    2. equal opportunity for staff. Simple HR stuff. Get all departments to run a promotion panel where all cvs considered to be put forward for promotion every year. Avoids favouring the confident.
    3. fair selection at interview. More HR stuff. Agree questions that probe suitability of the candidate for the role. Avoids selecting people just because they are like you.
    4. consideration for carers. Meetings within core hours.
    5. (joke warning) don’t hold women responsible for the men they sleep with.

  4. Marnie Dunsmore says:

    @Athene

    It is a disgrace for a person in your position to be still drumming up this subject.

    The Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology made a public statement over a month ago, stating that they found Hunt’s joke to be inappropriate and that their decision to ask him for a formal apology was decided based on statements heard by Korean women at the lunch themselves (and not provoked by any journalists). Many women in STEM in South Korea work in the semiconductor industry and related areas of research. As this is also my field, a very conservative one that is not particularly accommodating toward women, I feel quite empathetic to the plight of women scientists and engineers in Korea. Hopefully, in the future, if leading English scientists want to download about their personal/professional conflicts, they will chose their own country and immediate working environment to do so. I doubt that Korean women scientists think that their lab environment situation is a joking matter, and their public comments suggest that. They also have stated that they feel there is a lack of regard for their autonomy and integrity in stating that Hunt’s comments were inappropriate. They are quite direct that they are fed up with this issue being recirculated with the intent of brushing it off.

    English scientists are in no position to preach to others about the maintenance of educational meritocracies, or the lack thereof: The UK currently scores about 23rd, 24th or 25th on the OECD PISA in both math and reading. South Korea scores far higher (and so does Canada).

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26249042

    The extraordinary amount of press, twittering, and blogging that has been devoted by prominent English academics defending Tim Hunt, while ignoring many other more pressing issues, including increasing inequality within, is emblematic of a nation that is out of touch with reality. You, Louise Mensch, Richard Dawkins, Jonathan Dimbleby and others making excuses for Tim Hunt, are no friends of the institutions you purport to serve.

    Sometimes people make a small mistake which impacts, or has the potential to have large negative impacts, on others. This is unfortunate for all parties, but also reality. Excuse making, contorting the facts, and scapegoating, or trying to create a diversion, does not help.

  5. Philip I haven’t said jokes don’t matter. I have tried to say you should look beyond them. If Tim had indeed meant his remarks the way they were interpreted, if there was indeed a trail of women left damaged by his actions over many years, you could say the joke summed up the man. You know there is nothing to support that. So I am saying we should look beyond his brief moment of folly and concentrate on those who do promulgate sexism. Can’t you agree with that position? You, if I may be so rude, are nitpicking over a sentence and missing the big picture which I know you believe in.

    Let us root out real sexism, not focus on a stupid remark made in passing which is not indicative of a sexist at heart. I am not making an excuse, contorting facts or scapegoating. I am trying to move the debate on to focus efforts where efforts should be focussed. That I feel others have behaved badly is not meant to be scapegoating, merely pointing out that supporting women is about one hell of a lot more than ad hominem attacks on anyone.

    • Athene,

      As you might suspect, I can’t agree that it’s nitpicking! It’s an important point of principle. You suggest that we call out microinequities. I agree. I would say that — and I’m sorry to use the quoted terms again but they’re important — an “appalling”, “unbelievably stupid”, “idiotic” joke is a microinequity that deserves censure.

      Your position, apparently, is that a joke like that doesn’t deserve censure/attention if there are some in the audience who know the speaker was “only joking”. My point is that even if the speaker is “only joking”, for all of the reasons discussed by Dorothy Bishop (and others), the joke itself is worthy of censure.

      • No, my point is that it doesn’t deserve public censure of the kind this particular one received. I have always made that clear. It isn’t because I know Tim or that I ‘know’ he meant it as a joke. It is that the response was disproportionate and has not improved things for anyone. Please let us move on to tackle the big picture

  6. Sorry, Athene, I was too hasty with the “Post Comment” button.

    “My point was that you shouldn’t judge a person by their taste in jokes but by what they do. “

    But how does that square with your action point re. microinequities? You know Tim. You know it was a misplaced joke. But that’s not true for everyone in the audience (or any given audience). This, of course, does not excuse the misreporting — I need to stress that — but do you agree that Tim has to shoulder some of the blame for his “idiotic”/”appalling”/”unbelievably stupid” joke? Or was he entirely blameless? That is, instead of calling out the microinequity, as you advise, no censure at all is necessary?

  7. Thank you for this post. It has for a long time been my view that it would be very good for everyone, not least Tim Hunt, if we could all drop this issue. As you note, the persistent squabbling about who said what, plus the involvement of people who are using this topic to further their own agendas does not help the cause of women in science. It is most unlikely now that any new evidence will emerge that would lead anyone to change their minds about how they view the situation.

    I know a number of people who were not happy with what Tim Hunt said but none of them think it merited anything like this prolonged, destructive aftermath.

    You are held in great respect, but unfortunately your pleas for people to drop the subject are still not being heeded. I think the only way to stop this dragging on for another year might be if Tim himself, or Mary, could re-emphasise your message and ask people to just stop arguing – on both sides. I’m afraid that this is only going to work if someone can persuade Louise Mensch, in particular, to stop perpetuating this row. I seldom look at her timeline, but my impression is that most days she is tweeting away keeping the story going. She would, I think, listen to you and/or Mary. I do believe that if she dropped this topic, this would die down rapidly. I would also be very willing to use whatever influence I have to persuade her opponents to shut up. It would be wonderful if we could start the New Year with a ceasefire.

    • It would be wonderful if we could start the New Year with a ceasefire.

      Agree entirely, Dorothy, and I, for one, will no longer comment here, or elsewhere, on the Hunt furore.

    • Thank you Dorothy
      I think Mary has done just this above, hoping to move on. I will also continue to do what I can to make this message of ‘time to move’ on stick.

      If you could encourage your own contacts to stop the squabbling that would be good too. I appreciate that you yourself have not been engaging in the Twitter to’s and fro’s recently (and nor have I) but even this morning a handful of people have been using my blogpost as an excuse to keep the fires going against Mary over Twitter, although they have at least been doing this by inference rather than explicitly.

      Personally I think some retraction or at least acknowledgement that things were not always as they seemed from some of those who propagated inaccuracies would be immensely helpful in taking out a bit of the heat. (I should say I have seen a few such acknowledgements on Twitter, but only a few and not by those who spearheaded attacks.)

      But it is surely time to put this behind the entire community and get on with tackling ongoing problems. Here’s to a more productive 2016!

    • Tom Levenson says:

      While I disagree with some of the framing provided above, I strongly support both the call for a ceasefire, and the emphasis, above and below, on focusing on the actual issue of gender equity in science (and elsewhere!).

      I’ve been a peripheral figure in the Twitter wars on all this, and I’ve disengaged for some time now. I will continue to do so.

      Top of the season to all here. There is no white Christmas in prospect for scenic Boston, MA — but there may well be a goose. I hope all celebrate these days in the ways most calculated to give you joy — and I look forward to a new year focused on new things.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      “Thank you for this post. It has for a long time been my view that it would be very good for everyone, not least Tim Hunt, if we could all drop this issue.”

      It is astonishingly disingenuous to only call for a ceasefire _after_ the truth of the malicious campaign against Hunt started to come out. Now, suddenly, we’re all supposed to put it behind us. Perhaps those who slandered him mercilessly can offer a sincere apology, and promise not to do it again the next time some bored journalist decides to target an innocent person. Then we’ll discuss ceasefires.

  8. Mary Collins says:

    Dear Athene, Dorothy (if I may) and Phillip (if I may)

    I have “called out” privately and publicly the inappropriateness of Tim’s words. I have emailed Louise Mensch to say that it is important, at the very least for my own mental health and ability to earn a living, that all this stops. Last night I posted some suggestions for all interested in gender equality on this blog. After this post I was attacked on Twitter as unsuitable to talk on gender issues. Equality for women in science is something I passionately believe in and have worked hard for. I apologise if some have found my tone on Twitter aggressive. I would ask them to remember that this has been at a time of actual material harm, in real life, to my husband, myself and my children. I have not detailed the harm, partly because of privacy and partly because I think this would just inflame the argument.

    Best

    Mary

    • Dear Mary,

      I know I said above to Athene that I wouldn’t comment again (here or elsewhere) on this debacle but given that you addressed your comment to Athene, Dorothy and me, I feel that it would be impolite not to respond.

      Thank you for your message. The level of abuse is clearly intolerable. I find it utterly dispiriting that your important and entirely reasonable suggestions for gender equality were criticised on Twitter in the way you note. Similarly, I really hope that Louise Mensch can follow your advice and stop. Just stop. This petty squabbling is doing no-one any good.

      I wish you and your family all the very best for the new year and, as both Dorothy and Athene suggest above, let’s hope we can finish off this year with a ceasefire.

      Best wishes,

      Philip

    • Laurence Cox says:

      Mary,
      I feel especially sorry about what you, in particular, have been put through for the last few months, but the fact remains that some influential people persist in linking Tim to far more serious cases like that of Geoff Marcy. One such example is Pauline Gagnon, who is a member of the ATLAS collaboration at CERN and is a prominent blogger on the Quantum Diaries web site.

      When she made that link in October, I did send a comment to her blog posting, pointing out that the issue was not as simple as she suggested (especially because the two articles she linked to were quite biased although I did not include that in my comment) and referring her to Athene’s blog posting at the end of July. I did expect her either to publish my comment or to amend her blog posting to remove the offending paragraph, but she did neither. This illustrates the problem that while we may be dealing with people who call themselves scientists, they have closed their minds to the evidence that does not fit with their predjudices. If they are not challenged, and sadly it is you who are the person in the best position to make that challenge, they will not change.

      Of course, in the end the truth will out, but it will be of no satisfaction to either you or Tim if that is as a history of science case study of the damaging effects of social media on science in several decades time.

  9. Dear Mary
    It is very good to hear that you asked Mensch to stop. It doesn’t seem to have been very effective sadly. Only today she said of me “You are an inferior scientist, an inferior brain and an inferior human being “. Hey ho

    • Marnie Dunsmore says:

      @David

      Well, “Clare”, as described in this article

      http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimwaterson/louise-mensch-university-heavy-metal#.slM5m2Be1

      apparently did not get a STEM degree (women in STEM generally don’t have the time to waste their time chasing around Europe and North America as rock star groupies.) What kind of idiot would write about covering two continents sleeping with every man she could find?

      And, her opinion of other women:

      “All the professionals look at you with contempt, they would love to do it but their jobs don’t let them because they’d get fired. But then again, I don’t care anything about their good or bad opinion because I don’t see what I’m doing wrong.”

      Actually, the reason that young, unmarried women “professionals”, like those annoying women engineers and scientists, don’t sleep around with every guy that comes along, is because they’re busy with their work. And sleeping with an endless stream of people for most, gets boring after a while. Moreover, sleeping with someone in the “lab”, is not allowed and is cause for gender segregation (apparently).

      That’s the problem with Twitter and other social media outlets: there is often endless, shameless self promotion, idiocy, tit for tat, and pettiness in the extreme.

      David, I’m glad you can laugh. All things considered, the dissonance and lack of self reflection in Mensch’s statements are very funny. : )

  10. Let’s remember that the call to “move on” is as old as the early signs that Connie St Louis’ account wasn’t holding up. At that time, she demanded that people should “stop defending Tim Hunt” and (start attacking the Royal Society).

    Roughly since the publication of the National Geographic’s “Rogues’ Gallery”, it has been clear to me that the matter can’t be fully “dropped” until Hunt is no longer used as symbol of sexism in science, whether in a click-baiting list piece or as an introductory anecdote for a book on the subject. Nor should journalists think it is clever to imagine him locked in a space capsule with Geoff Marcy.

    In short, it remains important to change the meaning of “Tim Hunt” back from “sexist scientist” to “brilliant scientist”. Unfortunately, that will require his name to mean, say, “false positive” for a while yet.

    So I want to declare my (own personal) “rules of engagement” openly. I’m not going to write about Tim Hunt on the Internet from now on unless I see him mentioned in a fresh piece as a symbol of sexism. At that point, I will engage, treating the writer as the either ignorant or callous (as the case requires) ideologue that he or she is.

    On the matter of the broader issue, which no one is asking for a moratorium on, as far as I can tell, I do, in fact, have an opinion, and I will continue to express it. I will try very hard not to use Tim Hunt as an example of the failure of our institutions (e.g., UCL) and professions (e.g., ABSW) to provide conditions under which scientists can speak freely, without fear of having their lives and livelihoods upended by overzealous mobs that are too easily “triggered”. Fortunately (or, rather, unfortunately) he’s not the only example.

    • Marnie Dunsmore says:

      @Thomas

      “At that point, I will engage, treating the writer as the either ignorant or callous (as the case requires) ideologue that he or she is.”

      As someone who is not a scientist, engineer or mathematician, Thomas, you’re in no position to police the internet regarding what is and isn’t legitimate discussion of gender discrimination and gender bias in STEM.

      It is indeed fear inducing and outrageous that people such as you troll the Internet, victimizing women in science and engineering who try to speak about their experiences in the workplace.

      Mensch is no different, and although she wraps herself in the British flag, and pretends to be an advocate for women, she is not STEM trained and has not worked in STEM. Any thought of allowing her to speak on behalf of women (or anyone) in STEM is likely to further diminish the view of the English in the eyes of international scientists and engineers.

      Furthermore, the continued obsession of the English with regard to title and prizes such as the Nobel, while ignoring the experience of everyone else, in and out of the STEM workforce, is transparent and self destructive.

      I was in London in the summer. It is filthy. Not far from Trafalgar Square, I saw an older man standing on a street corner begging. I stopped and spoke to him. He was obviously intelligent, not suffering from a mental illness, and looked quite a bit like my father. No one is crying for him, or the misfortune that brought him to that street corner.

      London: still gutted from the Second World War bombings, with endless expanses of brick tenements, and the British Museum, where you can see on display, the wealth of a thousand nations, pillaged over the centuries. But hey, there is no admission fee, so surely it must be a lovely place.

      While you all go home for Christmas, think to Dickens, for that is that land that you live in.

      • John Fossey says:

        Odd that you’re so enraged by your false perception of sexism and yet display your racism towards the British so openly. Overall a nasty, incongruous post with sinister undertones that does nothing to strengthen either your argument or credibility.

        • Marnie Dunsmore says:

          @John,

          As I am about 100% English and Scottish by ancestry, in part from prominent families from Fife, Perth, and Essex, it is hard to see how my critique of London is “racist”. Sorry, John, it’s in inside job.

          The PISA Scores speak for themselves.

          Moreover, evidence of conscious and unconscious bias in the STEM work place is now overwhelming, in the UK, US and other countries. How long are we going to continue to excuse career limiting issues such as pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and hiring discrimination as something that women should silently shoulder alone?

  11. Everyone
    I am glad we seem to be moving towards a ceasefire, at least on Twitter where vitriol has been worst (and nuance is impossible).

    David
    At around 1330 today Louise Mensch publicly said on Twitter ‘it’s over. Women’s achievements our focus.’. Subsequently Sue Nelson has told me she will ‘take a break’.

    I understand Thomas’ point and suspect both Louise and Sue may well want effectively to hold by what you say too – but long, thoughtful pieces are not the same as twitter mud. I agree with Thomas that the National Geographic piece was a new low of appalling, lazy reporting. I like the idea of a ‘false positive’ but fear it may not catch on.

    I would urge any of you who have contacts who have been mud-slinging will likewise urge them to cease and desist and that the RTing of insults will also stop. For everyone’s sanity. As I have said to Sue there are no winners in this. Just many people who have suffered whether or not they deserved it.

  12. Thank you Athene for your thoughtful blog post. You have been one of the few voices of sanity in this debate. My fear is that this whole affair has damaged the cause not just of women but of men in science too. To engage the public and to inspire the next generation we need the media on the side of scientists to promote all the good work that scientists do. I suspect many scientists will now be more wary than ever of speaking to the media after the shoddy way that Tim Hunt was treated in Korea by science journalists and by his hosts. It was an important point of principle to get the record set straight in this case so that the same thing doesn’t happen to anyone else. Many of the key people who were attacking Tim Hunt have been involved in manufacturing outrage in other similar cases and without any justification. Everyone makes mistakes and it’s important that people learn from their mistakes but they should not have to do so in the glare of the media and be subjected to trials by Twitter.

    I do think there is a need for a wider discussion as to what is meant by sexism in science. It seems to me that everyone has different levels of tolerance. I saw Tim Hunt’s comments as a harmless joke, and if I’d been in the audience I would probably have smiled wryly and thought nothing of it. Others clearly thought differently. I also learnt for the first time that some people regard the word “girl” as offensive. Unfortunately views have now become polarised on either side of the debate. People need to decide what they see are the priorities or perhaps some studies need to be done to determine what language and behaviour is now acceptable.

    I think there also needs to be a debate about how to deal with perceived sexist behaviour. I asked the question on Quora thinking that there must have been studies done to see what techniques work best but no one has been able to point me to anything in the literature that answers this question:

    https://www.quora.com/Is-there-any-evidence-that-calling-out-sexism-has-a-positive-or-negative-impact

    In a one-to-one situation or a in small group it’s easy enough to slap down an inappropriate comment, but I can see that there are also situations where calling out comments might be provocative and counter-productive. That seems to be particularly the case when people take to Twitter or other public platforms to call out what they see as bad behaviour. Inevitably such attempts backfire, and it often turns out that the claims were false or exaggerated anyway.

    The current focus in certain quarters on the subject of sexism in science seems to promote a very negative view of the status of women in science. For some people sexism in science now seems to have become a special subject so that they almost have a vested interest in continuing to claim that there is a problem. However, by reporting on the so-called problems I wonder if they might actually be putting young women off going into science because they are painting the picture much blacker than it actually is.

    I would have thought that the best way to encourage more women into science is to celebrate the successful women who are already working in science and who can serve as role models for the next generation. One of the saddest parts of the Tim Hunt affair is that he went to Korea to promote the work of two brilliant young female scientists who had received grants from the ERC in a highly competitive process, yet not one single journalist at that conference reported on their work. The organisers even scheduled the ERC talks at the same time as the session on sexism in science. One wonders if these people really are interested in helping women in science at all. Hopefully we can all start afresh in 2016 and focus on the positive.

  13. Sue Nelson says:

    I wasn’t expecting you to quote me from a private conversation, Athene, but I’d like nothing better than to go into 2016 never having to hear Tim Hunt’s name again. I expect it’s the same for a number of people.

    Our DM conversation also included my disgust for the Twitter abuse I received today and the false claims that I had trolled Mary Collins. My full quote about ending this dialogue about Hunt was: “I had stopped but felt had to defend myself re renewed lies. I will take a break and see what happens.”

    Mensch’s quote in full was: “I don’t think we should give @sciencenelson any more oxygen. #TimHunt is vindicated, and it’s over. Women’s achievements our focus.”

    So while you’ve put a certain spin on things, I appreciate that you have the interests of both sides at heart in wanting to resolve this. And I appreciate that Mary feels this too, as well as her public apology re if some found her tone on Twitter aggressive. I suspect we’ve all been misinterpreted at some point.

    I do not want to hold to Thomas’ suggestions as they are on his terms. However, I have no intention of discussing this issue on Twitter any further – enough is enough – although I will continue to respond ‘not true’ if any lies come my way. That will be it. I’ve nothing more to say at this point either. When we all have women in science at heart, it is foolish not to welcome a ceasefire.

    Merry Christmas everybody.

    • Sue
      Yes I plead guilty to try to spin things to try to keep the tone light and yes I knew I was making public a private conversation. But I’m glad you understand why and aren’t too cross.

      I hope the season’s goodwill diffuses more generally….

      • Thank you, Athene. It’s high-time we all reached the point of “we agree to respectfully disagree”, cease with mud-slinging and insults, and resolve to stay positive, unfailingly polite, and keep a sense of humour intact. Let’s all, as a community of scientists, sci advocates, and sci journalists, focus unwaveringly on advancing human knowledge and understanding, for both men and women. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

  14. I haven’t really read this in any kind of detail Athene but I would like to say – without trying to silence anyone, because I think much of this may have resulted from people (of all views of this issue) feeling silenced – that I support you, Philip, Mary, Dorothy in calling for a ‘cease-fire’ for lack of a better word, as I do think for all involved it will be nice for this to be over .. and for us to move forward. …

  15. Richard Jowsey says:

    “Truce” – noun; an agreement between enemies or opponents to stop fighting or arguing for a certain time. Synonyms: ceasefire, armistice, suspension of hostilities, cessation of hostilities, peace.

    Pax is the spirit of what Christmas is celebrating: peace on earth, and goodwill to all men (and women, etc, of course).

    Happy New Year, everyone. 😀

  16. Gunter says:

    I hope it is acceptable to write a comment (and question) on the other aspect of your post (I’ve decided to stay out of it after having experienced some of the unpleasantness Twitter can offer) – the support for women in science. I understand both yours and Mary’s comments and suggestions very well and agree, but I see a larger problem in some institutional issues and would like to ask what you do about these – mainly about the impact of maternity leave on careers:

    a) Maternity leave results in most cases in a career break with a drop in publications and grant income (often for a longer period as it takes time to catch up). While this can be addressed e.g. in selection panels etc, I don’t know how this is dealt with for example in the REF or other other intra- or inter-institutional performance assessments (some league tables use citations etc, and whatever we think of league tables, they’re considered to be important). Doesn’t this put women automatically in a worse position, especially in institutions desperate to increase REF and other outcomes? How do you (your institutions deal with this?

    b) Who covers for the cost of maternity leave (i.e. maternity pay and cover)? While it is nice for Universities to offer generous benefits, it seems that in some places these costs are taken from the research grant – where there is normally no budget for any additional expenses. In larger groups, this might not be so much of a problem, but especially for junior researchers who rely on a single post-doc and have very limited funding this can be a huge problem.

    What are you doing/suggesting to do about this?

    • Gunter – of course happy to widen this discussion!
      Re REF, I have cultivated fairly deliberate amnesia about the whole process, but my memory is that there was an automatic reduction in the number of outputs required by one per period of maternity leave. In promotion, within Cambridge, we advise everyone to state explicitly if they have had periods of extended leave (for any reason and not just parental), or indeed have small children impacting on conference travel or field trips so that the impact of such personal circumstances can be properly accounted for.

      As regards the costs of maternity leave, the situation is complicated since every funder has slightly different rules. However, at the start of the year RCUK put out a comprehensive statement about all the UK Research Councils’ policies. Institutions should be ‘compensated at the end of the grant to cover any additional net costs, that cannot be met within the cash limit of the grant, of paid maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave for staff’ so that, for RC grants at least, your fears should not be well-founded.

      • Gunter says:

        Athene – thank you very much, this is very helpful. I believe we have similar arrangements regarding promotion, but it is the wider context in ranking (and the attitude of some Universities towards this) that concerns me.

        Thanks for the RCUK document – this is very helpful. I’ve experienced such an issue some time ago (different funder though) and it wasn’t as clear then. However, it seems that this RCUK policy is not as widely known as it should be.

        On a different note: thank you for a very well written blog with interesting texts!

  17. I hope that what Sue Nelson means is that she never wants to hear Tim Hunt’s name sullied again. A good example is the coverage of Mary Collins’ decision to move to Japan in the Guardian. I’m working towards a time when the Seoul episode is no longer written about in that way … (more at my blog.)

    • Sue Nelson says:

      Don’t even dare to presume what I mean. I agree with Marnie. You are in no position to police the internet. It’s that sort of behaviour that helped bring this into disrepute.

      • John Fossey says:

        Do you also go on to agree with her overt racism? You seem particularly poor in choosing your bedfellows and fellow travellers.

        • Marnie Dunsmore says:

          @John,

          See my comments above. I am English and Scottish by ancestry. Is that how you operate? For every woman that tries to discuss unconscious and conscious bias in STEM, and related issues, you go on a smear campaign against them?

          I haven’t even been following this issue that closely. I don’t have a twitter account and don’t have time for twitter. I could care less about Louise Mensch. However, when I continue to see the statements of other women in STEM, such as the Korean Federation of Women Scientists and Technologists, which has 65,000 members, doing actual work and not wasting away their days on twitter, brushed off and trivialized, yes, it’s time to say something.

          They have said that Mensch is distorting their statements. They have asked her to stop. John, what is it about this that you do not understand?

      • Chris Westwood says:

        Sue, not sure if policing the internet is the approptiate term. I think that just surfing the net is a sufficient way to describe how Louise Mensch found out what you and many others were saying. I understand your predicament finding yourself in the same situation as Paula Higgins, who describes herself as a tenured professor, and has made the most vile attacks on Professor Collins. Even now Higgins is complaining about Mench reading her tweets. If Higgins didn’t tweet what she did then she would not have this problem. Thankfully my generation regard computers as machines for performing complex calculations, and regard Tweets as rather childish. We have a point. You don’t all need to misuse computers to shoot yourselves in the foot: a shotgun will do nicely, and free up computer space for real work.

        • Sue Nelson says:

          Trust me Chris – it went far beyond just surfing the internet to see what people are saying.

          Also, I am not responsible for Paula Higgins’ tweets. And for the record. Again. I have never trolled Mary Collins and am not the reason she deleted her Twitter account.

          Comments like yours are not helping.

          • “Comments like yours are not helping”.

            That’s exactly it, Sue.

            Chris, in a comment above Mary Collins states the following: “I have emailed Louise Mensch to say that it is important, at the very least for my own mental health and ability to earn a living, that all this stops.”

            Can’t you respect Mary’s wishes?

          • Sue Nelson says:

            For clarity, my response does not mean I accept your criticisms of Paula Higgins. I’m leaving this thread now. Thank you all.

  18. I hope people will not move from Twitter to this blog to continue the same disagreements. If they do I shall simply delete the comments, something I really do not want to have to do.

    • Sue Nelson says:

      So do I – Richard Jowsey’s second comment will be inflammatory to those of us who have been insulted by him on a regular basis for example (which I almost responded to but didn’t) and I think Thomas has had enough airtime and shouldn’t be using comments to make swipes. Feel free to delete this after you’ve read it. Mission Impossible style. This message will self destruct in…

    • I’d just like to back Athene up on this. I understand entirely how emotive these issues are — and I’m certainly not suggesting that I’ve been a model of calm and restraint during exchanges elsewhere with some in this comments thread — but it is dispiriting that the sniping seems to have moved from Twitter to Athene’s blog.

      When even Louise Mensch seems to have moved on (see Mary Collins’ comment above), it’s a shame to see Twitter-esque spats start to play out on Athene’s blog.

      • Another clarification: I’m disappointed that I now have to retract my comment above re. Louise Mensch leaving behind the petty sniping on Twitter. Not entirely unexpected but, nonetheless, a great shame.

  19. Pat Sheehy says:

    Just like to put it on record that, in the view of many of us, Louise Mensch has done great service and has worked extremely hard in her attempts to establish the truth of what happened in Seoul. The calumnies heaped on Sir Tim would still be in place were it not for her efforts. That may well have suited some, but most of us, I’m sure, would prefer that the injustice against Tim be put right.

    I wish Mary and Tim well for the future and a flourishing of female careers in science.

  20. Mary Collins says:

    The OIST announcement is now live http://www.oist.jp/http://www.oist.jp/ with rather a good photo of me for a change.

    Happy Christmas and other holidays to all.

    • Sue Nelson says:

      Congratulations Mary.

      I had to read almost half the article in the Telegraph before discovering that the move to Japan was as a result of your own successful scientific achievement as not, as implied in the opening of the piece, simply your husband’s decision to leave the country.

      Newspapers. Don’t even get me started.

      Good luck to you both.

      Sue

      (And yes. Nice photo.)

    • Congratulations, Mary. The very best of luck in this exciting new role.

      Philip

  21. Mary Collins says:

    http://www.oist.jp/ is the right link…

    • Many congratulations on a wonderful achievement. Thrilled to see Sir Tim appointed to the Royal Society’s working group on EU funding at the same time. What a lovely way to end the story at Christmas.

      • Marnie Dunsmore says:

        @Louise

        I could care less whether Tim Hunt is appointed to the Royal Society or not.

        It does not change the fact that net pay for engineers and scientists in the UK is appallingly low, that pregnancy discrimination in the private sector is rampant, and that venture capitalists from the UK, who manipulate the stock market, fund ventures like Uber that displace existing businesses such as taxi business, and arbitrage the STEM workforce, are knighted by the Queen.

        It does not change the fact that the leadership in STEM in the UK is appallingly out of touch with those actually doing the work. Most of the STEM workforce are not working in the cloistered halls of academia. And most of the moneyed class in London do not work in STEM.

        For those young people that are attempting to enter academia, multiple post docs and low pay, are not indicative of a country that has done well for its scientists and engineers (as opposed to being a rock star groupie, writing pulp fiction, and spending morning, noon and night on twitter attempting to damage others, self promote, and blow off the professional statements of prominent women’s scientist organizations.)

        Louise, if the Royal Society cares at all about its reputation, they will do well to distance themselves from you.

  22. Dan Waddell says:

    Well, as someone who has been in the trenches with Paula Higgins for six months, Chris’s comments about her are appalling and wrong. But after months of getting this kind of abuse, I don’t think she’ll be surprised. Which is the main reason I welcome any cessation of these hostilities – it’s bloody wearing. I’ve realised there are some very angry people out there on the Internet, many of them men, and many more of them than I thought. I think it’s been disgraceful how that anger has been harnessed and boosted by Louise. If she and others review their provocative tactics for future debates and discussion, that would be one positive outcome. I don’t think there are many others, sadly. It would also be good for people to realise that making a contrary argument doesn’t make you a bad person: however, abusing and vilifying people for those arguments does. I’ve been no saint either, but I’ve been astounded by the scale and persistence of some of the vitriol.

    I will still cleave to the idea this should never have run for so long and that the awful abuse of Connie St Louis has been worse and as unwarranted as any criticism of Tim Hunt. Only this morning The Daily Mail reheated their earlier hit job, basted with some now disproven facts, as if the past few months had never happened.

    When articles appear which argue that questionable Twitter data proves what people what or weren’t saying and doing at a conference, we know we’ve reached the end of the road. The virtual world is more important that the real it seems, Thankfully, that isn’t the case.

    Anyway, I’m returning to the real world. I’ve just tweeted my wife to ask if she would like to have dinner tomorrow night. I only hope she doesn’t fail to RT it until 30 hours later, after mistaking me for someone else and so whips herself into a seething feminist frenzy.

    Merry Christmas.

  23. The time has come to close this particular post to comments. It has been illuminating in many ways and I appreciate the manner, by and large, in which participants have engaged and committed to the appropriate peace and goodwill of the season. Not everyone, not all the time, there have still been more personal attacks than I’d have hoped, but I sense from many the weariness – and I’d add in wariness – Dan mentions. So, I will leave you with a closing image that I hope will also amuse you, whichever side of the discussion you are sitting on. That is of Tim and Mary heading off hand in hand into an oriental sunset to start a new life far, far away. They will undoubtedly be continuing to work hard. Mary goes to be Dean of Research at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology; Tim will be working with the Royal Society on their working group looking at UK Research and the EU, whose first report was published today – as well as (I am sure) continuing to travel widely and inspire the scientists of the future. I for one will miss them from these shores.

    We can never enter into another’s mindset. One person’s ironic joke is another’s unforgivable jibe; one person’s mild complaint is another’s trolling. This is all too clear in the way that the remarks have panned out here and far further afield. If the mudslinging has stopped, the trolling tweets (in whichever direction) ceased, then maybe we can all get back to the day job. Merry Christmas one and all.