Last week the world erupted into a storm of outrage over remarks Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Prize winner, made in Korea. Unacceptable, indefensible remarks. He has been made to resign from positions and committees for which he has worked so hard. An extraordinary number of column inches (virtual and real) have been devoted to demonising the man. As someone who has expended much of my energy recently to working to improve the lot of women in science I was naturally appalled by his remarks, but I think it is worth asking what damage they have caused and whether the response actually helps the situation. Now a little time has passed, perhaps it is possible to have a more nuanced and reflective conversation than was had in the first days of outrage.
Scientists should be looking at the evidence, and I fear there has been too little of that done around this distressing episode. I have seen reports from attendees at that infamous Korean lunch which paint a rather different picture of how the remarks (which appear to have been in an impromptu welcome speech rather than something meticulously prepared) were received than the one doing the rounds. Laughter, for instance. But much more important is to analyse the bigger picture. So I would like to ask some rather different questions, to try to move the debate on.
1 Do these remarks prove Tim Hunt is sexist?
I believe we should judge the man not by the stupid, offensive remarks made in bad taste on the fly but the totality of his contributions, not just to science, but also to furthering the careers of the young. He has spent much of the last 15 years since his Nobel Prize win, travelling the world to speak to young audiences encouraging them, inspiring them. Not, please note, gender-segregated audiences! He has freely given of the Nobel mystique to all. Speaking personally – and I have sat on a variety of committees with Tim over the past 5-6 years and got to know him quite well – I have seen no evidence to suggest that at any previous point in his career has he done or said anything to indicate a sexist man at heart, certainly not in my hearing or in any actions taken at any committee I have been on with him. Other people have said the same (e.g. here) He is, as has been said, a man of his generation who undoubtedly was educated in different times and can say outrageous things on many topics, often with a twinkle in his eye. But my impression is firmly of a man who genuinely supports people, whatever their gender, background or specific interests.
It is worth remembering what happened a while back about Bora Zivkovic, in a rather different situation. In that case, once one woman spoke out others quickly followed. I have yet to see women stepping forward to say how Tim Hunt blighted their career by refusing to promote them, support them, actively behaving inappropriately or demeaning them. We should remember to look at the evidence and I for one have not seen any about such behaviour. However I have seen remarks implying that surely such people exist and that is the justification for stripping Tim of everything. That begins to smack of witch-hunting in the absence of evidence, particularly as I would imagine journalists have been digging around looking for it. Perhaps he really is just a man with foot-in-mouth syndrome but with enormous goodwill to support those setting out on their careers. Goodwill I suspect he will no longer be able to exercise in the way he has done through globe-trotting over the past decade.
2 Do these remarks prove the Royal Society is sexist?
There have been some wild extrapolations from this single set of offensive remarks to the idea that the Royal Society is endemically sexist. Even if you totally believe what happened proves Tim is sexist, it is not good science to extrapolate from one data point to a whole organisation. Calling for the Royal Society to do X or Y to eliminate Tim Hunt’s apparently pernicious influence, sounds more like baying hounds than evidence-based policy. However, he has resigned from the only committee he sat on, just in case people worry.
Worse, I have seen it suggested that because one FRS has made some awful remarks, women will be actively discouraged from applying for fellowships and research fellowships. This strikes me as inverted logic. If you believe what is wrong is that the Royal Society has insufficient women associated with it, then everyone should be doing all they can to change that. Early career women should be encouraged even more vigorously to apply for all the research fellowship schemes; senior women should be nominated with even more determination. The Royal Society cannot move towards the equality it itself seeks if women aren’t nominated. To change the situation there is an onus on others to act as well as the Society itself. (And, it should be noted, supporting women’s nominations to the Royal Society is exactly what Tim, to my certain knowledge, has been doing.)
3 Why do people attack in a way reminiscent of a lynch mob?
This question is at the heart of what disturbs me about this whole sorry affair. A speech on the other side of the world has let loose a torrent of invective. Those engaging in it may feel they are furthering the cause of women in science, something close to my heart as regular readers of this blog will be aware. But I feel they are in danger of doing the complete opposite, for instance by implying women shouldn’t bother to get involved with the Royal Society. Can each and every one of those who have engaged in this debate swear that they have themselves always spoken out about any and every issue of sexism they have encountered in their daily lives?
I believe the problems of sexism, the problems for women in society collectively and not just women in science, arise because people look the other way when they see bullying going on; when a woman is talked over at a committee; when a young student is picked on by a male colleague and laughed at if they try to pick up a soldering iron; when the male students in the group go off to the pub on a Friday evening making it clear the women are not welcome because they get in the way of lads’ talk; when women are not encouraged to aspire; when no one taps them on the shoulder to apply for jobs……The list goes on and on. Can everyone reading this honestly say they have never thought ‘I don’t want to get involved’ or ‘it’s not my responsibility’?
Curing the issues of women in science needs each and every one of us to be vigilant and to speak out about the everyday sexism that is all around us, not just wait to bay at a celebrity (which of course Nobel Prize winners are) who says something crass, suggesting he holds views that most of us think are Victorian. If watching this sorry affair unfold provoked people to act locally to eradicate all the microinequities that abound, then some good would have come out of it.
The ‘#distractinglysexy images, like the recent #girlswiththeirtoys photos that circulated on Twitter, are lighthearted ways of demonstrating just how much women are successfully embedded in scientific laboratories. But women will not rise to the top of the ranks if unconscious bias continues to rein. It would be wonderful if everyone who has posted some horrified comment about #huntgate or who has read some of the outpouring of media articles, committed to taking one action, just one, in their local organisation to counter the local brand of disadvantage that women may be facing. We should all be pro-active, not look the other way. Here’s an easy list to help people make that commitment. Everyone should be able to find one they are in a position to carry out.
- 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 (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act);
- 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.
If every reader signed up to #just1action4WIS (or came up with another one to add to that list and acted upon it) that would be much more appropriate than pouring all the vitriol onto one man but doing nothing about the bigger picture.
Please make that pledge to do your part. Let’s get something positive out of this debacle: remember #just1action4WIS.
For readers interested in my previous posts on related subjects, here’s a quick reprise to some particularly relevant ones:
Whose responsibility? It’s too easy to say ‘not mine’
Time to eradicate the academic jerk
Leadership strategies to deal with jerks
Why can’t a woman be more like a man
The myth of the myth of women in science
Is the Royal Society treating women fairly?
Attacks on the Royal Society miss the point
10 things you should know about election to the Royal Society
On being feisty and unconventional
Changing the departmental mindset
Pingback: Athene Donald on Tim Hunt | Feminist Philosophers
Thanks for this interesting piece, and for the practical suggestions.
However, I personally think it’s very dangerous to assume that just because women have not come forward, that they therefore do not exist. Bora’s case was in a different profession. It is quite possible that such women dare not speak – especially given the support and personal testimonials he is receiving from colleagues at the highest echelons, such as yourself. Science academia is a precarious enough profession as it is (and arguably more so for women): whistle-blowers have not, historically, fared well. I am not meaning to state that such women exist; only that lack of testimony is not good ‘evidence’.
At any rate, the real problem that people have been concerned about is not active discrimination from Hunt; it was about his ill-judged words and their possible effects – which are very real.
I agree with Jenny, I think if I had had a bad experience with Tim Hunt (I don’t know him) I would be terrified to say anything at this point. I think I would be afraid of being accused of going on a witch hunt.
Interesting. As a supporter of Tim I have felt (and to some extent received) the same kind of pressure in speaking out on his side! I’d have expected to see women who have suffered at his hands feeling the climate recently with them, given the presumption that such people exist.
On the contrary, you have taken the time to contribute to a blog article to suggest that Hunt may have committed undiscovered misdemeanours, without any personal experience of him. I imagine that if you did have some example of previous bad behaviour by Hunt, you would be even less reticent.
Assuming the comment above by Sarah Beardsley is directed at me, I was simply pointing out that any good scientist would not take lack of people coming forward as “evidence” (Athene’s word, not mine) that such people did not exist. As case in point, I know of about a dozen female scientists in total who have experienced sexism from high-profile male scientists – sexism that was witnessed directly by me or by colleagues whose word I trust; and sexism that was blatant, not in the grey area. All but one were too afraid to come forward; and the one who did instigate a tribunal – suffice it to say that she no longer works in science.
If hypothetically I did know of any previous bad behavior by any high-profile male scientist, I wouldn’t dream of coming forward and exposing their victims to that sort of closing ranks and silencing that I saw on the one occasion I allude to above. That would be the choice solely of the victim. And it’s not the easy choice you seem to imply.
No (Jennifer Rohn), replies on this site appear beneath and indented with-repect-to the comment to which they relate. I was, you will therefore see, replying to Sylvia McLain. However, as Sylvia McLain was writing in to agree with you, my comment does also apply to you, as it happens!
Your latest comment about what “any good scientist” would or would not do is, I believe, a non-sequitur. Yes, the absence of evidence for something cannot be taken as evidence for its absence. This argument can be correctly applied to generalities (eg, I do not personally know of any incidents of sexism in Paraguay, but I wouldn’t use my lack of data to argue for the absence of sexism in that country… ). However, if we apply the same logic to individuals, we risk coming into direct conflict with 1. the presumption of innocence and 2 the laws of libel. Scientifically speaking, such arguments, made without evidence, also run counter to the principle of parsimony. You have no evidence of sexist behaviour by Tim Hunt against any individual, despite the obvious possibilily, under the present circumstances, that someone might choose this moment to come forward with such information, should it exist. Why then would you postulate the existence of past sexist behaviour by Hunt, in the complete absence of evidence and, what is worse, in the presence of several positive testimonials by high-profile female scientists who have known Hunt throughout their careers?
You might for all I know, be a narcotics baron, and the Archbishop of Cantebury might be a diamond thief. Athene Donald might be secretly running Churchill College as a brothel. However, the principle of parsimony, not to mention the presumption of innocence and the laws of libel, lead me to reject such dark hypotheses, for which I have no evidence. You might, perhaps, consider doing the same…
I’m also not a fan of the comparison to Bora – stepping forward is not easy. In addition, no women *who have worked with him in the lab* (so I exclude here senior committee colleagues and undergraduates) have come forward in his defence either. A simple question, that has still not been answered: what % of Tim’s PhD students and postdocs over the years have been female?
Women HAVE come forward in his defense, I think they simply go largely unnoticed and are ignored!
Helena, do you have names/links to references? All of the women I have seen named in newspaper articles so far have been senior colleagues (who know him via ERC/RS committees) or women who were his students as undergraduates. I’m certainly not doing a comprehensive search though, and if I am missing statements from women who have worked with him in the lab as PhDs/postdocs then I would be glad to see this corrected.
I did my undergraduate project in Tim’s lab and had a brief letter on this published in The Guardian on 17th June. Another letter signed by many students and post-docs of Tim’s, male and female, has been published in The Times.
I agree with Jenny and Sylvia. In relation to point 1, it wasn’t just some remarks on the fly. He reiterated them, to others who challenged him after his remarks, and again in a tape he sent to the BBC. He is on the public record questioning whether or not discrimination against women in science really matters.
It was what happened after he spoke that brings us to the crux of the problem, and why there has been a strong reaction. He had the opportunity to retreat from the position he had taken: he was, however, undeterred and continued to expand on these themes. And people have defended him by arguing, in effect, that demeaning speech is only unacceptable, but not harmful.
This has not been an over-reaction to some regrettable gaffes: it’s about his, to use his word, “honest”, beliefs. Those views, and expressing them can do harm, whether or not he personally has discriminated against individual women. They can be hurtful to anyone exposed to them, they can encourage those who do discriminate (and worse) to think it’s socially acceptable to demean women, and they can encourage women to believe the climate in science is one where demeaning remarks are socially acceptable. As Zen Faulkes wrote, career choices can “hang on narrow threads”.
The wording here seems to imply that unless it can be proven that there were harmful consequences to particular individual women, then he is not sexist. But many of us see someone speaking about women scientists as “the crying kind” or not when he’s discussing us is sexist behavior, and it’s not the consequences that determine whether or not it is.
All the space devoted to the discussion is not devoted to “demonising” Tim Hunt. It’s largely to debate the issues this raises – how people feel about this climate, about women having pride in themselves and their contributions to the scientific workplace, and about the ugliness unleashed by all the people airing often misogynistic views.
It’s not all about him, even though his comments are the catalyst for a discussion it seems to me more and more clear we need to have. It seems we do indeed have to have a discussion about whether or not demeaning remarks do damage. The concrete list of actions you delineate are fantastic – but we won’t get far if we don’t address the “mountain made up of molehills”, as Virginia Valian put it: “The effect of schemas in professional life is to cause us to slightly, systematically overrate men and underrate women.”
Fantastic points, Hilda. Agree on this, it’s an important conversation to have.
I also agree, wholeheartedly. For me, this isn’t about Tim Hunt anymore. It’s about the support for him and/or his comments that seems to be coming from all over the science community and beyond. I find the apparent breadth and depth of this support deeply, deeply depressing, and far worse than the original statements (which were bad enough).
“it was about his ill-judged words and their possible effects – which are very real”
Possible effects are by definition not real, so there goes that argument.
(the long version of my rebuttal would be an essay on just how tenuous the link is between silly remarks made by someone 1000s of miles away – which never needed reporting – and any effect on either girls who want to do science or women already in science)
Secondly I think these witch hunts ARE a big issue – some of our most prominent scientists are sacked or humiliated for minor transgressions. This happens because of rather ignorant and spiteful campaigns on social media and in the papers. If you think they are a force for good I have to disagree.
“Equality” is in any case a dodgy concept philosophically – it is not being served by internet lynch mobs who all assume divisive gender politics, rather than argue coherently.
There is also the issue of the power they have discovered – they LOVE it, and they want more. They love picking on little errors by men and creating a storm about it (without which no schoolgirl would have ever heard of Tim Hunt’s silly words). They are internet bullies, and shouldn’t be allowed to influence our universities
Thanks for trying to make #huntgate into a really positive thing and moving the discussion – and action! – forward.
I agree that change has to start small and local and while it’s easy to talk and critise someone’s appalling comments is easy, acting on a daily basis is the hard bit.
So thank you for calling us all to action. I try to do many of those points, but mentoring more junior female colleagues is, at the moment, the one I feel has a direct impact.
Nice post & great suggestions. I feel very conflicted about this situation, and in astronomy we’ve recently had similar incidents related to racism in our field. Whilst I do feel we need to come out more strongly against sexist behaviour in science in all its micro- and macro-versions, I don’t think persecuting everyone who puts their foot in their mouth to this extent is helpful (though I don’t know anything about Hunt so I don’t want to make any assumptions about whether this was “foot in mouth” or “tip of the iceberg”, or what the “appropriate” response should be).
More broadly, I used to think social media was a good forum for discussing difficult issues with fellow scientists, outside of my immediate circle, and I know that I am better informed and connected because of it. But these arguments have now become so polarised and vitriolic that I’m often afraid to voice an opinion, for fear of something being taken out of context (or indeed putting my foot in my mouth, which I regularly do!) and becoming a target myself as I’ve seen happen to others.
I have some very mixed feelings about this post. On the one hand, I heartily agree with your emphasis on practical actions. They take more time than a re-tweet but they are a lot more useful.
On the other hand, though, I have reservations about your support for Hunt. You write that you have “seen no evidence to suggest that at any previous point in his career has he done or said anything to indicate a sexist man at heart”. What that tells me is he’s not someone who throws out sexist comments like radium throws out alpha particles, and not someone that older women scientists warn younger ones about entering elevators alone. This is good, obviously, but it only really places a lower bound on how sexist he is. As a well-regarded senior scientist, you are less likely than most to have experienced or witnessed direct acts of sexism from Hunt. The experiences of more junior women who’ve worked with him are unknown, but the absence of supportive comments from them seems, to me, at least as significant as the absence of “he’s a flaming sexist who harassed me and blocked my career” comments. Also of note is that Hunt prefaced his remarks at the WCSJ with a comment that he has a reputation as a chauvenist. Presumably, he has that (self-admitted) reputation for a reason.
As for a “witch hunt”, I really haven’t seen anything that justifies that description. What I *have* seen, over the weekend, is a backlash to the backlash in which men are coming out and saying that they agree with Hunt’s comments, and being insulting and threatening to the women who’ve challenged him. The comments on Hunt’s (highly self-pitying, IMO) Observer profile, for example, are strongly of this flavour. And when senior scientists like you come out in support of Hunt (however qualified that support may be – I know you don’t support his comments), I’m afraid it tends to give “cover” to people with more extreme views on the subject.
Athene, thank you for a very interesting post.
As others above, I have mixed feelings about all this. I do agree with your suggestion that we move on and try to focus on making a practical change, and the moves you suggest at the end would definitely help a lot.
I am not so sure about your other points – let me explain.
I do think that Tim Hunt has antiquated views on this matter, especially since Deborah Blum (Pullitzer prize winner who gave the other introductory toast) weighted in to say that she asked him whether it was a joke, and he did double down on these views. Now, does that impact the way he actually conducts himself in real life? I don’t know – clearly he is nowhere near as bad as Bora Zivkovic, but then surely we can agree to have higher standards than that. Was the sanction appropriate? I don’t know (I personally think he should have retained his chair BUT with a healthy dose of mandatory diversity training – education is key and it’s never too late).
But I do think it is a display of incredibly poor judgement and utter lack of awareness to have given that very speech, at that very place. And I don’t believe that our core institutions (especially the ERC council) are places where we should want unaware people with poor judgement.
Does that prove that the Royal Society is sexist? Well, it does prove that so little is done that a senior member has apparently no idea that these comments could be an issue. Interestingly, women made up 19% of applications for funding at the RS in 2014, and less than 5% of the recipients, giving them a success rate that is 1/4 of that of men… so, you tell me. Is the RS sexist? Of course, it could just be that in the UK, only 1 in 4 women produces research of the caliber of a man – but I suspect it has more to do with unchecked, low-key sexism, that is generally thought harmless until it isn’t.
(On a related note, I have to say that I strongly disagree with your suggestion that women should be encouraged to apply to more grants to turn this tide. Grants writing is a huge amount of work. The latest numbers published in Science show that women need on average twice the number of papers of men to reach the same career levels. We should strive for ways to fix this that do not involve asking women to write four times more grants than men as well.)
I agree with everything else you have said, though, and you are definitely right that actions will speak much louder than tweets to fix these issues.
I copy this top rated comment from the New York Times article on Tim Hunt’s recent comments, which I whole heartedly agree with:
“They do not realize that women need and want their jobs, and that a woman with top education and years of experience is actually an excellent, capable professional, despite the fact that she is also attractive, married and a mother. I suspect that it was Hunt who was sexually attracted to his women subordinates, and was for that reason unable to treat them as the qualified scientists that they were. ”
“Therefore, I do not feel sorry for Hunt, the Nobel Laureate. He needed to be off the professional scene. Now he can entertain his family with moronic theories, as he ages into oblivion.”
“These men are not mere curmudgeons. They express a point of view that continues to poison the workplace, destroying the careers and lives of good women professionals.”
Thanks for writing this and for trying to move the debate on. Although I respect your views on Hunt, especially as you have experience of him as a colleague, he definitely did make some very sexist remarks in a very high profile environment. Our simplest utterances betray our underlying attitudes so I would guess he really believes these ideas. I don’t think it helps at all to say, as Mary Collins has done, that he was brought up in a different era (single sex school etc). Even if you are a bit old it is possible to rise above such influences.
Well, yes, Philip, but I still think the point is relevant that Hunt’s underlying ‘patterning and conditioning’ is from a very different era. Single-sex education in the 1950s from age 8-18, and Cambridge undergraduate in an era (’61-’64) when colleges were single sex and the number of women at the University heavily restricted. Women were only admitted to full student status at Cambridge in 1948, barely a dozen years before Hunt became an undergraduate. My understanding was that it wasn’t until the historically male-only colleges started admitting women in the early 70s that numbers of female undergrads started to rise.
I think it is Hunt’s clumsy attempted-humorous remarks about (paraphrasing) ‘I’ve always had trouble with women’ that have to be read in the context of that background, which sounds like he’s talking about himself. The ‘type’ of slightly bemused male of this vintage is a staple of campus novels written by people like David Lodge, and bits in Hunt’s other published interviews over the years fit the bill in various ways. That is how I read Mary Collins’ comment, anyway.
Absolutely. There have been many references to Hunt’s age in this debate, which is regrettable for three reasons. First, it’s insulting to the many older male scientists who most certainly do *not* agree with Hunt’s views. Second, it implies that Hunt should get a pass for his behaviour just because he’s older, when arguably the opposite is true; someone of his stature and experience really should have known better.
But most importantly, blaming Hunt’s comments on his age implies that bad attitudes towards women in science are going to disappear automatically as scientists of Hunt’s generation die or retire from public life. It ain’t necessarily so — there are, unfortunately, plenty of younger people whose attitudes and/or behaviour are just as bad.
Well said, Margaret. It is indeed at the very best patronising, and at the worst deeply insulting, to think that men of a “certain age” should be forgiven their “indiscretions”. As one key example, David Colquhoun and Tim Hunt are of the same “vintage” (indeed, Colquhoun is six years older). Here’s what Colquhoun has to say: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/13/tim-hunt-hung-out-to-dry-interview-mary-collins#comment-53758655
As regards younger people “whose attitudes and/or behaviour are just as bad”. It’s often worse. Much worse. See, as one particularly irksome example, http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/06/11/why-do-feminists-cook-up-stories-about-misogyny-when-they-lose-debates/
It’s worth taking a look at the Twitter timeline of the author of that piece (@Nero) to get an idea of the type of wilfully uninformed and moronic bile he posts. I can’t take a look at the TL myself to see what he’s posted recently. He blocked me after I asked him to provide any type of credible evidence for the claims he made in the debate with Emily Grossman.
One key issue with the comments made by Tim Hunt is that there is an entire online community who will use his remarks to justify the idea that women aren’t “cut out” for STEM. Yes, many of these will be 14 year old boys — or middle-aged men with the mentality of 14 year old boys — busily tweeting from their bedroom or the basement of their parents’ house. But some, like Yiannopoulus, end up being invited onto Sky News and exploit Hunt’s remarks to publicise their moronic views.
Full blog post to follow tomorrow. (I’ll make sure to include a trigger warning for Yiannopoulus and his ilk — they may find the post challenging and distressing.)
For some reason, David Colquhoun’s comment further down the page wasn’t visible when I posted the comment above (even though David posted his comment before mine…).
I happen to know that there is a large community of men in academia who closely follow and circulate material online (using anonymous pseudonyms) in order to promulgate ideas like those that Tim Hunt offhandedly used in his speech. Ideas like:
There’s no problem in academia with unconscious bias.
Women don’t excel in STEM because they didn’t play with the right toys when they are children.
Women upset the workplace.
Women are not as academically as capable as men.
Women are emotional.
People who circulate these ideas are at the top of our institutions. They are organized. They are well paid and well funded to say these things and find research results that show that women are not academically capable in STEM.
It is not just a few teenage boys and old men.
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The question is whether as a woman, you would feel comfortable being judged by a panel that includes Tim Hunt in it. I suspect not, given that he has publicly said twice that “he has trouble with girls”. I know that we should look at the evidence for sexism as you suggest, but evidently he has trouble with girls in the lab (his radio interview after the Korea meeting made that clear). If he evidently has trouble to objectively judge female candidates he shouldn’t be in a panel, no matter how scientifically brilliant he is.
I think it is right that he resigned (or made to resign) from review panels and his UCL honorary position, as we simply cannot have famous people expressing these views. Nobel prize winners should know that their words carry weight and that they can be used to promote science and other values, but in the wrong context and if the views are clearly wrong (as they are in this case) they can lead to serious damage.
I must say that I (and I suspect many others) were really disappointed when the story broke out after having met him a couple of times and admiring his work. But the hardest kind of sexism to unroot is when someone brilliant, down to earth, and someone you really respect makes it, or even thinks it. Sometimes without they themselves realizing that they are doing it or that it is wrong. That is why it is right to have him resign so that other professors think twice, understand that they are not invincible. Maybe some might even think and start changing their outdated views once they clearly see that they may loose their job and ruin their reputation.
What has been really disappointing from the latter statements from Sir Tim (and even in the Observer article where he was allowed to express his side of the story), is that he has not come out with an official statement to say that is is very wrong for a professor (or anyone else for that matter) to have trouble dealing with female staff and that segregated labs are very wrong. I hope that he has done this and I have missed it, but if I was his friend, I would seriously advise him to come out with an official statement and apology to make this clear.
Calling Hunt’s comments “stupid, offensive remarks made in bad taste on the fly” overlooks that he’s had several opportunities to clarify what he meant. And every time, he’s said he meant it.
For the first example, in conversation with Deborah Blum, who asked him about it directly (mentioned in another comment). For the second example, when he tried to apologize, he said, “I just meant to be honest, actually.”
This does not appear to be a “Ooops” moment on Hunt’s part.
“Can each and every one of those who have engaged in this debate swear that they have themselves always spoken out about any and every issue of sexism they have encountered in their daily lives?”
Probably not – and that’s okay.
It’s not reasonable to ask people for 100% commitment to speak out 100% on 100% of issues. People have finite effort.
It’s not reasonable to say, “You do not get to say anything on this issue because you never said anything about this similar issue.” Everyone has the straw that breaks their back.
Also: “I have yet to see women stepping forward to say how Tim Hunt blighted their career by refusing to promote them, support them, actively behaving inappropriately or demeaning them.”
Well, there’s this from Ed Yong (admittedly, not a woman, but still):
“I did grad work in the institute where Hunt ran a lab. Tip of the fucking iceberg.”
I’m older than Hunt and I went to a single-sex school. I certainly hold very different views about women from his. As an excuse, it doesn’t wash at all.
I think that all one has to do is to imagine yourself as a young woman applying for a fellowship in competition with men, knowing that Hunt was one of the people who’d judge you. In my opinion , his comments on the Today programme on 10 June showed clearly that he meant them “I was just trying to be honest”. From the moment I heard them, I urged that he should no take part in any selection panels or policy committees. Both the Royal Society and UCL acted quickly, and, in my opinion, justly.
He’s a nice man, and I’m sorry he’s been put through this. But it was self-inflicted. We should now let him enjoy his retirement in peace, and get on with the job.
More details (and recording of the Today Programme (and News Quiz) at http://www.dcscience.net/2015/06/15/are-women-still-at-a-disadvantage-in-science/
It is not only just old men, or even men, who think that women should take a subordinate role in science and engineering. I don’t think that Tim Hunt should be held up as someone out of step with what many senior scientists or engineers think. I know young men, and even some young women, who still think that women cannot be equal to men in science or engineering.
At the same time, Tim Hunt is a Nobel Laureate. He has a responsibility to be acquainted with the current research on gender bias, and its potential effects.
If he wanted to talk about the fact that women scientists sometimes cry when they are criticized, I could have laughed at that, so long as he admitted that men also can react emotionally to criticism.
I could have also entertained the notion that attraction in the workplace occurs and can sometimes be hard on professional relationships. He could have had a highly productive discussion about how the career of a junior scientist can be jeopardized when a relationship with senior scientist ends (for example.)
But he didn’t. He instead discussed the matter in a very one sided manner and suggested that women should be segregated from the scientific workplace.
I don’t care if Tim Hunt does the dishes or that his wife is a scientist and calls herself a feminist.
He needs (and all of us need) to come clean gender bias in the workplace and how it can poison the chances for women scientists and engineers to advance in their careers. I’m very tired of the “lean in” pep talks.
I think of my ten year old daughter. She’s doing wonderfully in school right now. I don’t want her to have to deal with a Tim Hunt if she enters a career in science or engineering.
If we can’t be honest about this, we can just pack our bags on promoting the idea of women in science. Given the current precarious nature of science careers, and the poor statistics for women’s advancement science and engineering, I do not strongly encourage my daughter to consider science or engineering as a career (in spite of the fact that I myself am a electrical engineer with degrees in both engineering and physics.)
Please take the time to peruse this petition to reinstate Tim Hunt:
And, if you agree with the cause, please sign and comment! This web page also contains a link to a second ‘Tim Hunt’ petition.
I really disagree with your petition and want to point out that you are not doing any favours to Tim Hunt by dragging this along. The best thing Tim Hunt can do now is to publish an apology for what he said and make clear what he thinks about women working in labs. Specifically, does he think they are a distraction to science or not?
The argument that this was a light hearted joke doesn’t fly. And yes Noble prize winers and famous people need to measure their words carefully simply because of the big weight their words carry. Now the mayor of London and a potential future prime minister (I hope not) apparently thinks it is OK to make sexist jokes. But just like everything else Boris says sounds like a joke but he really means it.
You describe it in your petition that this was some social media which hunt. But you fail to mention some really abhorrent sexist comments in the commentary pages of the Observer, The Daily Mail and the rest. A quick scan of these comments makes you realize right way how many backward thinking people are out there, and why it is so important to stand firm against Tim Hunt comments, regardless of the fact that he is brilliant scientifically.
Thank you for your considered reply.
I think Sir Tim already made clear his personal observations that men and women can be a distraction to each other in the lab. He does not advocate banning women from labs (indeed, he has mentored and supported hundreds of women throughout his career in science), rather he argues for single sex labs. His motive is pragmatic, not sexist. Incidentally, I disagree with what he says, but I defend to the death his right to say it. I’ve also read all the Daily Mail and Observer articles published to date, but can find no trace of any “abhorrent sexist comments” made by Sir Tim himself. If others are making these comments, then by all means take a stand against them, but please don’t offer up Sir Tim as a sacrificial goat to validate the struggle.
I find it really hard to understand why you think that arguing for “single sex labs is a pragmatic motive”. I would view it as straightforward gender discrimination.
If Tim Hunt had his way and segregated labs were allowed, a certain professor that may have “trouble dealing with girls” will simply favour male candidates to train with him instead of female ones. That will mean that a female candidate will not get the chance to train with this scientifically brilliant professor, through no fault of her own, but because she was of the wrong gender. That is the very definition of gender discrimination.
I’m not suggesting that Tim Hunt discriminated against women as I have no evidence for this, but to have someone of his stature favouring single sex labs cannot be good in fighting gender discrimination and ridding gender bias in science.
No one has been able to come up with the total number of trainees (PhD students and postdocs) that went through Tim Hunt’s lab, and what percentage of them were female. It will just be interesting to know the numbers.
As mentioned in my previous post, I actually agree with you that single sex labs are not a good idea. Where I disagree is that Tim’s motive for promoting them must be sexually discriminating. If he has seen men and women struggling to work well together then surely there is a practical motive behind suggesting single sex labs. Also, against whom is his comment supposed to discriminate: men or women? You might equally argue that Tim is discriminating against men based on his remarks. You might interpret them to mean that men lack the emotional skills to deal with women in the lab and therefore should be segregated.
You’ve been so thoroughly cowed by the PC police that nothing I say will, or can alter your views. However, you may want to consider the following:
“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” – Voltaire
>> Scott: “You’ve been so thoroughly cowed by the PC police that >>nothing I say will, or can alter your views”
Ignore my blather — scroll down to the xkcd cartoon at the end.
I can scarcely believe that a petition has been set up to restore Hunt to a non-job.
Not for the first time I find myself wishing that online petitions came with an “vote against the motion” option.
It certainly does nothing to help Tm Hunt to spin out the whole sad affair.
I wish for that “vote against the motion” option too! As far as I know (and rightly so) he still has his lab, which I would think is the most precious thing to Tim Hunt.
As DC and many others have commented, the resignations from UCL and the review panels are fear.
Institutions like UCL, the ERC and the Royal Society are ‘gatekeepers’ for those seeking funding, publicity and support for their work in science.
Hunt is under no illusions about the consequences. “I am finished,” he says. “I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but I cannot see how that can happen. I have become toxic. I have been hung to dry by academic institutes who have not even bothered to ask me for my side of affairs.”
I wonder if Athene endorses this petition given that her quote is in the first sentence of the petition.
Stephen Ballentyne I can’t help feeling that wording of your petition is particular poor given the circumstances of this incident. Your language is emotional rather than measured and you have omitted salient facts.
A well written petition would have acknowledged that Hunts behaviour was unacceptable and that women had the right to be angry. It would have acknowledged that it wasn’t a one off mistake and that he’d been given several opportunities to explain and clarify before he was sacked but instead chose to dig himself in deeper by claiming he did struggle with women in labs and would prefer them to be single sex environments. It would have acknowledged that Hunt had also claimed he had a reputation as a chavenist.
An honest appraisal of Hunts gaffe followed by calls to give him another chance if he was prepared to undergo some kind of equality training would have gotten more support. People aren’t malicious but they do need to know he and his supporters understood what was wrong rather than playing the victim card.
Your petition screams the very opposite portraying Hunt as an innocent victim of a vicious mob. That isn’t quite true. He chose to make and repeat those comments on several occasions. The so called mob merely circulated what he’d said and commented. That’s transparency not a witch hunt.
Referring to professional female scientists as ‘neurotic witches’ for calling out an unacceptable attitude merely illustrated and exacerbated what had been wrong with that attitude in the first place. It made it look like you did not understand what Hunt had actually done wrong.
Complaining about sexism from Hunt only to have his petitioner then make sexist comments about those complaints actually stopped several of my colleagues who’d had sympathy for him from signing. In fact their sympathy disappeared on reading the phrase ‘neurotic witch hunt’.
These were justifiably annoyed professional women not neurotic witches and a Hunt was an adult man with free choices not a baby.
The use of the words like electronic witch hunts and mob trials were both emotional and inaccurate. The twitter sphere did not, in the main, call for his sacking. Nor was he misrepresented. He made a stupid and offensive comment and was given several opportunities to clarify and explan and get himself out of trouble. He freely chose to dig himself in deeper.
The actual response of most women was just to tell the world what he’d said and say ‘what a k@@@’. It was NOT an electronic mob trial it was transparency that did fir him. It was shining a light on an unacceptable attitude. If you’d recognised and acknowledged that rather than resorting to emotive and inaccurate claims about mob trials more people might have signed.
Five minutes homework would also have informed you that there were no mass calls for his resignation. The #distractinglysexy meme featured women scientist mocking an outdated attitude. People treated him as a joke. He chose to make and repeat those comments. He cannot complain when people than treat him like a pompous buffoon.
When you compare that mockery to the rape threats that often follow women who say things he got off very lightly. If you think some women making fun of a pompous individual is a mob trial by neurotic witches you’re sadly mistaken.
UCL sacked him for their own reasons and that is another area in which your petition failed Tim Hunt.
Without access to his personel records you do not know why they reached that decision. You might think it a hasty overreaction but I’d have said the first thing they would have done is distance themselves entirely from his attitude before getting him to word a proper apology acknowledging he’d behaved in an unacceptable manner. So I really don’t know why they reached that decision. It may well have been a final straw rather than a hasty reaction. But your claims are assumptions not facts.
Making wild assertions about UCL is unlikely to make them reconsider. If anything it tarnishes his reputation even more.
So I’m afraid your petition has hardened a lot of waverers like myself. I was on the fence about whether he should be given a second chance if prepared to undergo training. Your petition however illustrated how pervasive those attitudes to women were. They illustrated how important it was to kick out those attitudes. So I’m afraid your petition has done Hunt far more harm than good.
You fail to provide any evidence to support your claims.
1) “A well written petition would have acknowledged that Hunts behaviour was unacceptable and that women had the right to be angry.”
Why? If you’d actually read my article then you’d have seen my resource-based evidence and reasoning to the contrary. I’m happy to hear your counter-arguments but you fail to provide a single idea, let alone references, to support your own assertions.
2) I did not refer to professional female scientists as “neurotic witches”.
3) “The use of the words like electronic witch hunts and mob trials were both emotional and inaccurate. The twitter sphere did not, in the main, call for his sacking.”
Considering the vehemence and velocity of the attacks, and the knee-jerk reactions of UCL and the ERC, I disagree that my terms were emotional and inaccurate. ‘Understated’ would, in my opinion, be closer to the truth. And, that the Twittersphere did not, in the main, call for his sacking is a non-sequitur (and I think you know that really).
4) A chauvinist is an extreme patriot; a male/ female chauvinist is a sexist. Read my article and peruse its links/ comment and you’ll find that Hunt had a reputation for being neither.
5) “Five minutes homework would also have informed you that there were no mass calls for his resignation.”
I never said there were.
6) “If you think some women making fun of a pompous individual is a mob trial by neurotic witches you’re sadly mistaken.”
No, I don’t think that, it seems you’ve completely missed my point. Please read my article again.
7) But your claims are assumptions not facts. Making wild assertions about UCL is unlikely to make them reconsider. If anything it tarnishes his reputation even more.
I really don’t think so. Please read my article again and the sources that support it. The UCL council weren’t even informed about the decision to shun Tim Hunt.
8) “So I’m afraid your petition has hardened a lot of waverers like myself. I was on the fence about whether he should be given a second chance if prepared to undergo training. Your petition however illustrated how pervasive those attitudes to women were. They illustrated how important it was to kick out those attitudes. So I’m afraid your petition has done Hunt far more harm than good.”
Somehow your cliched rhetoric fails to convince..?
Stephen, I read the petition. There’s no resource based anything there.
The facts of the matter stand. Tim Hunt, we know, was supervisor a graduate student (later his wife) back in the eighties. Aparently at this time, he had sex with here.
Later they met again in the US when they were both at a lab here and apparently had sex again (she was married by this time.)
This indicates to me that:
a. Tim Hunt does not take responsibility for his choices. It is not normal or acceptable for a supervisor to have sex with a student, even if only in an adjunct role. If someone is in anyway supervising a student or post doc, in my opinion, sex is a big no no. He was in the senior position here.
b. These kinds of actions, and I’ve seen it happen many times, cause the student or post doc to be at an extreme emotional disadvantage and power disadvantage. The fact that Tim Hunt allowed this to happen places his record in question.
c. It doesn’t matter if he later married this person. (Mary Collins.)
d. The fact that Tim Hunt, as senior person in this indiscretion, doesn’t take full responsibility for his past actions, is enough for me to question his ability to be in charge of panel/position deciding what to do about the advancement of women in science. (comments in Korea aside.)
What I read in your petition included this:
“Digital witch hunt”
“Banner waving tweeters vomiting a bricolage of abuse”
“Neurotic online witch hunt”
That is very emotive language to describe the people who reacted to Tim Hunts comments AFTER he had clarified that he meant them on national radio. Not when they thought it was a badly made joke. Far more neurotic than any of the comments I’ve seen about Tim Hunt.
At no point does your petition acknowledge that, regardless of what others say about Tim Hunt the person, his comments were offensive, cruel, illogical, unscientific, emotional and vindictive. They sounded like comic parodies from Harry Enfield.
At no point does your petition acknowledge that he actually behaved like a “clueless sexist jerk” rather than an “elderly erudite scientist” and therefore, based on those comments alone, deserved to be called one.
Nor does it acknowledge that he chose to make those comments and make clear he meant them. Nobody forced him to say things that even he must have known would have sparked a reaction from the various organisations that employ him.
Even if he thought those things he must have known that they were not what his employers thought. That by articulating them whilst representing his employers he would get into trouble.
All of his supporters seem to be shrieking hysterically about twitter mobs and witch hunts. Twitter mobs just pointed our what he’d said and offered opinions. I can say I think his comments were cruel and offensive. I can say they were sexist. I cannot force UCL to sack him. Nobody had the power to do that.
So if you want to help Tim Hunt start acknowledging facts. Let him take responsibility for what he freely did. Stop b
” . . . give him another chance [only] if he [is] prepared to undergo some kind of equality training . . . ” or, just in case we missed it:
” . . . I was on the fence about whether he should be given a second chance if prepared to undergo training.”
Anyone who embraces with such enthusiasm the Liberal Fascist ideology that would have the Tim Hunts of the world marched off to “Room 101” for re-training should be treated with the contempt they deserve; such small-minded hysteria reveals a distasteful mob mentality.
Unlike the hysteria of calling all the women who objected to his comments neurotic witches? Your arguments are hysterical.
Here’s what happened – man makes sexist comments to his peers. Man reiterates he means sexist comments and adds he would prefer segregated labs. Man says he cannot do his best work in mixed labs. Women mock the man. Women point out his observations are silly and impractical, segregation is impossible.
Employer sacks the man realising that man has said he struggles in mixed environments. Employer employs women and cannot afford to support the mans unreasonable need to only work with other men as collaboration necessary in science. Employer realises if it employs men who can work productively alongside women it will be more effective.
So unless the sexist man is trained to work alongside women he’s not going to be much use to his employers. So the man needs to undergo some basic training to allow him to recognise women are his equals.
I’m not sure why you can’t understand this. Are you blinded by small minded hysteria yourself by any chance?
That’s life. If you struggle with an aspect of work you need to be trained, Tim Hunt has said he struggle with women.
Just a couple of small points re ‘Employer sacks the man’. In this case, UCL was not the employer, i.e., the University did not employ Tim Hunt, he held an honorary position and was not salaried. Second, he was not sacked. He resigned before UCL could contact him.
It looks like he resigned while UCL were trying to contact him. Let’s get that straight. I know it’s an honorary position but reading between the lines of your ladyships post I’m guessing it’s a distinction lost on him.
Your petition calls for UCL to reinstate him. What exactly do you want him reinstated to? A position at a university that appers to hold views contrary to the ones he expressed in public three times?
Honorary positions sort of preclude holding views counter to their institutions ethos. So if your petition had been sensible it would have acknowledged Tim Hunts words were indefensible but ….. People might then have thought it worth reading your selected defences.
Assuming of course reinstating Tim Hunt was your only motive? Because I don’t know if your choice of words like “digital witch hunt” or “neurotic witch hunt” or “banner waving tweeters vomiting bricolages of abuse” was deliberate or naive but it certainly attracted people less interested in Tim Hunt the “elderly erudite scientist” and more interested in the bloke that made them sexist comments that they agreed with.
I think this time it may have backfired. What people saw was comments that made Tim Hunt look like a pompous buffoon. That’s how he looked to those of us outside of the ivory towers.
We then saw was mainly a bunch of funny women take the p@@@. That was what it mainly was. Followed by a lot of angry men claimng that that was some kind of baying mob.
But this has happened so often now that people recognise it for what it is. They saw no baying witch hunt. They saw instead a lot of hysterical older men imagining one. They saw a lot of people with no sense of humour or or proportion. They know institutions don’t act on what happens on twitter. They know the argument was with UCL and not the women lampooning idiotic statements.
They saw language like that in your petition for what it was. Disproportionate and irrational. That damaged not only Tim Hunt but any measured support he may have had.
Perhaps you need to read these articles. All detailing responses that use the sorts of words you did.
I apologise for the language in the next one.
While I find political correctness generally unhelpful and can’t take people that use it to destroy others seriously I have struggled with what Tim said. (I haven’t been able to see the full video of the talk in South Korea so have no idea of the context of the talk as neither has nearly everyone else in world! So am keeping an open mind).
I wasn’t bothered about the original bit, but the bit where he explained himself saying he has trouble criticising work when people are crying. I have worked in civil engineering for many years and while my experience of people crying has been minimal I have had to deal with a great deal of sulking (in cases extreme sulking) when people don’t get their own way (myself included). Dealing with people can be difficult and to single out women in this way isn’t a fair thing to do.
I do not agree with the previous comments on here. It is a duty to stand up! Ok some people may fear for their careers, but this man has a career of over 50 years! I find it difficult to believe that Tim is a sexist pig, if he were there would be at least a handful of people out there with not much to lose and a big enough grudge to make them want to speak out.
Really enjoyed your list, just the kind of practical actions that will make a real positive difference.
Maybe one to add would be ‘to ensure a sucussful venture always engage the best person for the job’
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I found this very odd. You recommend that we call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever we see it. Yet most women have learned that calling out casual sexism is likely to leave them in a worse position than ignoring it. People who complain get a variety of responses: he didn’t mean it, it was just a bit of fun, you shouldn’t interfere with his freedom of speech, nobody else was offended, it was taken out of context, he’s never done it before, he’s a very nice person, do you really want to make a fuss over such a trivial thing?
Many women were dismayed to see that, despite having been Cambridge University’s gender champion, you responded in exactly this manner to the comments by Tim Hunt. The message to women seems to be that if you are going to complain you had better have a chain of evidence documenting that the man in question is a serial offender who has engaged in actions, not just words, that harm women. Otherwise, the woman who complains will become the person complained about.
As I hope is clear from previous comments I have made about this affair, I don’t see this as being about ‘punishing’ Tim Hunt – though no doubt he has had a terrible time. I see the responses from UCL, from the Royal Society and from ERC as indicating that these organisations do not see it as appropriate to have someone representing them, and indeed making key decisions about funding etc, who has these dismissive and stereotypical attitudes to women. I regard it as something of a landmark that they have done this, as it does indicate that, at last, there are figures in the Establishment who are prepared to take gender equality seriously.
Indeed. That’s what happened when my then PI referred to me as “Miss” in a meeting and refused to correct himself. When I enquired if there are any policies in place to ensure that people in positions of authority are aware of how they ought to address employees, one person suggested that telling him to use my correct title was “pulling rank” on my part (for what it’s worth, calling an adult woman “Miss” is horribly offensive where I’m from, PhD or not). He was just trying to be funny and light-hearted, but the poor dear’s social skills aren’t up to scratch, you see, so I should just ignore it! I was subsequently ignored when a more serious issue with him arose. He’s a known serial bully and generally disliked but the organization won’t do anything about it – if you stand up to him, you are effectively forced out. The unfortunate reality is that it’s often easier to call out someone with substantial power from a safe distance.
“The unfortunate reality is that it’s often easier to call out someone with substantial power from a safe distance.”
Agreed. It’s also (in my experience) easier to leave than to challenge those who have greater power and privilege than yourself, and are willing to use it against you.
I complained about a male boss’ bullying tactics 4 times and was offered several options for recourse, 1) take him off site and confront him (I’m sure this would have worked brilliantly – “hey do you know you carry on like a prick?”, “Oh I do?! My gosh, I’m so sorry, I’ll stop that right now” 2) Make an official complaint via HR (which I fear would have backfired on me anyway) or 3) leave.
I chose to leave, but he continued to send me abusive and bullying emails even after I’d left. These people need to be dealt with by people at the top, but the Tim Hunt episode demonstrates that even some of these people share the same attitudes. It has to be called out in an effort to put a stop to it.
What happened to Tim Hunt is called fascism, that’s the definition of it ; unacceptable ; you might not be agree with his views ; does not matter, there is no law about having your own ideas until you don’t ‘bodily’ harm anyone ; we are back in salem, a mob of violent idiots lynching and burning the witch, as the idiots are legions and the large majority… we get them on display doing the dirty work thinking they are right, that’s the first Law of dynamic idiots, unstoppable in their stupidity.
In what way is expressing an opinion fascism? Nobody forced Tim Hunt to make those comments. And once made everyone had a right to say that they found his attitude unacceptable in the modern world, that’s freedom of speech not fascism.
At no point was Tim Hunr subjected to any violence. Nor does he seem to have been threatened with violence. A very different state of affairs to the threats experienced by some women for expressing opinions.
Nobody lynched or burnt anyone.
So your comment doesn’t make sense.
I’ll let xkcd point out the flaws in your cliches: http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/free_speech.png
I recommend xkcd. Lots of insight there.
Dorothy Bishop, above, perfectly sums up my discomfort with this article. There is a feeling of contradiction about the entire piece.
On the one hand you suggest a list of actions that is unquestionably good – call out of bad behaviour, encourage women to take risks, etc. – yet in this case when that is *precisely* what the community did you now accuse them of forming a lynch mob and running a witch hunt. On Twitter you explained to me that the difference in this case was the public way in which the feedback to Tim Hunt was expressed, so presumably your Item 1 should be qualified as “Call out bad behaviour (but only in private or other settings that I consider to be appropriate)”. I wonder what unsaid qualifiers apply to the other items on your list?
The first part of your article in which you defend Hunt scores no less than three hits on Dude Bingo (see https://twitter.com/deevybee/status/610085491069878273). In fact, it reads to me as a master class in how to minimize sexist behaviour while also undermining those who raised awareness of such behaviour.
You imply that the consequences for Hunt were too severe, yet you do not say what sanctions he should have faced, if any.
I’m left with the impression that you are trying to achieve two impossible things at the same time: you want to defend your colleague who you like and respect, yet you also want to support women in science. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, the first completely jettisons the credibility of the second.
“On the one hand you suggest a list of actions that is unquestionably good – call out of bad behaviour, encourage women to take risks, etc. – yet in this case when that is *precisely* what the community did you now accuse them of forming a lynch mob and running a witch hunt.”
Can’t see this, unless it can be shown that the remarks, including the one about women breaking down and crying (which just looks ridiculous to me: really, he thinks that?), were intended to be taken seriously.
If not, then reacting unquestioningly to the reports of what was said, rather than what was actually said is indeed the behaviour of a lynch mob, isn’t it?
Well, Ann, perhaps you would care for Tim Hunt’s own words: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33077107
As he says himself, he did play it for laughs, but in substance it does reflect his honest view that women break down when criticized and he finds it terribly disruptive for the science.
Thank you to everyone for their comments. I understand why people find it strange I have taken this position and you can be sure I have thought this through very carefully. I cannot respond fully – though I will – as I have to be at a final examiners’ meeting today. I just want to make it plain that I am simply putting all messages up as and when I can, have not read the UCL petition, and will give some more detailed and I hope constructive thoughts later. Simply to clarify my first point – the post i wrote before should make clear I was referring to other people calling out bad behaviour, not necessarily the person concerned. I have no problem with that, but I think the response has to be proportionate. I do not think what is happening currently is helping women in science. It is, as has been said more than once elsewhere, only likely to make young women feel even less inclined to enter science and that is surely not a good outcome.
Finally, I would still urge all readers/commenters to respond to the list I propose – what’s missing for instance – whatever you feel about the brief opening. To ignore the point of the post because you don’t agree with the opening is not going to progress things further.
I disagree with your statement that what is happening currently is likely to make young women feel less inclined to enter science. There’s evidence from the Institute of Physics that talking about the under-representation of women in science helps increase girls participation.
I think that what is happening currently shows young women that the vast majority of the science community finds the remarks made by Tim Hunt unacceptable, and shows a real desire for change. I think that can only be a good thing for encouraging participation.
I agree with Clare – if anything, this will increase young women’s interest in becoming one of the #distractinglysexy. It was an outpouring of women’s pride. If the pushback had not been so strong, however, then indeed the societal message would have been, the science community is behind the times.
I strongly disagree that the response has not been proportionate. A man decorated with all the most powerful insignia of society’s and science’s establishment caused offense, reacted to the pushback by doubling down to a major media outlet. That escalation resulted in a roar – to which he responded by going on the attack and arguing he’s a victim. This is a society-level event, on a matter that affects us all: our response is proportionate to the issue, the offense, and what’s at stake.
Here’s hoping it means it is no longer acceptable for leaders to maintain their leadership positions if they publicly hold forth their views on women’s “shortcomings” as a gender. Dorothy’s right: that’s a landmark, to be applauded. What’s shocking to me is that it took till 2015 for it to be so, and that so many still think this was a minor slip and demeaning women in the world’s media is not a serious enough thing to do to disqualify someone from leadership.
Regarding the proposed list, I found it sensible, perceptive and extremely comprehensive. There was only one item I’d query:
Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of female invited speakers
I think reaction to single sex panels/ conferences should be context-dependent. To what extent are they single sex due to gender bias? To what extent were candidates chosen based on merit/ experience; current members just happening to be all-male/ all-female? I think it important to represent female perspectives on any issue. Nevertheless, competence and experience should be telling factors in deciding an appropriate level of female speakers. Or male speakers, for that matter.
Merit is largely in the eye of the beholder, and some beholders tend to completely overlook entire categories of qualified candidates.
I assure you there are always many more qualified men and women than any coveted spot, such as an invited talk at a conference (or a good job, fellowships, etc.) How you sift from among the highly qualified candidates is highly subjective and often deeply biased.
For example, I am on the advisory committee of a conference in my field, and it is amazing how I can always easily come up with the names of 3-4 highly accomplished women as invited speaker candidates, and the other 15 (male) members of the same committee cumulatively cannot come up with a single one. Yet, many of the men would proudly exclaim that they only see merit, and it’s nearly impossible to convince them that they are biased, they rather think me yet another hysterical broad for even suggesting it.
That’s a very sad state of affairs. Perhaps advocating broader research for suitable candidates might help? Based on your comment, your presence on your own committee foregrounds this value.
I’m on various committees that organise discussion panels and whenever I point out that we only have men on the panel I’m told that’s because there are no good women to talk on the topic: out of 3,000,000,000 women in the world, not a single one. It’s baloney to say these single gender panels are selected on merit alone.
I’ve also had push back when proposing particular women for a panel that “they haven’t been on a panel before” – I have had this said to me with a straight face by otherwise intelligent people.
I believe it’s incumbent upon people with power and privilege to be confident enough in that position to say “i’m not putting up with this anymore”.
There is an extensive academic conversation about how and why all male and nearly all-male panels persist.
You will find all of Jonathan Eisen’s posts on this, and others, here:
Regarding this comment, I must disagree with you:
The reaction to Tim Hunt will “only likely to make young women feel even less inclined to enter science.”
Let me be clear that I love being an engineer (who also works across some disciplines of physics.)
However, if the current publicity regarding the Tim Hunt situation discourages women from going into science, then so be it. There is no shortage of scientists. Women do better statistically, in terms of advancement, in fields such as economics, finance, law, and medicine. The current environment of low level, and sometimes not so low level, gender bias is pervasive. Dorothy Bishop is absolutely right when she says that women who survive in science and engineering learn not to complain and that reporting sexism only leads to further marginalization.
I haven’t followed the twitter feeds and have only read the Guardian reporting on this, so I don’t think I’m particularly a victim of an over reaction in the press.
I think of the lack of response to the Lawrence Summers comments:
Summers comments had devastating consequences for women in science and engineering. Summers is still around, pontificating, and his protégé, Sheryl Sandberg, with a degree in economics, not science, beats the drum about women engineers and scientists not advancing only because they haven’t “leaned in.”
I am not a vengeful person. I don’t know what will happen to Tim Hunt and I do not wish him ill. However, excusing his remarks as a product of the fact that he is old and out of touch will only set women back.
By the way, several of my professors were from the UK (University of Edinburgh and Imperial College). All men, most of them were educated before Tim Hunt. (One of them, David Baird, was educated by Max Born.) Perhaps one or two of them hold views as backward as Tim, but for the most part, they were and are, more progressive in their views on women in Science.
Sweeping this problem under the rug will not improve the situation for women. You will simply end up, as now, with many women with advanced degrees in science and engineering, ending up being marginalized and invisible as they try to advance in their careers.
I wholeheartedly disagree with you Athene. You seem to have the assumption that giving air time to this type of sexism will push young women away from seeking careers in science. To an extent this may be true, but you forget about us who are young women already working towards careers in science. Not talking about this openly, not challenging it publicly, makes women like myself feel alone when we struggle with sexism.
Young female scientists, research assistants, MSc students, PhD candidates, post-docs etc may already have faced sexism in science, yet usually no one seems to challenge the men behind it. The shape of my legs have been commented by a professor, I’ve had to sit through a meeting with someone staring at my cleavage for an hour while I try to tell them why I am worth hiring and another professor asked me out for a pint because his wife was ‘away for the night’. When I was finishing my undergrad I worked in a lab with a male undergrad student. Our supervisor gave him twice the support and three times the encouragement he gave me. I graduated with a higher GPA and I received a higher grade for my undergraduate thesis. I also collected all the data (we shared it). My supervisor offered him a paid summer placement while I volunteered for no pay (I needed the experience).
People like me need to hear these men being challenged. I am not a doctor yet but I am in the final few months of my PhD. I need to know that the kind of sexism I have faced in science and that I will no doubt face in the future does not always go unchallenged. Hiding it, avoiding talking about it, is not helping anyone. Women in science encounter sexism, it is the sad state of affairs. If we all keep quiet about it nothing changes.
Tim Hunt may be a brilliant scientific thinker, no one is questioning that. However, men like him are maintaining the status quo that so desperately needs to be challenged.
“When I was finishing my undergrad I worked in a lab with a male undergrad student. Our supervisor gave him twice the support and three times the encouragement he gave me. I graduated with a higher GPA and I received a higher grade for my undergraduate thesis. I also collected all the data (we shared it). My supervisor offered him a paid summer placement while I volunteered for no pay (I needed the experience).”
This kind of situation is unfortunately pervasive.
It is very unfortunate that Athene is not being more proactive on these types of situations.
I think a lot of girls I’ve seen have been encouraged by the #distractinglysexy. I dint think any would have been happy if nothing had been done or said.
Briefly, I have been following the debate and the furore in the media and considering how much intention attribution by the observer’s contributes to their judgement of the situation. The attribution error is ignoring or being unaware of any external influences and thinking his actions are 100% intentional. This probably is why there is a ‘gewitter on twitter’. Not all twitterati will have judged the case with the same insight as persons posting here. The points made by DB and DC are important. Hunt’s remarks were seriously ill-judged for a man in his position. Anyone in a position to sanction qualification, promotion or preferment of any kind must be entirely impartial. For that reason he has to be brought to account. I recently tweeted that my female apprentices are among the highest achievers on my programme. There aren’t many of them. They work alongside male counterparts in engineering, a discipline often considered by many to be ‘a man’s world’. To be correct they don’t work or compete in ‘a man’s world’ at all. They do so in an engineering problem space and are treated as equals in every respect.
“To be correct they don’t work or compete in ‘a man’s world’ at all. They do so in an engineering problem space and are treated as equals in every respect.”
I think of engineering and science like this too.
I’m always appalled when people tell me that engineering is a man’s world and that only men “do” engineering (still sadly very common).
I’m glad you see great values and attributes in all your students.
Swap any ethnic minority for “girls” in Hunt’s statement to see just what is so wrong with it, as a sweeping generalisation. At best, making such a statement to a conference of *journalists* shows a stunning lack of judgement, in someone who largely now spends their time in judgement of the proposals etc of others.
The initial apology “for any offence caused” is the standard response of a UKIP candidate caught making bigoted remarks – we don’t give them any sympathy, so why should Hunt expect it?
If lab members, of any gender, are routinely breaking down in tears, the problem lies with that lab’s leadership, not with them.
Futhermore, in any profession, starting a relationship with someone for whom you have promotion / line management responsibility is just plain unprofessional. But it seems rife in academia, among supervisors and PhD students, and lab heads and postdocs. So Hunt fell in love with his current wife while she was in his lab. But how many “girls” who rebuff the amorous advances of lab heads might find their careers going nowhere, if personal and professional become blurred? There is a good reason why it should be considered unprofessional behaviour in any sphere, not just science.
The fact that Hunt has undoubtedly done some other good things is neither here nor there; that’s like pointing to previous charity work to mitigate a conviction.
Finally, Hunt is 72. If the world is now at odds with his attitudes, then this incident should be a clear signpost for him to retire properly. Many non-academic University staff are forced to retire at 65, even if they might like to continue part-time. Time to make some room at the top for others, who may take a lesson from this hopefully to be more enlightened and less foolish.
For the record, I am a male mid-career scientist, running my own lab, and do not consider myself particularly to be a feminist. I just think that Hunt’s behaviour and comments are utterly unprofessional; as a scientist in the public eye, he must accept responsibility, learn, and “man up” (ha ha) to the mess he created.
Hey, he’s a Nobel laureate – it doesn’t excuse his behaviour here, but something sometimes seems to happen to biologists when they pick up that gong: from Linus Pauling’s pronouncements on vitamin C, to Kary Mullis’s outbursts on climate change, and Jim Watson’s comments on race. Maybe there’s a TV docu in there somewhere: “When Nobels lose the plot”.
And for the record, the “I went to a same-sex school” / “it’s an older generation thing” is another trotted-out excuse of UKIPpers, to add to your analogy list there. And all the more reason to call it day and enjoy gardening on a gold-plated pension (no career-average instead of final-salary USS BS for him, I’m sure), before any further embarassments.
Same with football world champions (I am German) – do not ask them anything else than which is related to football.
Usually talented / intelligent people are good in one particular discipline. That is why they are good at that very topic.
Human being have flaws. Usually where they do not have a special talent.
Like with Hunt: empathy.
I he was brillant in biology and had empathy, he might have created a global company selling something important, using his patents / publications.
Now, not only this guy was being judged on his lack of something he did not get a nobel prize for, he even got older now.
So, as natural scientists should know, all organs shrink with age. So does his brain.
Thing is: He is an older man, who contributed something important to human culture, i.e. science. Nothing more.
For a German, English tend to make weird jokes (especially Prince Phillip), and everybody takes it with a grain of salt.
Citing Jane Merrick: “his remarks were clearly a joke – made to an audience of women scientists and journalists. For after-dinner speeches, sending up the audience is part of the formula. Yes, they were stupid and crass, but worthy of losing his academic post, after a Magna Twitterstorm? No.”
Dont mention the war!
I can understand your want to have people focus on the how we move forward aspects of this, Athene, but I think the reason it is difficult to do that, vis a vis this post is that you say on one hand that we need to have more evidence to call Tim a sexist and then go on to say sexist behavior should always be called out. So it is a bit confusing (whether intended or not), and reads in a bit of a schizophrenic way …
To the second point – yes we should call it out and this is exactly what people have been doing – because – at least to my mind, what Prof. Hunt says IS so obviously sexist, we should call this out! He has also repeated it at this point 2 or 3 times, he says ‘he was just being honest’ – this is evidence of sexism, how much more do we need? This is my opinion, but yours is a bit different.
so I wholly agree with you we need to move forward, but it might be better to link this in a post which doesn’t reference that Tim Hunt is sexist or not but just says ‘lets move forward’
Apologies for slow response, but examiners’ meetings do have to take priority! I still regret commenters are still simply expressing the same views not working out how to go forward, however heartfelt their views may be. Nevertheless I do not share their take on this specific episode. Nor do many of the people who have emailed me or tweeted about what I wrote. On the other hand, many others do, as is also obvious from Twitter and probably Facebook. We will not agree about this individual case and the world will remain divided as to whether Tim deserved to lose his positions and his reputation or not. I still feel privileged to have known and worked with him; I still feel I know the man better than the commenters who are ascribing sexist motives to him. But my feelings are irrelevant to the bigger picture.
Some people feel I’m being schizophrenic by saying call people out, but not Tim. I have no problem with people challenging Tim, but there was no need to make it go viral. My reports from people at the meeting suggest it wasn’t only to Tim the horror his remarks caused at the time were invisible; other people in the room have said that the immediate response that they noticed was not hostile at all and that in his main speech he said many things explicitly supportive of women. I haven’t heard the tapes so all this is hearsay of course, but the explicit support sounds likely to me. Gaby Hinsliff wrote of people like him ‘But what they’re not necessarily is hate-filled misogynists, or hopelessly beyond rehabilitation: just people who don’t seem to have noticed that the world has moved on a bit. So what, exactly, should we do with them?’ She then suggests ‘retraining, not a P45’ – sounds a reasonable response to me. Maybe that is the sanction that should have been applied – plus some media training to prevent foot-in-mouth syndrome.
When I talk about calling out, it is that others should speak up on behalf of those they observe (or who confide in them) that there is harassment, aggression or other improper behaviour going on. If it is stopped at the beginning of such behaviour, if it is shown to be intolerable, the local world will be better.
It is said that Tim’s remarks have given succour to those lower down in the hierarchy who wish to behave in sexist ways. No doubt many of those will grab onto them, as they would to any passing branch they could cling on to. But the cause of these other people’s behaviour is not down to one senior scientist in Korea. So, it comes back to calling out, speaking up, about what is going on. Are those people who use these remarks openly to justify their own behaviour being allowed to get away with it? If so, we are still failing the women in science around us and people could usefully use their energies to work on them.
If you want a demonstration that what Philip Strange said that ‘our simplest utterances betray our underlying attitudes’ is far from true, I would refer you to this thoughtful post on the danger of making jokes on the fly. I have never forgotten the time I personally put my foot in things, though luckily taken in the right spirit, when I said to someone in a wheelchair ‘best foot forward’. It could not have been more unfortunate, but I don’t think it demonstrates that I think poorly of people in wheelchairs, just my own brand of foot-in-mouth syndrome.
I think one doesn’t need to be ageist to recognize that generational attitudes change. Any parent could confirm that! Some of us are more able to eradicate the language and mores of our youth than others. I have probably trained myself out of describing things as ‘fab’ but I think to assume remarks about referring to Tim’s age as ageist or patronising also miss the point that when you were born affects your upbringing.
The issue about the UCL dismissal/resignation open very different lines of enquiry, one I think I don’t feel qualified to comment on. I have not and would not sign the UCL petition, at least without knowing a great deal more. I have not read it and if it is quoting me – well what I wrote is in the public domain but it is not equivalent to my endorsement that I am quoted.
The comment from Ed Yong referred to above actually doesn’t say that that what was sexist in the Institute was specifically the Hunt lab or even that it included it. So I’m not sure that that is evidence against the man – it may be, but it looks too carefully worded to me, since it doesn’t spell it out. Maybe Ed will want to qualify his remark.
Sure I understand women might worry about being judged by Tim now, but that doesn’t mean they have actual hard reason to feel like that. I hear people saying that they know Tim promoted this woman or advanced that woman’s career – but perhaps they aren’t saying it loud enough. It isn’t my field but I know what those nearer his field are saying.
To Clare Burrage who disagrees that this affair will tend to put women off science, I would merely say that I initially would have tended to agree, but others have said to me this was one of their key reasons for making this such a headline story and I was trying to factor that in and I could see it could have that consequence.
I usually agree with Dorothy Bishop but on this occasion I believe she is guilty of over-interpretation because she extrapolates from ‘he has trouble with girls’ – because he has fallen in love with some in the past – to ‘he has dismissive attitudes and stereotypical attitudes to women’. I say again, I don’t see the evidence and the sanction I would apply (as she asks I spell out) I give above. I always knew there would be those who would interpret my position as being incompatible with being a gender champion, but personally I still feel comfortable that I am internally consistent, however uncomfortable the position I find myself in. Calling bad behaviour out across the world to my mind requires more evidence than 3 idiotic sentences to justify it.
I have probably failed to respond to all the many points people have raised. Sufficient to say, I cannot see agreement will be reached amongst everyone on the past. Can we agree on the future though – and make sure that the #just1action4WIS pledges get traction in each and every institution so that the next generation, and the one after that, find true equality.
Thanks for the response, Athene. The list is brilliant – I have printed it for the office wall – but I won’t be endorsing the hashtag. For what it’s worth, here’s why.
Your views on the past colour (and in my opinion, taint) the future you want to create. You say “I have no problem with people challenging Tim, but there was no need to make it go viral.” You say this as though one individual, or even a small group of individuals, was responsible for making it “go viral”. But as we all know, when an issue goes viral this is a property of large group conversations on social networks (and often large concordance), so how could any individual possibly know whether something they are prepared to expose will exceed some arbitrary level of prominence that you find unacceptable?
Following Item 1 on your list (and the qualification you impose on it), it seems I should be prepared to call out bad behaviour, but not too loudly in case my complaint “goes viral”. And if the complaint is already in the public domain then I should presumably be very careful not to retransmit that complaint lest it get picked up and retweeted by someone with lots of followers and, again, goes viral. These are impossible restrictions to calling out bad behaviour which just provide barriers to people in disadvantaged positions speaking out.
With the greatest of respect, I think that what your article – and your reply above – proves is that you have an irreconcilable conflict of interest between protecting your friend and moving toward equality. You clearly think that Tim Hunt’s comments, and his subsequent reiteration of them, do not constitute bad behaviour. You see them as a wrist-slapping offence at most; that his views on women in science cast little doubt on his credibility as a leader and ambassador of science, and that we should all move on and pay attention to more important issues.
Your list is brilliant (so long as it is free from the qualifications you want to impose on it) but I think you are asking a lot for people to move on and focus on “true equality” because the top half of your post doesn’t call for equality at all – it effectively says “equality, except when one of my friends is in the firing line”.
He is apparently on the record saying that he finds women hard to collaborate with because they are too emotional: https://storify.com/deborahblum/tim-hunt-and-his-jokes-about-women-scientists I would say that’s plenty stereotypical.
I’d say he’s not endorsing a stereotype but reporting personal experience. If he qualified his statement by beginning: “Strictly in respect of my own experiences, generally-speaking,..” then his point would have been clearer, but who on Earth speaks like that?
Understandably there was confusion over his comments. Sir Tim should have been given time to calmly collect his thoughts and clarify what he meant to say. Instead, he was rushed into an interview he had no time to prepare for and then forced to resign within, I believe, 24 hours.
“They’re too emotional” isn’t a stereotype? If he’d said that he finds it hard to collaborate because he often has trouble communicating effectively with women when there’s a disagreement, it might have been construed as speaking from his personal experience or acknowledging his shortcomings.
I’ve seen the phrase “they’re too emotional” as a paraphrase of Tim Hunt’s comments but not as a direct quote. He, in any case, clarifies these comments as:
“I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field. I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult.”
Yeah, the filter of “personal experience”; that’s never affected by any perception bias, is it? In my recalled experience, most Chinese students are good at maths but lousy drivers, and young male black people are more likely to be muggers. See the problem with not calling that kind of bullsh*t, even from “Sir Tim”?
Everyone has perception bias to some degree or other; we are human beings not robots. That doesn’t mean we should abandon inductive reasoning altogether, for without it science would be drastically limited. Are you seriously suggesting that we shouldn’t draw any conclusions from our experiences? And “they’re too emotional” is certainly a stereotype if rendered as an unqualified statement. However, 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!” Here he begins by referencing his own personal experience, not by plugging a sexual stereotype. He continues by using the second person singular in a colloquial style commonly used to make tentative or ironic generalisations, perhaps most frequently by stand-up comedians (e.g. You get home, you sit down, you put your feet up and then what happens? The phone rings…). To assume Sir Tim’s comments must be sexist without even giving him a fair chance to defend himself seems to me highly illogical.
I was referring this statement in the link: “And #timhunt said that while he meant to be ironic, he did think it was hard to collaborate with women because they are too emotional”. That was, incidentally, a chance to defend his previous comments. Nothing to do with second person singular “irony”.
Stephen I find the language used in your petition quite odd and I really don’t think using terms like neurotic witch hunts is particularly helpful on a petition calling for the reinstatement of a scientist in trouble for sexism! Nor does selectively missing out some of the facts about Tin Hunts gaffe. Namely he said he had a reputation as a chauvinist.
There was NO mob trial nor was there a neurotic witch hunt. Tim Hunt made unacceptable comments. They were circulated by people who were shocked by them. That’s not a mob trial that’s transparency. No calls to resign, just opinions about what a dinosaur he was.
He was then given several opportunities to retract or clarify. To defend himself! Instead he chose to reiterate his comments about his issues with working with women.
Those clarifications, made to the media and therefore clearly meant to be in the public domain, were circulated. Again the transparency not mob trial. And certainly not being hung out to dry without opportunity to defend himself. That is not accurate.
Women then expressed that they thought him a dinosaur. That’s freedom of speech not a mob trial. Calling freedom of opinion a mob trial didn’t do him an favours either. There were no calls for sacking.
Lastly you make assertions about UCL and their sacking. Without checking his personel details you simply know. Hasty reaction or last straw? He must have taught thousands of women in his long career. The rush from them to support him is significant by its absence.
I had mixed feelings about his sacking. But the emotive language in your petition decided me that getting rid of engrained sexism was more mportant.
A more measured,, less emotive, more factual petition might have served him better than a hysterical selective rant about neurotic witches and a defenceless man. There were no neurotic witches there were just women telling someone their behaviour was out of order. He had ample opportunities to retract and explain.
Surely you cannot seriously equate the unfortunate use of a common idiom to the profoundly offensive comments TH made. If you had continued to say that people in wheelchairs should be kept separate in a “segregated” environment because they cause “problems”, then these two situations would be more comparable.
Similarly, you cannot be seriously equating the use of the slightly old-fashioned word “fab” (try “rad” instead) with the use of the infantilizing word “girls” to refer to adult female scientists.
Your response is essentially trivializing extremely offensive sexist comments made by a senior scientist. With all due respect I don’t think this makes you very credible as a gender equality champion.
I never claimed to be a gender equality champion; I regard myself as a humanist. Sir Tim also never said “keep women in separate labs because they cause problems.” That’s a biased spin on what he actually said and later clarified. He argued that romantic emotions between men and women can get in the way of science. Notice that he doesn’t attribute blame to either sex here. He also said that women, based on his own half century of experience working in labs, tend to cry when criticised. How is that profoundly offensive? That’s analogous to someone accusing me of being a “Feminazi” if I said something like: “This is my problem with going out late at night, men come up to me and harass me.”
Again, I just don’t see women crying and falling apart when criticized.
As I’ve mentioned, men can also be very emotional about criticism and the review process.
That fact that Tim Hunt can’t discuss emotionality and the review process objectively (in an international meeting as in invited speaker in his capacity as a renowned scientist) is very problematic.
I agree with you to a point. Sir Tim would have been far better served if he’d offered some objective evidence to support his views (which, incidentally, I don’t agree with). However, in view of his vast personal experience, having worked in labs for over half a century, I think his personal views are worth hearing also.
If personal experiences count Stephen then I’ve never cried at work. When I’ve criticised the work of others they’ve never cried either. Some non gender based huffing but no tears.
I’ve asked around and neither has anyone else seen this behaviour. In fact the only situation in which they could imagine it happening was if the person were working for a bully.
I believe he did say mixed labs were troublesome.
“I have never forgotten the time I personally put my foot in things, though luckily taken in the right spirit, when I said to someone in a wheelchair ‘best foot forward’.”
Do you really think that your wheelchair-foot gaffe is the same? Were you saying “the problem with people in wheelchairs is…”, and then suggesting that perhaps they were not best suited to a career in science?
If you can’t see the difference between your reported gaffe and Hunt’s comments, perhaps it is time that you also considered retirement…
Sir Tim most definitely didn’t suggest that women were not best suited to a career in science. Athene has already posted evidence of this:
“No one seems to mention his main speech in Korea in which, according to the ERC President, he was ‘very supportive towards women in science and he said that he hoped there was nothing that barred women from science’.”
Also, Sir Tim didn’t talk about “the problem with women”; he talked about “my problem with women”. That is ambiguous to say the least. Tim should have has the chance to explain himself properly before UCL, the ERC and the Royal Society decided to shun him.
Taking the prompt to consider how we move ahead, here’s something this affair has made me realise: how many male scientists in academia are married to female scientists in academia, often several years younger / their career juniors.
Hunt is just one example, but I’m now noticing that it seems more prevalent than other professions, and indeed when compared with scientists in industry (from the anecdote of my own social circle at least). Of course, in part it may be the long hours making it hard to meet people outside the profession.
But do we really want the advice to female PhD students / ECRs to be “if you want to overcome the gender challenges, marry a more senior academic”?! Of course not – but I’m not seeing so many female academics at senior level who are not married to other academics, perhaps consistent with greater success in those personal circumstances – and so there may be an underlying problem here.
So the day I’ll really buy into the “Athena Swan” agenda, and know that issues of equality of opportunity are really fixed, will be the day that I see a *single parent* or sole carer colleague (of any gender identity) make it all the way from postdoc to a Personal Chair in a science department at a research-intensive University.
Well, thanks for clarifying, Athene.
I am sorry to say that what I get from your reply is that not only are we fighting a very uphill battle, but we should do so with the utmost standards of chivalry even if met with less than that, without making a noise lest us be dishonored, and that we shall never strike unless someone has at least chopped off our arm first.
I don’t really think this strategy has won any battles in history.
I guess that what I am trying to say is that disturbing the status quo in ways that actually make a difference is always perceived as a disproportionate response. Yes, the outrage ran high, because this is a serious problem that goes well beyond Tim Hunt. Yes, UCL could have reacted differently, and what steps to take in such cases is definitely something that would require more reflection.
But to say that this accomplished nothing is simply not true. We have had more discussions about this in a few days than in months. #DistractinglySexy was a great display of how women all over the world are doing awesome science, and a chance for many to say that they are proud of it and not sorry for being here. We have seen an outpour of support by many scientists at all stages of their careers, especially men, who stood up and said this attitude was not okay.
I, for one, will say I have rarely made felt as welcome in this community as these past few days. It definitely felt good, after many years of subtly being told that my opinion was not as valued as those of men and being played for laughs again and again and again, to be finally told “You know what? I’ll take you as a colleague over that guy. I’ll share that lab with you, any day.”
Quote from Guardian article today:
The unseen women scientists behind Tim Hunt’s Nobel Prize
by Helen Cahill
“Women are either anonymous, or have only made headlines because they were ignored. This, of course, has to change, and not just in science.”
“In male-dominated fields, these changes will require leadership from both men as well as women. Men must help to empower their female colleagues, especially when the world is watching. This is perhaps the most depressing part of Hunt’s public downfall. He is in a unique position to call for progress on social attitudes in science, but has proved completely incapable of doing so.”
Athene, it’s no wonder that if you continue to see this as being about 3 sentences at a lunch that weren’t ill-received, the reaction seems out of proportion.
In fact, the reaction to that was not, and could not, have been as big as this. Few reacted until those several minutes he recorded and sent to the BBC. Most of the Twitter reaction was devoted to the female positivity of #distractinglysexy. The criticism of his conduct directly has become stronger after he took the offensive in an interview in his home, a very divisive action calling for more attention to the event.
Had he apologised genuinely instead, it would have fizzled fast. Very few of us would have reacted much in public. He blew it sky-high, and he had a chance to walk it back: people tried to get him to. In private, just as you counsel. Didn’t work.
No one seems to mention his main speech in Korea in which, according to the ERC President, he was ‘very supportive towards women in science and he said that he hoped there was nothing that barred women from science’. The trouble is that the versions I hear of what happened overall do not coincide entirely with the versions that you refer to.
If everyone who knows someone is not allowed to say, hang on there is a misapprehension about his character and life going on, then we are in a sorry position. You can call it a conflict of interest but actually it’s often called a character reference, I have not attempted to hide the fact I know Tim.
As I say, there are those who take one position, those who take another. We won’t agree and we just have to disagree yet continue to work collectively together for improvement in society and our universities. I won’t stop working for women in science just because some people think I’m tainted. If people don’t want to work with me, or take up my suggestions in the #just1action4WIS list so be it.
I’m also wondering what exactly was said in the speech. But I have to say that if he said he was “very supportive towards women in science and he said that he hoped there was nothing that barred women from science”, then I think there is a problem.
He has worked with a number of prominent women scientists. He could have talked about this.
Saying, “Gee I hope there isn’t a problem” really isn’t good enough anymore.
Saying, “Lean In” or “Fake it” isn’t good enough either.
I would also add that you can’t just fix the issue of women in science by addressing the issue only at the universities. Most science jobs these days are in industry. Careless public comments about women in science particularly effect women scientists working industry, because there is no ombudsman or visibility on gender diversity. Careless public comments about women in science by luminaries such as Tim Hunt matter. Industry loves it when they get a free pass on gender diversity. These damaging comments by science lumunaries in the public sphere can’t be corrected with a few university policy tweeks.
I’d also really like to hear the entire speech. However, Michael Eisen’s post – http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1728 – would suggest that after hearing about a shocking example of not just sexism, but sexual assault, from a scientist in India, barely a month later Tim thought it fine to make the comments he did in Seoul.
Did Michael Eisen get it wrong, Athene? I’ve met Tim — in the context of the tussles with the research councils that you and I have debated at length previously — and I find it difficult to believe that he would be so callous.
Nonetheless, Eisen’s post is extremely important in the context of whether Tim’s comments were unguarded, spontaneous remarks or if they were more akin to a rather more considered, “I won’t be bowed by the ‘PC crowd’ — I’ll tell it as it is”. Tim’s rather mealy-mouthed ‘apology’ directly following the event would appear to suggest that the latter is perhaps more the case?
If Sarah Vine is presenting the case for your defence in the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3119088/March-feminist-bullies-Nobel-professor-s-hounded-job-sexist-remarks-Sarah-Vine-says-s-deeply-disturbing-trend.html), you know your position is indefensible.
Deborah Blum, journalist and winner of a Pulitzer prize (since awards seem to have a role in this…) was at the conference. She wrote an account of the events on Twitter and put it together here.
I’m not going to stop working with you towards a common goal, Athene, or refuse to take up your suggestions, or anything so drastic.
However, given your support for Hunt, if someone comes to me with a harassment or discrimination complaint in the future, and I know that the harasser/discriminator is someone you regard as a friend, I will not recommend they go to you for help. I will suggest someone else instead.
I would like to change my mind about this, and if you can give me a reason to do so, I will.
Actually Deborah Blum just published an article about the events, and it also contains a statement by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations (the hosts of that infamous lunch).
“As women scientists we were deeply shocked and saddened by these remarks, but we are comforted by the widespread angered response from international social and news media”
“On behalf of Korean female scientists, and all Koreans, we wish to express our great disappointment that these remarks were made at the event hosted by KOFWST. This unfortunate incident must not be portrayed as a private story told as a joke”
Yes, exactly. The contrast between Hunt’s behaviour and that of the “shirtstorm” Rosetta scientist could not be more marked. The latter apologised with obvious sincerity and a clear grasp of why an apology was necessary, and he did it as soon as he had the opportunity. Guess what? I don’t think anyone has said a cross word about him in public since then – and quite right, too!
Hunt, on the other hand, gave one of those mealy-mouthed “sorry you were offended” apologies, reiterated that his comments were his “honest” opinion and refused to retract them, and then appeared in an Observer profile that was about 10% “I’m sorry” and 90% “I’m sorry I got sacked.” I know you’ve tried to explain why you’re defending him, Athene, but frankly, I’m still baffled, and I’m really going to struggle to move on from that.
TH’s words were sexist; they were no joke. They, plus the subsequent ‘apology’, were public, and he was ‘called out’ for both on the public forum of twitter. Twit for tat. All this was to be expected – except, obviously, by him! It was also right for him to be called out.
Twitter is great, because it allows like minded people to know that they were not alone in their response to the TH event. This response was mostly well judged and funny. I think the twitter response alone shows that no one need fear that TH’s words will turn them off science. In fact, I think part of the overall twitter response guarantees the opposite effect.
I do think, however, that a lot of the anger on twitter went through and beyond TH. This intense anger was caused by present day male academics, who have been sexist to young female scientists recently, and/or by hazy historical male figures, who have impeded women in their scientific careers in the past. This is not rational, because at the moment TH stands guilty only of his sexist statement at Seoul. (Unlike Liz, I don’t agree that an absence of active sexism – impeding a woman in her career – is as bad as not actively promoting her.) This has clearly generated a lot of sympathy for TH; as has the fact that his sexism was mixed with or prompted by gaucherie and confusion.
All of this might cloud the issue as to whether TH should have been asked to resign. (I have to say, it did for a time for me.) The question to ask, however, is not would TH have been asked to resign if it hadn’t been for the good and bad side of the twitter response. The right question to ask is whether he should have been asked to resign if twitter didn’t exist. If the roles he resigned from dictated being a spokesperson for science and/or involved him in vetting or supervising female candidates for positions, then crisp logic dictates ‘yes’.
Crisp logic dictates that advocating single sex labs based on inductive reasoning (in this case, experienced-based observations that, while working in the lab, emotions can get in the way of science and that women generally cry more than men when criticised) and irrational prejudice against women are not mutually inclusive.
Labs are no different to any other workplace. Most men and women manage to work together perfectly well.
Maybe instead of going for segregated workplaces we should just remove the tiny minority who cannot control themselves around the opposite sex. Which would mean Tim Hunt.
Emma, I must have expressed myself poorly – I certainly agree that not actively promoting women is definitely better than actively impeding them (and in fact not reprehensible at all, although I would of course prefer everyone feel concerned about the issue).
Would people be willing to forgive Tim Hunt if he were to take part in some leadership training that enabled him to deal with emotional people?
It seems to me that this is the root of his problem.
I think that if people live in fear of not saying what their problems are then said problems will never be dealt with.
He’s past 70; why invest in him further? Plenty of other scientists out there who can take leadership positions without cocking it up as he has done. And that reality of expendability in academic science is a fact of which early career researchers are all too aware – but something I doubt Hunt had to deal with when he came up through the ranks in halcyon days. Leadership involves empathy, and his crass comment – and more importantly, his initial persistence to stand by it – suggests a lack of it.
I would like someone to point to evidence that Twitter had ANY effect on the decision of the institutions that decided to stop collaborating with TH. TH’s defenders keep referring to “lynch mobs” that “destroy a man’s career” through a “witch hunt”. Please provide evidence of that.
Twitter is just a platform where strangers that are not connected in any way but by the hashtags they choose to use speak their mind. If a “twitter storm” happens, it is nothing but a sign that many users have the same subject in mind at the same time. Like the name indicates, “twitter storms” are usually intense and brief – unless the subject remains at the front page of the media (hence granting an interview to a a major newspaper is a terrible idea if you’re trying to stop one).
In this particular case, the “storm” became loud enough to be noticeable only AFTER UCL announced TH’s resignation. It appears to me that this initial move by UCL is what prompted other institutions to question whether they wanted to remain associated with TH. Not the reactions of a bunch of random people on Twitter.
If you search the hashtag #TimHunt now, you’ll see a mix of tweets from people who condemn his remarks as well as people who support him and want him re-instated. You’ll also find a good amount of the provocative statements that Twitter is known for (such as people saying that governments shouldn’t waste their money on girl’s education since it’s been shown that their IQ is lower). I have a very hard time believing that the respectable board members of the institutions that asked for TH’s resignation were influenced by the Twitter noise in any way.
The #DistractinglySexy campaign went viral almost immediately and several harsh articles about Sir Tim appeared in national newspapers almost as quickly. There seems no other reason for UCL’s sudden and sledgehammer decision to axe Sir Tim, especially considering, as Athene says, “No one seems to mention his main speech in Korea in which, according to the ERC President, he was ‘very supportive towards women in science and he said that he hoped there was nothing that barred women from science’.” And why weren’t all the UCL council members even informed of the decision before it was made? The only feasible explanation, to my mind, is a panic-reaction by certain council members, or a council member, to social media pressure. Lex parsimoniae.
I think you are considerably overstating the power of social media and Twitter in particular. People use it to express and share their opinion, and the worse then can do is mention a user like @ucl in their tweets. Not exactly as threatening for an institution as cutting their funding.
Besides, the #DistractinglySexy is not a campaign, but a hashtag (ie not organized) and by the time I discovered it AFTER TH’s resignation from UCL, less than a dozen pictures had been posted that contained it. They were all humorous and none was calling for Hunt to be fired.
It’s easier to blame the fate of TH on a bunch of hysterical strangers on the internet, who have no power to effectively influence a decision, than to accept the reality: that he was judged by his peers for his remarks and they came to the conclusion that being associated with him was no longer beneficial for their institution. Whether their decision was a good one or not is up for debate, but pretending that TH has lost his job because of the “Twitter mob” is ludicrous.
You’re right, it was a poor wording on my part to refer to #DistractinglySexy as a “campaign”. I also should have mentioned that it was just a part of a rapidly expanding social media attack which television and radio picked up on very quickly.
Please consider the following though:
“Hunt may have meant to be humorous, but his words were not taken as a joke by his audience. One or two began tweeting what he had said and within a few hours he had become the focus of a particularly vicious social media campaign. He was described on Twitter as “a clueless, sexist jerk”; “a misogynist dude scientist”; while one tweet demanded that the Royal Society “kick him out”.”
So the social media reaction started almost immediately, which led to…
The next morning, as he headed for Seoul airport, Hunt got an inkling of the storm that was gathering when BBC Radio 4’s Today programme texted requesting an interview. He recorded a clumsily worded phone message. “It wasn’t an interview. It was 1am British time and I was just asked to record a message. It was a mistake to do that as well. It just sounded wrong.”
Shortly afterwards, Professor Mary Collins received the phone call from UCL, where she was told that her husband must resign or be sacked. This demand was made without the approval of the UCL council, some of whose members hadn’t even been informed of the decision to get rid of him. Nevertheless, Sir Tim promptly emailed his resignation, leading to…
The story appeared in newspapers round the world under headlines that said that Hunt had been sacked by UCL for sexism.
Which in turn prompted…
Worse was to follow. The European Research Council (ERC) – Hunt served on its science committee – decided to force him to stand down in view of his resignation from UCL. “That really hurt. I had spent years helping to set it up. I gave up working in the lab to help promote European science for the ERC.”
The Guardian, Article by Robin McKie, 13th June 2015
So there was a rapid snowball effect, with many factors playing a part. The social media attacks were snowballs that precipitated an avalanche.
Attacks? What he said was unacceptable. Even you have acknowledged that. He was called out for making sexist comments whilst representing his industry that’s all. Comments which he had made.
He wasn’t threatened, beaten, imprisoned or libelled. He was given at least two opportunities to clarify. People then expressed an opinion about his comments which they are allowed to do.
Nobody put a gun to his head and made him say the things he said! He freely chose to make sexist comments and to state he meant them. You cannot expect to say contentious things without consequence. You cannot expect people not to have opinions about what you say when you chose to insult them.
Unless you are saying that only certain people can express opinions? And unless you are saying that certain people should be immune from any criticism no matter what they say or do? That certain groups are sacred cows?
There were no baying mobs. The vast majority of the things said about Tim Hunt involved making fun of his attitude. If they hadn’t been women making fun of a man I suspect it’d be termed satire rather than baying mob.
It was UCL that sacked him not his critics. I doubt very much that they were swayed by #distractinglysexy.
They had their own reasons which I suspect had to do with protecting their reputation and their mission statement. Tim Hunt was after all employed by them and therefore representing them at that talk. If he was deviating so far from their mission statement and insulting those he’d been sent to speak to then he was not doing what they paid him to do. He was damaging their reputation. If I’m asked to present to clients and in the process insult them I’d expect to be sacked.
The fictitious baying mob did not do for Tim Hunt. Transparency did. UCL sacked him for their own reasons. Stop blaming everyone but Tim Hunt.
“The trouble with boys in academia is that they all like to think they’re Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, always sharking the lab pool in the hope of finding ‘the next ex-Mrs whatever-his-character’s-surname-was’, when in reality they risk abusing the power of their position and behaving like manipulative bullies.”
I’m a bloke, and I’ve just had enough of seeing the kinds of attitudes that Hunt espoused, every day. How many of us know of cases where a male colleague has made inappropriate advances to a female student, but when that student has complained, academia has closed ranks, because that colleague happens to be good at securing grant funding etc?
Athene, given that backdrop, if you still think the treatment of Tim is harsh, then your stock has plummeted in my opinion (for all that’s worth).
Brian Cox is wrong:
His comment in today’s Guardian article:
“There is a problem in science and engineering and the problem is that we don’t have enough women going into certain areas, particularly engineering,” he said.
“In America and Europe around 50% of PhDs are women so that’s good. But if you look at senior positions in universities and on committees, about a fifth are occupied by women so trying to address that is a sensible thing to do.”
All you need to do is look at unemployment among PhDs to see that the problem is not one of not graduating enough PhDs. In biology, the unemployment numbers for unemployed PhDs, and the number of years circulating in low paid post-doc positions, are staggering and getting worse,
In electrical engineering here in the US, I’ve personally spoken with two women PhDs in good programs who are struggling to find work at the moment.
I’ve also spoken recently with a CS professor at a top university in the UC (California) system. His daughter, an MIT PhD in engineering, has told him that at the moment, the climate is dysfunctional for women in many of the top US engineering departments.
There is no shortage of women PhD’s graduating in science or engineering, just a shortage of university science tenure track positions, a shortage of universities with welcoming environments for women to develop their careers, and a shortage of NIH funding. Industry is not much better. I personally know a great engineer (woman) with a top degree and ten years of EE experience as a chip designer as ST Microelectronics who can’t find permanent employment.
I would like to know where Brian Cox is getting his statistics on there being a shortage of women engineering and science PhDs.
If you look at the numbers, womens’ enrollment in PhD programs dropped just as salaries for these fields stagnated, compared to other professions. Brian Cox needs to do the numbers (in stead of drumming up a fake shortage of women engineers as the cause for the dismal numbers of women scientists in the hire ranks.)
Here in the US, the IEEE has looked at the numbers for engineering.
The statistics don’t match what Brian is saying. There is no shortage of scientists or engineers. The reason for women’s declining numbers is in part due to the fact that there is a labor glut of engineers and scientists, few programs that mentor new grads, low pay, and poor job stability.
Oh, and Intel is planning a big layoff, including scientists and engineers:
Bullet point nine. A difficult one that, there is evidence that cognitive biases are built in over evolutionary time. They are a function of heuristic judgement and it has been argued that they may be useful, but they can also lead to spectacular blunders in reasoning. If you make someone aware of their biases it doesn’t stop the mechanisms that introduce biases. I suggest that any training in this respect is focussed on making people much more sceptical of their heuristic judgements and basing their judgements on evidence whenever they can.
Many apologies to Liz. It was Margaret who made a reference to this idea in one of her posts.
Ah! No worries – I was indeed a bit confused about where I’d said anything that could be read as such.
Apologies. I think you’re referring to my comment “the absence of supportive comments from [junior women] seems, to me, at least as significant as the absence of “he’s a flaming sexist who harassed me and blocked my career” comments.” When I wrote that, I didn’t mean to imply that not actively promoting women was as bad as actively blocking them. I don’t think it is. I meant that, given that I don’t know much about Hunt’s track record on this topic, I’m not going to put any more weight on the absence of “he’s a sexist” comments than I am on the absence of “he’s supportive” comments, because I don’t think, in either case their absence points to a conclusion one way or another.
There has been a lot of comment about whether Hunt has a track record of sexism.
I posted some updates which suggest he has
Unfortunately it’s impossible to verify the most interesting case because “Told in confidence at the weekend. She’s still in science research and it’s not worth it”.
It isn’t hard to see that, if there are victims, they’d be reluctant to come forward.
I say your Time’s article. Very unfortunate.
“It’s too late to save Hunt’s reputation.”
Hunt hasn’t lost his reputation, from what I’ve seen from the media reporting on him at this point. Many are very sympathetic to his cause. He can go back to his lab and continue his work. I can think of many top engineers working in this tough economy who have no lab or job to go to.
“But it’s not too late to use the energy gained in this debate to renew efforts to root out the ills that make life difficult for women in science. We can ensure that families and schools do not deter young girls who love science and math from pursuing careers in those fields. ”
We have done that. Many women and girls are choosing, in spite of quite a bit of gender biased pressure, to do science and engineering degrees. There are enough women in the pipeline. That is not the problem.
“We can ask Google to make its image gallery of professors showcase women in their top 10 images—a suggestion that came via Twitter in response to the list of #just1action4WIS I put on my personal blog.”
Google – yes the company with only “16.6 women working in technical positions and just 23 percent hold leadership roles.”
In the past, I’ve applied to Google. I know several other women who have applied to Google. Guess what? Not even invited for an interview. That’s how hard Google is trying. Not very hard at all. And here in Silicon Valley, Google is the tip of the iceberg.
“We can choose a range of toys that do not stereotype children by gender”
Help. Just this past week, I had to listen to a male engineer dismissing a female engineer because [he surmised] she didn’t play with the right toys. That’s the biggest joke ever. Who gives a damn if girls like to play with dolls. My daughter went through a doll phase, but she’s always been extremely curious and is great at math. Girls give up on math because of gender role stereotyping, not because they like to play with dolls or because they didn’t build a solar powered car in grade three.
“demand that the media represent women in the workplace fairly and without sexual objectification, and ensure that women who appear to be being disadvantaged are supported. That way, the future for women in science may genuinely be better.”
Athene, I think you’ve been very protected in your career. You recently mentioned that when you were considering a post doc, you told your supervisor that you wanted to have a family. He replied that “smart women should have children.”
Just so that you know, that is not at all the response that most women in science and engineering get when they indicate they are planning to have a family. For instance, during interviews at Apple and other tech companies, it is often routine for interviewers to grill women about their willingness to travel under the guise of trying to intimidate would be mothers. I’ve also seen women of child bearing age targeted in layoffs at various technology companies. It’s commonplace. Supervisors usually dread a potential PhD student or post doc who mentions the possibility that she might start a family. (although some changes to funding policy have made this easier.)
At the same time, women engineers and scientists have a monumental task trying to reenter the workforce if they’ve taken time out to be with their young children . . . still very much the case. I don’t see the petition signings and public outcry for these [apparently disposable] women.
Regarding Tim’s comment about crying: I’ve rarely cried at work or when I was at school. (I think the few times I’ve cried are shortly after my father died.) I’ve also almost never seen another woman engineer cry at work or at school. I’ve only seen women produce, get the same marks, do fabulous work, yet not get mentored, promoted or hired in proportion to their accomplishments.
Finally, regarding emotionality at work in men, I have occasionally seen a very boisterous, emotionally driven, aggressive inability to listen on the part of some men. By many, this is usually dismissed as positive aggression, but in my experience, it often drives arbitrary and not very good decision making.
Tim Hunt’s assertion that women frequently cry in his lab should be investigated. I strongly suspect a hostile work environment if women are crying all the time in his lab. It’s not normal.
From what perspective do I make these comments? I’m a graduate of Royal Military College of Canada, an elite four year program to train officers for the Canadian military. I’ve got twenty years of experience working, first for the Canadian Airforce F-18 program, and then as an analog/mixed signal design engineer in Silicon Valley. I’ve worked for companies such as Nortel Networks, PMC-Sierra, Intel, Level One Communications, Avago, and a number of startups. My degrees are in Math and Physics and Electrical Engineering.
We are a working class family. My sister was the first of our family to even dream of going to university. She was so excited at being given the opportunity to learn from the best people at one of the best universities. One of us, being able to do that? To get a full education and a career? She loved her subject and she did really well. We were so proud of her. She dreamed and she dared and she succeeded. My sister dared again and was accepted to study for a PhD. We didn’t even know what that was!
On the first day of my sister’s PhD, she was warned by a male member of staff to take care around the Head of the department because he had a “bit of a history” with female students. The Prof didn’t bother her, but many of the male PhD students did bother her. There was constant demands for sex and name calling of those, like my sister, who refused to sleep with them. Anyone who complained was warned they would risk their careers if they made official complaints. The female students were subjected to never-ending bullying, niggling and what she calls “little pats on the head for the girlie” too. Again, complaints were met with warnings of damage to their future careers. The message was clear. Do not rock the boat, deal with it yourself. So they didn’t rock the boat. My sister stood up to them over and over agin and was branded aggressive every time.
The first conference she went to, an older scientist took her aside and warned her to stay well clear of one lecturer who treated conferences like a sex holiday.
As soon as my sister had her PhD, one by one, the staff took her to lunch and each said they were disgusted at how she had been treated over the five years of her studies. What good is that to anyone? My sister says they didn’t really care about what had happened to her, but were more worried their grant applications might land on her desk one day and she’d not view them too well, but if she’d failed her exam they’d have said nothing to her.
We persuaded her not to give up on the career she had worked so hard for. She went to a huge research place in America. She resigned after a couple of years. The administrator said to her as she left “It isn’t you. Your boss has a very long reputation”. She’s not stupid. She’d asked people she knew if this boss was an OK guy to work for. They’d promised her he was fine and she’d not have a miserable time. All my sister wanted was to do science. How many labs was she supposed to go to, to find some peace to get on with science? They didn’t let my sister do science. They ground her down to the point she felt physically sick at the thought of going into a lab and worrying if it would happen it again.
What happened to her was dismissed as just bad luck. The majority of her female friends who got their PhDs are not working in science. Science isn’t losing women because they can’t get childcare. Most of her friends don’t have children. It’s losing women because a job that requires you to silently put up with abuse and sexism is not a career worth having, it’s a miserable life.
Years of hard work wasted, her dreams and ambition, all gone. My sister has never set foot in another lab or had anything to do with research ever since and swears she never will.
Scientists did that to my baby sister, all the cowards who looked the other way, warned her not to rock the boat, branded her aggressive for standing up for herself and her colleagues, just as much as the ones who were demanding sex or giving her “little pats on the head for the girlie”.
Don’t waste this chance to clean up science. Don’t let this happen to clever daring people like my sister any more.
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“Scientists should be looking at the evidence”
Quite right, Athene – so here’s some:
(a meta-analysis of the impact of “covert” sexism, including “suggesting women are not well suited for male-dominated occupations”, i.e. sexism as practised by Hunt).
I haven’t managed to track down the actual papers from that project yet, but there you go, pet – “all the forms of sexism evaluated were as detrimental to women’s occupational well-being as other job stressors that are often considered major problems at work”.
(Hey, that “pet” quip was just a joke, so I’m sorry for any offence caused; I’m just an old guy, and I have done other nice things, and even have female FRS friends… so we’re good, right?).
I think your list of points is excellent and I’d like to suggest a couple more:
* If you are a manager, deal with sexual harassment in your workplace, don’t simply deny it or brush it under the carpet.
* Act upon these points – and related initiatives such as Athena SWAN – don’t simply sign-up to them as a badge of honour or as a box to tick for funding.
The first of these ought to be self-evident, but some institutions have a long way to go before accepting and meeting their legal obligations.
I disagree with you completely on Tim Hunt; he has undermined his own credibility on this issue with every excuse he has made, rendering himself unfit for the roles from which he has now departed. Emotional relationships occur in many workplaces, not just labs, and professionalism in all concerned is required to ensure that there is no impact on work. Hunt’s remarks amount to blaming women for his inability to behave in a professional manner.
Your support for him undermines the first point on your list; most people undoubtedly think twice (at least) before calling-out bad behaviour, but the backlash in support of Hunt could deter many from poking their heads above the parapet.
The swift action of UCL and the Royal Society should be commended, both as an antidote to the views expressed and as a refreshing change to the timid and sclerotic approach to such issues usually seen in academia.
Regarding professionalism at work and in the lab, it’s up to the leaders in these work places to set the tone.
The fact that Hunt married one of the scientists in his lab (she was married already?) is a warning sign that perhaps things were not on the up and up in terms of professionalism in Hunts lab.
By the way, it’s vary rare in any large technology company for a supervisor to be allowed to date a direct subordinate. (Sergey Brin and Google, aside.)
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You argue that we should call out sexism, but not too loudly, in case it goes “viral”. You seem fully confident in your own internal logical consistency whereas it seems obvious to me that you have a strong conflict of interest between defending your friend and arguing for gender equality, and have unfortunately decided to come down on the side of the former.
Your voice carries huge weight in the UK on these issues and I am deeply disappointed by your reaction. The overreaction is on the part of those who are claiming that what happened on twitter is analogous to an abhorrent practice of racist murders. There should be a counterpart to Godwin’s Law for this.
Your defense of Prof Hunt reads like the classic deflections that are often received by women going to a senior colleague to try to get help on a harassment or bullying problem. Is this what one can expect in your Athena SWAN Gold-winning department?
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“Hunt’s comments about women working in research have been interpreted as proving he is a deep-rooted misogynist whose subsequent downfall is no more than he deserved.” – Time
Athene Donald, you are just not fit for the job yourself. You show us men that women can’t be trusted in positions of power, because they are not in the least bit even-handed. Your position in society means nothing to me. You think you have made it, and yet we worry about people like you and we worry how far they would go. Could you be executing people in the future if they said the wrong thing? It’s happened many times in many vile regimes in our history.
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It is very uncharacteristic of me to comment on an open forum such as this, so I want to preface it by saying I think it is admirable to host it, and to use it express your frequently interesting views openly in such clear prose. I also think it is admirable to show loyalty to a friend, even after clear misbehaviour, knowing there is more to their character than can be judged from a particular misguided episode.
Having said which, and partially in light of a number of points on your list, I’m moved particularly to back up Margaret Harris, who (assuming she’s the right one!) I know from when she was a PhD student and I was a junior academic with postgraduate responsibilities. While it is deeply human to want to make excuses for someone you admire (and that is all it looks like to me), I do not think publicly doing so is helpful to your very considerable reputation as an advocate for women’s equality and representation in science, nor do I think it is helpful to the cause itself.
Finally, I do take strong issue with apologia rationalising away Tim Hunt’s foolish, crass comments on account of his age or changing generational attitudes. This is exactly my parents’ generation, both of whom worked as University academics, and such overtly sexist twaddle was, shall we say, not commonly heard from adults while growing up in this environment even then (admittedly in New Zealand rather than England, but I find it hard to see that being especially germane).
We do seem to be viewing this incident in a very black and white manner, and ending up with a rather strange either/or proposition – that if you do not completely repudiate Tim Hunt then you cannot be considered any champion of women in science.
If you are on one side of the argument then any attempt to look for positive help given to women in Tim Hunt’s works excluding this incident is taken as evidence that you are not to be trusted when calling out bad behavior. On the other side of the argument the response looks like an over-reaction to some idiotic comments and we would be better off weighing the evidence of sustained sexism against the fact that we are all human and screw up occasionally.
These two conclusions then riles each of the camps as it suggests a fundamental problem with basic decency of those with the other view. Things get more polarized, and tempers get frayed.
I’m not sure this is an either/or situation. I take the view postulated by the writer John Scalzi that there is a scale of sexism (and racism, and ageism and, well any type of belief set that leads to discrimination). He conveniently splits this into four levels: Ambient, Advantageous, Argumentative and Antagonistic though it is clearly a continuum. Ambient is what has been referred to here as unconscious bias, advantageous is where you realize that discrimination sometimes works in your favour and you either use it for that purpose or fail to stop its misuse by others, argumentative is where you believe discrimination is desirable in some way, and antagonistic is where you deliberately set yourself apart from others and advocate discrimination against them. I’m paraphrasing John Scalzi here, he explains his views much more eloquently:
So where does this get us with respect to TIm Hunt ? Well he said some very objectionable things, and then made it considerably worse when trying to explain himself. I think this puts him somewhere in the argumentative area. Unfortunately there is no big bright line saying that after this point you are a sexist, and it is possible to make sexist remarks without actually believing the underlying assertions. People are complicated. I think he made sexist remarks, but doesn’t actually believe in discrimination at the antagonistic level. Your mileage may vary here.
So it is possible to see him as being sexist and misunderstood at the same time, and I don’t see that holding these views is in any way inconsistent with being a champion of women in science. We can call out bad behavior without branding people the enemy. We can be trusted to take up cases of discrimination even when we believe that the person accused of discrimination is not a bad person. The world is not black and white.
If you believe Tim Hunt is further along this scale in either direction then that is your right, but your view may not be shared by everyone else who are equally convinced of their interpretation.
Thanks Mark for this very sensible and constructive contribution to the debate.
I agree with your reading of the situation.
Thank you for these observations, Mark Field.
I must apologize for being a total lurker wrt reading the comments but rarely chiming in (this is not the case on twitter). I have read all of the comments with as much interest as I read Athene Donald’s original post and have been tweeting out ones that moved me the most.
There is ALWAYS a gradient.
Dichotomous plant ID keys are a problem in this respect, because of that leaf that doesn’t quite fit either/or category.
Dichotomy and polarization are what usually characterize knee-jerk, ill-informed public debates. IMO, it is one of the duties of academics to point out the nuances and shades of grey present in the black and white of it all.
Having said that, it’s often the case that many people (eg students) don’t want to hear the complexity of the arguments and evidence. It gives them a headache and probably involves something to do with the difficulties of resolving cognitive dissonance.
There are obviously many shades of grey to this situation. However, I think you’re classification of Tim Hunt’s comments are semantic.
Ninety percent of the damage done to the reputation of women in science and engineering occurs in this grey area. The subtle comments about emotionality, the dismissals of ability based on presumed (not science based) assumptions about womens’ spatial, analytical, and emotional differences, cause harm, both to the perception of how women perceive themselves, but more importantly, to how institutions and industry view women as potential employees, conference speakers, and key contributors in science and engineering.
I do not perceive Tim Hunt as the ultimate bad guy. I’d be happy to have lunch with him. We could talk about his quince trees. I would also tell him that announcing to an audience in his capacity as a Nobel Laureate that he has trouble with girls and that they cry when you criticize them is not the brainiest thing ever when you, in fact, boffed one of your graduate students.
Tim should pull himself together and go back to his lab.
However, in my humble opinion, he should not be on anymore advising bodies regarding funding allocation or the advancement of women in science (at least for the time being.)
Yes my classification of Tim Hunt’s comments is semantic, but I think this classification gives us some insight into why we end up at such dramatically different positions from similar starting points, and that is useful in taking the discussion forward.
I also agree entirely with your last two paragraphs, that is exactly what should happen going forward.
The grey area is where a lot of damage is done, but we also need to make room for humanity and a respect for everyone that enables discussion without labeling people the enemy. This seems to get lost in many discussions on how to tackle discrimination when we start taking sides.
I agree mostly with what many have said that we should allow a discussion to happen even when topics are uncomfortable. But I’m afraid I don’t see that happening here. It appears Tim Hunt was only telling a story about his own experience. I agree that he is entitled to do this as Stephen Ballentyne has mentioned, but this sharing of experience was only offensive and damaging to gender equality. Had Tim Hunt continued to share some of the lessons he had learned from this experience and offer some solutions that would have been OK. Unfortunately, his only solution was support for segregated labs, which I’m glad to see almost everyone here is against.
As is often the case, what Tim Huns said (and didn’t say) afterwards was worst than the initial event. For instance, he has not addressed the fact that, by his own admission, he made some of his female staff cry by criticizing them. I’m surprised that no one has raised this serious issue when complaining about his “resignations”. It means that today there are female scientist out there that were bullied and mistreated by Tim Hunt and are/were too afraid to speak up. This is appalling and should have been addressed by now.
As for the resignation, if your employer of 40 years realized that you have been a “chauvinistic pig”, do you think your position is safe? We also don’t know if there was some prior knowledge of this behaviour within UCL, and kept under wraps because he was such a heavyweight.
It should also be noted that almost everyone knows of a professor with a reputation for hiring only male staff. Often female staff don’t even apply to these labs because it is clear beforehand that they will not get in. If Hunt was allowed to walk away unscathed, the moral of the story would have been to continue the status quo because even Nobel prize winners are behaving this way.
Because of the respect I have for him as a scientist, I have tried really hard to put a positive light into the whole thing. Unfortunately, whatever angle I look at it, it just isn’t right.
Mark, I’m not sure you and I are so polarized on this issue.
I didn’t call Tim Hunt any names. In fact, I’ve said that his views are the views of many established professors. However, if we are serious about advancing women in science, we have to choose between
a. tolerating these remarks, which will poison the environment for women and encourage junior colleagues and the public to discriminate against their female colleagues, their female students, their relatives, and women in general,
b. not tolerating this remarks, which will mean that some people who feel that Tim Hunt is a nice guy, who made a careless comment, will be mad. Tim will have his lab but not his honorary position. Women will at least know that someone cares about this issue. In future, people will think a little more carefully about the potential impact and scientific truthfulness of their remarks when making high profile public comments about the issue of advancing women in science (and engineering).
It’s really that simple. (all emotions and chest pounding aside.)
If you think that excusing Hunt’s remarks won’t have a negative impact, you only need to look at what happened after Lawrence Summer’s speech.
His speech was in 2005.
The numbers for women’s advancement in engineering have stagnated since about 2001, but Summer’s speech certainly exacerbated the situation.
I would hear his speech quoted at work and noticed much more overt sexist comments than I had heard in the nineties and early 2000s. Maybe it was just the effect of Bush era politics, but it was a pretty tough time to be a women in engineering.
Very balanced and well-reasoned, Mark.
Beyond personal interpretations of “sexist or not”, however, “dipping your pipette in the lab buffer” when you are a lab head is simply unprofessional. Perhaps that is something that more of us can agree on. Sure, we’re all human, but many of us manage to function as scientists while keeping it zipped up as far as our lab staff or students are concerned, because of the power imbalance involved, regardless of who makes the first move.
When Hunt established his relationship with his current wife working in his lab (who was married to someone else at the time), did he immediately remove himself from her line management?
Ok, Hunt is far from alone in “falling in love” over the test-tube rack, but it’s time to have a frank discussion about this seemingly ignored side in academia, and perhaps do something about it. We all have colleagues who are not pulled up for such conduct, because they are “research stars”. Well, enough is enough; and if Hunt’s head needs to go on a spike as a clear message, then I’ll cheer the axeman.
Just because sexism may be the product of a failure in self analysis, does not mean that the sexism is incapable of being extreme.
The case of TH proves this, I think.
TH really does think that any female scientist worth being in the lab is an exception to the general rule. These sentiments were publicly voiced. This would put his remarks into the category of assertive sexism.
There is no way of fudging this issue.
‘assertive sexism’ – Oh, scrub that, ‘antagonistic’ sexism.
I respect your opinion, but I don’t agree with your assessment. For antagonistic sexism I personally would need evidence of sustained discrimination which I don’t have from the limited dataset I have seen. We just have a difference of opinion on severity here, not a fundamental disconnect.
Your comments in there being no way to fudge the issue certainly got me thinking, how is my position consistent as I have no intention of trying to fudge the issue. I slowly realized that nobody is trying to fudge any position, but that where you place Tim Hunt on the continuum leads to drastic differences in conclusion on how to categorize him and the appropriate response. For those who put him at the far right of the spectrum (antagonistic sexism) this was someone abusing their position with a deliberate sexist attack and any attempt to lessen the offence is a fudge. For those who put him a little further to the left (argumentative sexism), this is an incident that needs to be apologized for and we need to learn from it, but there is no fudge involved – it is a sexist comment from someone who wasn’t actually trying to be sexist. The important point here is what you believe the intent was, rather than the outcome which all agree was a disaster. We seem to found a human relations version of a watershed line where two raindrops that fall next to each other end up flowing into different oceans.
I suspect this is part of the problem that Athene Donald is having here, she has access to other information (her knowledge of him personally) that leads her to conclude this is an aberration and place him further to the left on the continuum compared with others. This may be true of Brian Cox’s position as well. Unfortunately this information is not available to the rest of us to allow a reasonable assessment.
Apologies if my comments make me appear part of the problem, I’m not trying to excuse bad behavior and this one is a minefield.
I think that you have worked backwards from the fallout to TH’s resignation to the event in Seoul, i.e., ‘the fallout is so disastrous that what TH said/thinks is probably not so bad as first thought.’
The fall out is only relevant in the sense that it shows a complete lack of understanding of the kind of discrimination that women in academia are persistently expected to put up. The fallout mirrors that discrimination. The fall out is neither here nor there, except in the sense that it shows that the university’s decision was correct.
*put up with
Sorry, I must be suffering from some kind of strange preposition fatigue.
Pingback: #DistractinglySexy – the trouble with science | HARN Weblog
The following blog post also makes some great points: http://alicedreger.com/Hunt
I have read this. It is a strange piece of writing.
What would happen if TH or other member of staff at a university wrote and published an article stating that women were unviable members of a science lab?
Presumably this would violate the guiding principles of the university and sanctions would be applied.
Although, sadly, I’m actually starting to wonder!
Re Alice’s own articles. I’m sorry she had difficulty publishing these. I can’t see in anyway how they would fail to comply with any mission statement of any university. She should have been encouraged to publish these.
It’s a very sad state of affairs if a professor’s publications (or other public statements) need to conform to “university’s guiding principles” or “mission statements”. The quote from the University of Chicago at the end of that blog post is worth repeating, because it captures so well how to create a good university culture:
“Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”
So, let’s say a university department is interviewing for a lectureship position. One of the candidates tells the panel, unprompted, during the interview (but with, ahem, a gleam in their eye) the following:
“I’ve always had a problem with girls in labs. More trouble than they’re worth. In my previous postdoc positions I’ve found them too emotional and difficult to deal with. I’ve also had issues with gay co-workers. You all know what *they’re* like…”
Should these opinions, “however offensive or disagreeable”, play no role in the panel’s consideration of this person’s suitability for a lectureship (including the attendant research supervision, management, and mentoring roles)?
Genuine question. Please let me know what you would do in this situation.
My first and second supervisors at the University of British Columbia exactly fit this bill. They had trouble with “girls in the lab.”
Yes, I had to switch supervisors twice during my graduate studies there in order to find an advisor who did not have “trouble with girls in the lab”.
(Professor #1 was a very well known device engineering physics professor from the UK. Professor #2 was from Caltech.)
In the end, Professor #3, from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, turned out to be a very good mentor and advisor.
However, the overall impression of having to work with #1 and #2, who were openly hostile to having “girls in the lab”, in part led to my decision to pursue my career in industry, not academia.
Although highly recommended to continue on toward a PhD, a hot startup decided to hire me out of my MASc. I thought about Professor #1 and #2 and decided to move on from academia.
UBC is ranked in the top 40 universities in the world. I know from my studies there and conversations with many women in engineering, that my experience is not atypical for women in these graduate programs.
So, be my guest: keep hiring these guys who think that women contaminate the lab and ask yourself if it’s a good thing. Do those freedom of speech issues really outweigh fairness? scientific data?
For the record, I’m working at a startup right now. I just cranked out a couple of patents and am a key technical contributor on a hot project. I’m “in the lab” right now. My lab mates don’t seem to be at all perturbed by my presence. We’re grown ups, you know.
Did UBC really win by entertaining an environment where women are viewed as “trouble in the lab”?
I should say that I did cry quite a bit working for Professor #1 and #2. It’s one of the only times in my life where I felt completely helpless, incredulous, and conspired against by the very university that my parents had contributed tax dollars toward for years.
Hey, maybe that’s the ticket! Men can have their own labs, just so long as I can direct the considerable tax dollars that I now contribute to the economy away from all universities and research institutions that don’t have, say, 30% women researchers on staff in their engineering graduate programs. That would be almost all engineering programs in the US, Canada and Europe.
How about it?
Just to add to my comments, Professor #1, was David Pulfrey from the University of Manchester.
Shortly after I started my graduate degree at University of British Columbia, David and his wife, regaled me, over dinner, with a long diatribe about how women didn’t have the math ability to do well in device modeling and that the reason there were so few women in physics was because women could do math. Keep in mind that at this point, this guy was my supervisor and was in charge of my funding.
I had great marks and two degrees coming into the graduate program at UBC.
Freedom of speech?
If so, then really, I feel no compunction to hold up STEM fields as defensible disciplines at all.
Re the quote from Uni of Chicago: well, yes, quite. This protects freedom of speech. Hence my surprise that Alice was thwarted in publishing her articles.
But presumably the same Uni (or any uni) has some statement concerning the need to promote equality between its members. Hence my assumption that TH would not be able to publish any article arguing the inferiority of female scientists.
This seems a no brainer to me.
I agree. I think it’s a no-brainer. Chris’ comment above, however, would indicate that he doesn’t, so I’m keen to read his response. How would he deal with that particular situation? Indeed, how would any of those, including Athene, who have argued that Tim should have retained his role on the Royal Society Awards Panel (in particular) deal with that question?
In this whole story I see only one thing – practically a criminal act of removing a good scientist on political reasons. It was done very cunningly, as an ambush. I see the management of this college as a hard, politically-oriented feminist group that should have never ever be allowed to manage a scientific institution. They must be removed from power by scientists, of course, by men and women scientists. I think that only the societies and “groups” that put politics above the law can do such criminal tricks. The victims in this case must stop their silly apologies and should appeal to the law, actually also helping other scientists to remove unlawful and unbelievably hateful bias in universities. My own story is at http://www.universitytorontofraud.com
Tonight I came across this xkcd cartoon. It reflects pretty accurately my view of freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech? Rowlandson was drawing caricatures on the members of Royal Family and their lovers and selling them on the streets.
No, what’s going on today is not a simple thing. By the way, the administration of that College seriously damaged the reputation of the College.
Just from what has appeared in the press, I am convinced that Dr. Hunt has a good, amiable character, he is a good-natured man, a “role model” to his colleagues. That’s probably why the administration was in such hurry to circumvent the law and prevent any discussion, of course, also using his natural unwillingness to be involved in controversy.
This is a big thing; it should not be stopped here.
Things also are not good in science, I suppose everybody has seen The Lancet with the Opinion piece by Richard Horton. Politics, however, is at its highest in more than two centuries, now – just swallowed a scientist. So, people has a long way to go back.
Freedom of speech is very different to the issue of hand, which is academic freedom. The latter is rather limited. Even Richard Dawkins has switched to using this term (which in itself must show he’s uneasy with his own outbursts).
*issue at hand
Just to be clear: academic freedom means TH is free to say/publish/teach things related to his subject matter without being chucked in prison by the government.
Academic freedom does not protect TH (and I bet Richard Dawkins knows this full well), if he says something which hurts or damages the reputation of the institution is spokesperson for.
I’d certainly hope that “academic freedom” was defined more widely than you suggest, Surely it extends to comments that are not related tp your subject matter.
And it should also extend to remarks that damage the reputation of the institution you work for. That definition begs the question of what remarks constitute damage.
I’ve certainly been openly critical of UCL in the past. I maintain that the comments were for the benefit of UCL in the long run. Managers might have come to a different judgement, though in fact I didn’t suffer at all. Academic freedom was observed.
In the case of TH the policies he advocated are actually illegal, and that’s a different matter altogether.
Agree with what you’ve written, David, but in terms of the “legality” of criticism and damage to the reputation of the employer, I have some major qualms…
You and I are of the same mindset with regard to religion. As you’ll know, the inherent bigotry of a great deal of religion — the Vatican’s appalling position on the marriage referendum in Ireland is just one key example — is protected within the 2010 Equality Act. (See
I’m a member of our School’s Diversity Committee. But I have deep problems with the idea that religion should be brought within the equality and diversity agenda, as has been strongly suggested in this week’s Times Higher: https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/campuses-urged-to-regard-religion-as-a-diversity-issue
The inclusion of religion within a diversity/equality programme makes as much sense to me as appointing a homeopathist to the board of directors of a major pharmaceutical company.
But because religion is protected within the Equality Act 2010, if I am publicly critical of the bigotry that is at the core of a great deal of religious faith (as I discuss here: https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/sure-youre-not-meant-to-take-it-seriously/ ), to what extent am I skating on thin ice in terms of the Equality Act and in terms of tarnishing the reputation of my employer..?
Do you mean the single-sex labs that Hunt advocated? It is not at all clear that this would be illegal. We have single-sex schools in this country and women-only colleges at Cambridge. One could argue that labs are educational establishments and that single-sex labs are therefore as legal as single-sex schools.
Under current legislation, single-sex labs might be illegal (I’m not a lawyer), but (for the reasons given above) it doesn’t seem so obvious to me that they in fact would be.
Further: advocating something which is currently illegal should -in my opinion- in most cases still fall under academic freedom and general freedom of expression. Remember: homosexuality used to be illegal and women attending universities used to be illegal.
We all know that Oxford and Cambridge were dinosaurs until recently. The had to be forced by the Universities Tests Act (1871) to reach the standards that UCL established in 1826. See http://www.dcscience.net/2011/01/03/why-does-lifelong-education-stop-at-18/
Religious schools are legal, religious universities are not (crazy, of course, but that’s how it is). The segregation by sex advocated by Hunt (and my Islam, and a few other fundamentalists) should certainly be illegal under the Equalities Act. That’s not to say it would be enforced of course. In any case, most people in 2015 would judge the idea to be immoral.
Yes, you’re right. Academic freedom is wider than I said and includes the right to criticise one’s academic institution.
UCU’s statement on academic freedom says that the latter is limited when it comes to ‘all forms’ of ‘prejudice and unfair discrimination’ on the grounds of, among other things, gender (see s.6.1).
On the basis of this definition TH does not actually have academic freedom to say what he did. He obviously has the freedom of speech to say it though.
I would have thought that UCU’s definition of academic freedom would allow UCL to ask him to resign under the terms of its own employment statute.
I am not sure whether s.6.1 incorporates part of the Equalities Act you refer to, or whether it simply bounces off the Act in order to define academic freedom.
Re damage to an academic institution, I would think that anything said by an academic that countered the principles of that institution would damage it.
The principles are for all members of UCL to promote equality and the exercise of academic freedom amongst themselves. A common sense definition of academic freedom should be adopted.
It certainly does not mean that intolerance (e.g., religious beliefs that are discriminatory or sexism) should be tolerated.
It means that no statement by one member of the university questioning the right of any other individual to be there or participate fully in university, provided they themselves are upholding the principles of the university, should be excused.
So arguing against including religion as a diversity issue is definitely fine. You’re just saying you will not tolerate intolerance.
My initial post on academic freedom was stupidly worded. I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that The Times, 8 Noble Prize winning scientists, Richard Dawkins et al have misunderstood the meaning of academic freedom.
UCL has not damaged its reputation by accepting TH’s resignation. I wish it would stand firm and united on this.
*discrimination resulting from religious beliefs.
Sloppy wording on my part – again.
Obviously, everyone has a universal and unalterable right to be of whatever faith they choose.
I’m appalled by the shocking prejudice you encountered, as, I’m sure, are Athene and, I would hope, all of those who have contributed to this exceptionally important comments thread.
To put my comment above (in response to Chris [June 18, 8:28 pm]) in context, see https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/sexism-murder-art-and-science/
As I note in that blog post, an exceptionally worrying aspect of this entire debacle is that, beyond academia, there is a very large (online) community of sexists and misogynists crowing, loudly, about what Tim said. “Look, even a *Nobel Laureate* says that women aren’t cut out for STEM. We were right all along.”
Chris [June 18 8:28 pm] said that “It’s a very sad state of affairs if a professor’s publications (or other public statements) need to conform to “university’s guiding principles” or “mission statements” ”
As Athene knows, I have railed against the type of mindless “…committed to excellence while engaging our stakeholders going forward in synergy…” #CorporateUniBollox that infests our universities (see, for example, http://physicsfocus.org/philip-moriarty-vacuity-excellence/ ). But Hunt’s comments are a very different matter indeed. If that hypothetical scientist I mentioned fails to get the job because of his/her comments at interview, why should the Royal Society be expected to look the other way when it comes to the rather more public and therefore rather more damaging comments made by Tim?
Thanks, Philip. I read your post “Sexism. Murder. Art. and Science”.
I happen to also like metal. As part of my work, I do some communications theory. I’m also interested in the evolution of music.
There are a lot of unexplored areas in music, the evolution of musical perception and the physics of propagation of sound, that I often reflect upon.
I see you have Neil Peart in your blog banner. I love him. Favorites are “Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill”. I’ll have to have a detailed look at your blog.
I didn’t know about Yiannopoulos, but do know in general about some of these people. I happen to follow developments in publications on gender differences and math/spatial perception. It’s unfortunate that even some well published professionals working in these areas don’t seem to have the best statistical training or experimentation backgrounds. You can see the flaws in these papers, which often take years, and many research dollars, to undo.
Regarding Yiannopoulos and his ilk, it’s terrifying and depressing.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been working on something, and been told, often by a less experienced engineer or person online with less technical/professional training than me, how to do this or that technical thing. It’s often something that I’m very experienced with, and yet, these less experienced people feel entitled to deny my experience and speak to me almost as a child. Even when they are told what my background is, or actually see the product of my work, they often still can’t part with their deeply held perceptions that women can’t do mathematical and technical work, are emotionally unstable, and are fundamentally unable to be as technically and analytically productive as men.
Anyway, thanks for your efforts, Philip. It’s greatly appreciated.
We should collaborate! I’m working on a book proposal at the moment on using heavy metal to explain key aspects of quantum physics. [Stemming from this: http://physicsfocus.org/philip-moriarty-when-the-uncertainty-principle-goes-up-to-11/ . Apologies for the absolutely shameless plug]
I used to blog for the Institute of Physics’ physicfocus project, as did Athene, but unfortunately, it’s been wound down. Hence http://www.muircheart.wordpress.com
Always delighted to meet a fellow Rush fan, even virtually 🙂
I was appalled by some of the papers I read (and was directed to) on the ‘differences’ between male and female brains, as I said in that blog post. Shockingly under-powered and, at times, amateurish data analysis. I know that a 5 sigma ‘target’ is a bit tricky in that field (!), but some of the papers were making overstated conclusions on the basis of a sample size of ~ 10! Sheesh.Even the meta-analyses I was pointed to were full of provisos, yet still reached definitive conclusions.
David Colquhoun has for a long time been pointing out these flaws at his blog but it was only when I started to look at those papers in detail that I realised quite how bad the problem is.
I also have a keen interest in spatial/image perception because I’m a (scanning probe) microscopist and image analysis/interpretation is our “stock in trade”. As I say, it would be good to chat with you about joint research interests. I’d be delighted to follow up this conversation over at my blog. I’ll finish off now before I drag this thread any more off-topic!
All the very best and thanks for all of your important points in the comments thread above.
I’ve read a bit of your material on syncopation in music. I’ll email you separately and catch up with you on your blog about music and physics topics.
I’m in catch up mode on a number of fronts, so please excuse me if you don’t hear from me for a few days.
All the best to you too,
Yesterday I was asked by the letters editor of the Times, Andrew Riley, to write a letter in response to a half-witted, anonymous, Times leading article. I dropped everything, and sent it. It was neither acknowledged nor published. Here it is.
“One of the few good outcomes of the sad affair of Tim Hunt is that it has brought to light the backwoodsmen who are eager to defend his actions, and to condemn UCL. The anonymous Times leader of 16 June was as good an example as any.
Here are seven relevant considerations.
(1) Honorary jobs have no employment contract, so holders of them are not employees in the normal sense of the term. Rather, they are eminent people who agree to act as ambassadors for the university,
(2) Hunt’s remarks were not a joke –they were his genuine views. He has stated them before and he confirmed them on the Today programme,
(3) He’s entitled to hold these views but he’s quite sensible enough to see that UCL would be criticised harshly if he were to remain in his ambassadorial role so he relinquished it before UCL was able to talk to him.
(4) All you have to do to see the problems is to imagine yourself as a young women, applying for a grant or fellowship, in competition with men, knowing that Hunt was one of her judges. Would your leader have been so eager to defend a young Muslim who advocated men only labs? Or someone who advocated Jew-free labs? The principle is the same.
(5) Advocacy of all male labs is not only plain silly, it’s also illegal under the Equalities Act (2010).
(6) UCL’s decision to accept Hunt’s offer to relinquish his role was not the result of a twitter lynch mob. The comments there rapidly became good humoured If there is a witch hunt, it is by your leader writer and the Daily Mail, eager to defend the indefensible and to condemn UCL and the Royal Society
(7) It has been suggested to me that it would have been better if Hunt had been brought before a disciplinary committee, so due process would have been observed. I can imagine nothing that would have been more cruel to a distinguished colleague than to put him through such a miserable ordeal.
Some quotations from this letter were used by Tom Whipple in an article about Richard Dawkins surprising (to me) emergence as an unreconstructed backwoodsman.
His genuine views were that he has found it difficult to work closely with women, because he has found emotions that tended to arise in these situations uncomfortable/distracting and his proposed “solution” are single-sex labs. The language was clearly sexist and the proposed “solution” stupid, but, I think a much better response would have been to call out the sexist language and to talk about the issues he raised. Is crying in a scientific environment bad / worse than other ways of taking criticism personally? What are the challenges surrounding giving and receiving feedback? Are romantic relationships in the lab bad for science? Is diversity in labs a good or bad thing? What are the challenges surrounding interactions between students & supervisors (or mentors and mentees) of opposite gender?
I’ve seen especially the last point raised before when experiences are relaid that suggest that sometimes supervisor/student relationships are different in important ways when supervisor and student are of the same as opposed the opposite gender. I’m afraid that this knee-jerk “off with his head” response to Hunts comments does not help discussing and addressing these issues, because any man who admits to finding certain situations / interactions with women difficult must fear to be branded a sexist and sanctioned.
I’m also concerned that statements from people who know him that suggest that he has been very supportive of young scientists of both genders and the fact that he has expressed strong support for women in science in his main speech in Korea seem to not count for anything to people vilifying him. In the end, actions speak louder than words, and once one looks beyond the poor choice of words and the stupidity of the proposed “solution”‘, his remarks were, as that Times letter says, “little more than an admission of his own failings”.
Hunt was not a spokesperson for a cooperation (or for UCL) and I think academia, of all places, should be where controversial and offensive ideas can be stated and discussed without fear of sanctions (it’s one thing to say that one is in favour of single sex labs, quite another to discriminate against applicants of one gender on a selection committee). I recently came across this article on Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer:
He faces calls for his resignation because he promotes infanticide of severely disabled babies in certain circumstances. Clearly his proposition is currently illegal in most countries, deeply offensive to many, and could be argued to be discriminatory against disabled people. Perhaps a disabled applicant for a grant or fellowship with Singer on the collection committee would feel uncomfortable being evaluated by him. Shouldn’t it be possible to state & discuss such ideas in an academic environment without fear of sanctions?
Evidently you didn’t bother to read the comment that I made before replying to it.
“Is crying in a scientific environment bad / worse than other ways of taking criticism personally?”
I don’t think this was the context in which Tim Hunt delivered his comments. Clearly, he viewed crying as a negative, and he implied that women in the context of a scientific review cry more than men (without any statistics to back it up, just *his* experience in *his* lab.)
“What are the challenges surrounding giving and receiving feedback?”
Obviously a wide open topic. Thousands of books have been written.
“Are romantic relationships in the lab bad for science?”
Not unless they interfere with fairness toward the other members of the lab.
However, romantic relationships between subordinates and PIs are almost invariably problematic, which is why they should be avoided. Not rocket science.
“What to do if you find yourself attracted to a graduate student?”
Many options are available, including, if the student is relatively new, arranging for them to work in a different lab. Avoiding the relationship? Is this really the last person you are ever going to meet? Can this relationship wait until the student has graduated and can make a decision from a position of power as to whether they really want to have the relationship?
“Is diversity in labs a good or bad thing?”
It doesn’t matter whether you view it as good or bad. It’s the law. Society pays taxes (including women) and if women are blocked from fully participating in society, including universities, then women should get a pass on paying taxes [for example].
“What are the challenges surrounding interactions between students & supervisors (or mentors and mentees) of opposite gender?”
Life involves relationships, some of them quite emotional. Men have been falling in love for years with each other during the course of their work. Many of them managed to produce top notch research including proposing the theory for Plate Techtonics [Wahrhaftig], world class mountaineering [Mallory], inventing coding theory [Turing] and writing symphonies [Britten].
Life is messy. As a PI or research lead, you have to project some fairness and leadership onto all of this. Rambling off at an international meeting, recounting the fact that you can’t hold it together regarding professionalism, just doesn’t work . . . Richard Dawkins prognostications aside.
“It doesn’t matter whether you view it as good or bad. It’s the law.”
I keep seeing this “argument”
In Northern Ireland “It’s the law” that same-sex marriage is illegal.
Yet, strangely, “It’s the law” that you can be criminalised for NOT actively promoting same-sex marriage!
Perhaps he should have baked a cake promoting same-sex labs?!
By the way:
“Society pays taxes (including women) and if women are blocked from fully participating in society, including universities, then women should get a pass on paying taxes [for example].”
So should toddlers who pay VAT on sweets be given the VOTE?
And as 16 year olds are given the vote in Scotland, does that mean that they can also buy alcohol, cigarettes and knives just like (other) grown-ups too?!
Funny old thing the law.
Even funnier the arguments people make using it!
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I’ve read this discussion with interest, but not commented before as I’d only be repeating people who’ve expressed my thoughts more eloquently than I could.
However, on the point about UCL and how their behaviour has been portrayed, I’ve yet to see anyone quote the update to their statement on Tim Hunt’s departure. It is important, as is contradicts Hunt’s own narrative, and also the narrative that UCL was in some way swayed by public opinion:
Perhaps Hunt felt pressured to resign, but UCL did not bow to any ‘witch hunt’.
Suw – you are right to bring attention to the follow-on statement from UCL. In fact, this statement was central to an exchange of tweets between myself, David Colquhoun and Brian Cox a few days ago, following the latter’s article in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/16/brian-cox-criticises-disproportionate-reaction-to-tim-hunts-comments) in which he accused UCL of hounding Hunt from his honorary position. Several commentators have noted that it is inconceivable that UCL (or any self-respecting HEI) would make such a decision in response to reactions on social media. Here the point is moot as Hunt resigned before UCL couled make contact with him.
The update from UCL does not in any way contradict what Hunt said in the Observer.
The UCL update states: “Media and online commentary played no part in UCL’s decision to accept his resignation”. I’m sure that this is true, UCL will have a policy to accept resignations rather than declining them… What the UCL update DOES NOT say is “Media and online commentary played no part in UCL’s decision to ask for his resignation”. What statements by PR people do not say is often as important as what they do say.
The UCL update states: “his resignation was received before direct contact was established”. This is perfectly consistent with what Hunt said in the Observer. The key word here is “direct”. According to Hunt, they contacted him through is wife.
UCL pretends in their update that they had no contact with him and that they didn’t ask for his resignation based on media and online commentary. However, if you read their statement very precisely, then they in fact do not say this. The update mentions “accepting his resignation” rather than “asking for his resignation” and “direct contact” rather than “contact”. Small, but crucial differences.
UCL may not have acted inappropriately by asking Hunt to resign, but their update is a clear example of spin doctoring.
This would be assuming that UCL are not lying, then? Have you had many dealings with high-level university administrators, at all?
“Sir Tim Hunt’s personal decision to offer his resignation from his honorary position at UCL was a sad and unfortunate outcome of the comments he made in a speech last week. Media and online commentary played no part…”
1. It was not a personal decision, but one cunningly forced by the UCL administrator.
2. If the UCL genuinely believes it was “sad and unfortunate”, they would simply call him back, well, may be today.
3. Just an “outcome of the comments he made”, or the outcome of the UCL call for his resignation? What a mendacity!
4. “Media and online commentary played no part….” That is correct – they probably targeted him before.
“UCL sought on more than one occasion to make contact with Sir Tim to discuss the situation, but his resignation was received before direct contact was established.”
1. But, again, if resignation was “sad and unfortunate”, why the human beings in the administration are not making a human contact with him, let’s say, right now?
2. Isn’t this, their own, statement proves that the matter of his comments was a small thing, not warranting a resignation, but only a discussion? Yes, it proves it. But still no discussion! How terribly mendacious is the supposed irreversibility of his resignation! And what is about their further statement: “UCL accepted his resignation of his honorary position in good faith…” What does “in good faith” means here? It means that the bureaucrats could not find a proper expression here, because there was no proper expression for their position that would not betray their true intentions.
“We continue to be open to engagement and dialogue on how we can best deliver on our commitment to these values.”
But no “engagement and dialogue” with Sir Tim? Why? Because his resignation is irreversible? Because they already, a couple of days ago, took it “in good faith”? O, no! It’s because they are bent on continuing interpreting “equality and diversity” in a completely perverted way, and because they have a wagon and a small cart of the deceptive, mendacious language to use at any occasion, the language that the poor scientists, they subjects, are still unable to “deconstruct” and firmly reject once and for all.
I fear that you are making things up to suit your agenda. How do you know there has been no contact. In fact there has been, as one might expect, I appreciate from your web site, http://www.universitytorontofraud.com/ , that you’ve had trouble with the University of Toronto. Please don’t take it out on UCL.
Dear Dr. Colquhoun,
I apologise, I missed the fact of the contact.
I do have an agenda which originally, indeed, appeared from my “trouble with the University of Toronto”. Basically, the trouble is very closely related to the trouble under discussion here: 1) the bureaucrats in my case, contrary to the law, prevented my case (complaints of plagiarism and fraud documented with published and unpublished scientific articles) from being seen and judged by any scientist, and 2) bureaucrats used fraudulent language in judging my case.
I do, therefore, not just “take it out on UCL”, but I share my own experience and understanding. My agenda is simple: I stand for scientists managing their own affairs and I am absolutely against science administration dictating science policies and interpreting social situations in scientific institutions not as scientists themselves see them, but in line with the social agenda of non-scientists – the politically correct (i. e. never wrong) administration.
An example of wrong interpretation of the social situations by the administration is right here, in the comment by Cris (6-th or further, comment above), speaking of Sir Tim:
“I’m also concerned that statements from people who know him that suggest that he has been very supportive of young scientists of both genders and the fact that he has expressed strong support for women in science in his main speech in Korea seem to not count for anything to people vilifying him.”
Meanwhile, I observe cases of penetration of the meaningless bureaucratic jargon into scientific papers, which to me is a sign of the beginning of the end of science: Science makes complex things simple and concrete, not vice versa. The new jargon is replacing concrete with generic whenever it’s possible; just an example of trying to obscure the reality.
NOTE: My email is probably hacked.
I wish, Dr. Colquhoun, you were on the side of scientists. In the current situation, I doubt that scientists who are currently employed or looking for employment can afford to speak out.
It is interesting that the UCL decision is getting all the flak though, if it is really just an honorary position, it doesn’t really matter either way.
Much more important is the matter of the ERC and the Royal Society, where I believe Prof Hunt could field significant influence. And I for one am sadly pleased (if that makes sense) that the outcome is that he and the organisations parted ways, as after all this brouhaha it would have tainted any outcome of any grant application made to these funders and policy makers if he were to still be associated with them.
Athene is someone I hugely respect and I have therefore re-visited my thoughts on the whole matter several times after reading her entry here and on the BMJ. While I agree entirely that one cannot judge the matter on three episodes over 3 days (Korea, BBC and Observer), one cannot also say that the lack of any evidence of previous sexist behaviour signifies lack of previous sexist behaviour. How many times have we heard that so-and-so was such a wonderful, model citizen, but who had a history of very-well hidden offending behaviour towards silent victims, or more often, subtle, almost invisible discriminating behaviour leaving the person on the receiving end thinking they were just imagining it?
All we can do it respond to the behaviour that has been observed. And in this case, considering the influence of Tim Hunt, it seems the consequences so far, ie being removed from the RS and ERC, seem like just outcomes.
I have found this an interesting discussion, but I wonder whether it’s almost missing the point to argue whether Hunt’s comments prove he was sexist or not.
The positions Hunt resigned from were not as a scientific researcher, but as an “ambassador” for UCL and role model for science more generally. Regardless of whether his comments were an unfortunate case of foot-in-mouth syndrome or indicative of a wider history, it is clear that the attention Hunt has garnered for his comments (and slow apology) render him unsuitable as a neutral figure whom the public and policy makers can trust. I think there is an interesting parallel with the case of Gerald Ratner – nobody suggested that his comments about the products his company made were anything other than a joke but it was clear that his comments had damaged his ability to run his company and it would have been untenable for him to continue in his position (unlike Hunt, he also lost millions of pounds!).
As a PhD student, I haven’t encountered anyone younger than 40 who thinks UCL made a mistake (though I have no doubt they exist!) – could it be that for those in more senior positions the risk of losing years of work to some stray remarks feels more concrete?
Finally, although I respect Professor Donald’s stance on this (given she is in a better position to judge what the loss of Tim Hunt from his positions entails) and admire the way she has tried to channel the debate onto something constructive, I wonder whether she is worried at all that the backlash against Tim Hunt’s resignation that she has supported gives credence to those who are arguing that the incident proves that action against workplace discrimination for women in science has gone too far?
This article by Joanna Williams that argues against ” anti-harassment policies and safe-space initiatives” based on arguments not dissimilar to Athene’s is not the only one I have seen that attempt to capitalise on opposition to Hunt’s departure to advocate changes that would be harmful for women in science.
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I pay much attention to language. The administration of UCL is abolishing the respect for the basic law and basic human rights by misleading sloganeering. What is “sexist”? A garbage. There is freedom of speech and there is discrimination, different things.
Discrimination is and must be prohibited, simply because it creates inequality which is contrary to the law of the State. The discrimination is an act of using power of decision against those who must obey this decision. I am simply unable to discriminate someone if I cannot make a decision against a particular individual. Discrimination must be proved, even though there are cases when it is “obvious” but the evidence is insufficient. That’s how the law goes.
Now, the law cannot deny me freedom of speech when I do not commit an act of discrimination. Dr. Hunt was very far from committing act of discrimination, it’s a pure case of freedom of speech. UCL acted unlawfully. It hinted at “sexism”, a term
that has no definition or any validity in law. It is, among other -isms, a political, communist slogan. “Sexism” cannot be proved or disproved, it is a tool to introduce a political persecution and mutual hatred into the law of the formerly free country.
Generally, I absolutely condemn the policy of promoting a “female” on the basis that her, or someone’s else, grandmother was (probably) “disciminated against” by someone’s grandfather. This frenzy must be stopped. But, moreover, not every “female” is promoted, but one who is politically correct – a feminist. And that opens the way to the corruption in all its ugly forms. There is an atmosphere of lawlessness, arbitrary decisions and fear. No, it does not serve women, but only crooks (men and women) making undeserved careers, often – as corrupt administrators. A young girl should not be influenced to have sleepless nights remembering that her grandmother could not vote in the elections. Let’s get sane.
It seems to me that, although Athene is trying to move the debate forward, too many of the commenters (perhaps for perfectly good reasons) want to drag it back to the original offence. As my contribution to #just1action4WIS here is a suggestion:
King’s College London has an excellent facade in the Strand, showing some of their famous alumni
Unfortunately, the only woman scientist shown is Rosalind Franklin.
Inside the College on the ground floor of the King’s building is a wall with large pictures of the College’s women professors; unfortunately not visible to the general public. What I would like to see King’s College and other univerities do is to display pictures and information about their current professors (male and female) where the public can see them. We need to emphasise what the universities are like now, rather than harking back to a time when they were almost entirely male.
Sadly, some of us work at places where this is still the case. In my faculty only 1 out of 80 full professors are female.
I have never had a female professor, mentor, or supervisor in my fields of study (analog circuit design, rf circuit design, device physics, rf communications) in any of the institutions where I have studied or worked. Moreover, my husband, an MIT PhD, has never had a female professor, mentor or supervisor in these areas.
Drawing from all institutions in Canada and the US, I can name on one hand the women professors and professionals I know who are working in any of these fields of study.
When people talk about women in STEM, they often hold up the few fields, such as some areas of chemistry, civil engineering or fields like psychology, to speak as if the relative success of women in these areas applies to all of STEM.
A 2008 IEEE article “The EE Gender Gap is Widening” on the dearth of women in Electrical Engineering:
I’ll quote here some of the comments by working women electrical engineers (you can read the many comments by men saying that women are too emotional to do electrical engineering yourself):
1. “Can we stop discussing how we need to “fix” women and start discussing sexism women face in STEM fields? The behavior is enough to turn many qualified students to other fields. ”
2. “Many men do seem threatened by women in ‘their’ fields, as if what they do is somehow less valuable if a woman can do it. This is compounded by less respect from the support (technical or clerical) staff, most of whom tend to be women, in part, I think, because of jealousy or because their own families and upbringing did not value women as much as men. Many times I felt like screaming that I had the same education as so-and-so, and at a better school, and that we had taken the same seminars and passed the same professional exams. A couple of times I was berated in front of staff by a superior who turned out to have been wrong, but no apology was forthcoming. An example of this was an occasion when I was sampling from the Standard Normal distribution N(0,1), and the supervisor criticized me for generating values outside of the (0,1) interval! My response was that I was not sampling from the unit circle!”
3. “I started out in engineering at a top school, by the way, but did not spend much time in that discipline, as I was more than once the only woman in a class, and the instructors would sometimes make not-so-subtle remarks that would have all of the guys in the class looking my direction in anticipation of my response. The math people were much more reasonable, maybe because one of the top professors was a woman, and I probably made more money doing financial calculations than I would have made as an engineer, but the lack of older female role models probably plays a part in fewer women going into engineering, I should think.”
4. “I am a Bangladeshi born female, a naturalized proud US citizen. I have lived in the US for over 20 years now, attended colleges and universities in the US, earned my BS in electrical engineering and have almost gotten done with my masters in engineering. I have worked as an engineer in multiple engineering areas until last year. I was layoff due to this terrible economy and I am once again in search for a job. This time, I am looking for that one great dream job to start off my career as an EE. Most calls that I receive from recruiters are very sad and insulting. It seems most of them are calling me for jobs at those big companies with H1 or other US visa offers! When I tell them I am a US citizen, they hang up, or they never follow up.”
5. “I would like to add a few more comments as a working female electrical engineer. I have also had experience of a supervisor telling me that he can hire an engineer to replace me at half the price, in a minute. Coming from someone who only had a high school diploma, it was very demoralizing. Engineers in the workplace are not respected, they are mocked and belittled. We end up with managers with no technical background, because the people who took the “easy” classes back in school end up getting promoted while those of us who took calculus and physics get left behind.”
I believe that you listed real situations. But I see a different explanation, not all situations were “sexism”, but all were astonishing lack of general culture, and that incuded “sexism”. I was born and educated in Russia and worked there. I have never heard anything like what you describe. Russians, especially scientists, have (or had) self-respect that they would lose if they behave in that manner. In the West, may be for the last 20 years, psychologists/sociologists recommend self-esteem, in particular, to women. As a result, people don’t feel themselves hurt when they behave like sharks. The new morals direct them only to fight, raising their self-esteem, their “worth”, to the degree that they would prevent scientific discussion. So, such cases should not be politicised, because this will result only in backlash against women. Such people should be told that they lack the culture of scientific discussion, and told so repeatedly.
I, though, object to counting the relative number of sexes among grievances: they are, by themselves, not the evidence of wrongdoing. What are the numbers you would accept as just? That’s absurdity. Sexes, nations, races, red-headed, dwarfs and all of us are different by many traits, including intellect, emotions, etc. Add to this all upbringing. That does not increase or diminish either their human dignity or their rights before the law. Not to be empty-sounding, this is example: there were just a couple of high-class women painters among thousands of men; applies the same to the jews. But so what? I have no slightest interest in finding why it is so. May be in quieter future, we will know. What is important now is that STATISTICS ARE IRRELEVANT. No one has a right to assign a probability of having/not having some ability/disability to an individual on the basis of statistics. Listen to a particular individual without prejudice – that is the only right principle. And, therefore, numbers of achievers in their positions should not be even counted. Fight for justice in the individual cases, that’s all. Do not listen to the recipes for “social justice”, it’s all rotten politics, science wars, gender wars, provocation of unrest.
Finally, I remember Russian translation of old English verses which I read as a boy, about a family of pigs with mother and many children that were living happily until some fool started pointing to their deficiencies. They tried to improve and became very unhappy. The story ends by their returning to happy life, simply by being themselves again – crying, playing, unconcerned about their appearances.
By the way, I think UCL made a computer model of woman, a model-woman, into which crying did not fit, and so, Sir Tim appeared to them terribly wrong.
An important mentor of mine was from Serbia. I agree with you that there is a level of professionalism missing from the engineering and scientific workplace today.
It’s great advice to just be yourself.
In the end though, you have to either go around, or go through someone who won’t hire you, won’t publish you, tries to steal your ideas and work, talks over you, etc.
I know this doesn’t just happen to women.
That’s a pretty stunning list of put-downs. I doubt whether the 8 Nobelists who have criticised UCL have bothered to read stuff like yours.
What I find impossible to tell is whether they are genuine supporters of free speech at any price, or whether they, secretly, have some sympathy for the idea of all-male labs.
I suspect that some of UCL’s critics have found the indentured labourer status of junior scientists so useful in attaining their own success that they don’t want anything that would stop their employees from working 16 hours a day.
A week ago, I was thinking that the problem had been largely solved and that it was just a matter of time before it worked through to senior levels. What I have learned in the last week is that the problem is far worse than I’d thought.
I’ve had several letters from critics of UCL’s policy, some quite extreme, almost threatening, in style. All were from more-or-less elderly males.
I’ve had many more letters from younger people, by no means all female, who agree that UCL was right. Many of them say they are scared to stand up in public and tell very senior people they are wrong.
I posted the email addresses of people to whom you might want to send a quick note to thank them, in private, for the decision of UCL to accept Tim Hunt’s resignation. http://www.dcscience.net/2015/06/15/are-women-still-at-a-disadvantage-in-science/#210615
It’s pretty exhausting talking about all this.
I have absolutely no idea why these 8 Nobel Laureates would come out saying what they are saying. I don’t understand why they don’t see that there isn’t a lot that still needs to be done to improve the situation overall.
People will use whatever arguments they want, but the fact is that the situation for scientists and engineers has worsened in the last twenty years or so.
Unfortunately, many of these Nobel Laureates rose in the ranks many decades ago. I don’t think they are particularly well informed as to what the science and engineering atmosphere is like now.
Also, it isn’t particularly helpful for the press to galvanize around the comments of someone like Richard Dawkins. I don’t think he has worked in a lab since 1970. There is a difference between having to produce mathematical, analytical work and experiments, rather than science writing. Dawkins work for quite some time has been involved with the later. Does Dawkins even understand what the science and engineering workplace, the funding situation, and the competition, is like today?
I am very perplexed by accusations of “witch hunt”, “hysteria”, “twitter attacks” (I don’t have a twitter account), “horrible sexist portrayal”, etc.
The overall negative climate and poor career progression for women, poor representation at conferences, relegation to low visibility author positions on papers(not last, not first, but middle, if at all), unconscious bias, lack of advancement to senior positions, have been amply documented.
So, I’m truly mystified as to why the conversation in all of this by Tim Hunt, Dawkins, and other cohorts, and by the press (sadly the Guardian), is all about “witch hunts” and not to the issues that women face in the science and engineering workplace.
I hate to say it, but Tim Hunt is still talking about himself, and about “angry” women.
I just couldn’t imagine myself in the same circumstance doing what he is doing, going to the press, rallying his buddies, and continuing to say it was just an ill posed joke. I would be so contrite, so apologetic and would be truly trying to understand how I had managed to trip a wire.
Thank you for the email addresses. I will certainly send them all notes of thanks.
The truth is that feminists rather enjoy playing the victim card. Women find that they can win arguments (and, more importantly, exercise a kind of control) by passionately inveighing again perceived sexism. Men don’t want to argue with an angry woman – they’re half convinced of the sexism themselves – everyone else seems to believe in it, after all..
And when a big enough group forms on social media, that group can instantly wield 100 times the power again – and they are revelling in it. (women seem to be good at this new sort of politics. Large numbers of them believe in some variant of the sexism argument, and will join in a trending hashtag and think little of it)
But furious internet mobs are even less worthy of power than politicians and journalists. They are using the power of the internet to control what people do think and say, and bully anyone who makes a small mistake.
And what if some of their claims are exaggerated or simply false? Try arguing with these people – as I have – and you very often see abuse, implied ad hominems, social exclusion, but hardly ever a reasonable argument.
In short these self-righteous online lynch mobs are about as rational as their historical counterparts – and not much more sweet-natured.
A study proposal. Title:
“An Interesting Observation on the Fate of Women in Science in Progressive Regimes”
1. When women’s organisations are complaining of unfair treatment of women, they always win.
2. However, when a single woman makes the same complaint against her superior, she always loses.
3. The outcome is fully determined by politics, not by the facts of the case. Woman’s issues is an elaborate and treacherous fraud perpetrated by the “progressive” establishment.
Testing the hypothesis will require a frank exposure of the political forces behind the women’s issues. Funding is not available.
The irony of the situation with Richard Dawkins and other people who defend TH is this: If you were to suggest that their position re TH is sexist, they might feel completely justified in threatening a libel suit.
Surely this points out the lack of logic in their position.
I suppose in logic, to roughly translate from the Latin, this is called ‘having your cake and eating it too.’
There is brewing an interesting answer to the question What Next after Tim Hunt? A few days ago I was virtually glued to television for about an hour. This was about women questioning the campaign “against” breast cancer. A line of women, some scientists, specialists in the area, simply trashed this, popular for many years, propaganda and money-collecting business that is employing feminist slogans (women helping women, etc.), recruiting huge numbers of women to “run for cancer” and collecting billions of dollars, with about 99% of which never reaching the research and hospitals.
The core problem, however, is not even money but almost zero success in medicine. This material, I guess, is available everywhere. All of it is a part of the sad story of what happened with cancer research in the last 50 years. I am not going into any details, but I should say that my personal opinion is that the direction of all biomedicine is wrong: instead of trying to do fundamental research, that science is playing the endless game of collecting statistical data. The stupid and incapable people call this “Evidence based medicine”; they can easily extend this game into XXII century.
Of course, some researchers have questions, although no answers. But what is remarkable, is that they question the use of feminist slogans in the business that clearly does not help women at all. Of course, they wouldn’t be allowed on TV if, from time to time, they would not mumble something about “greedy capitalism”. Anyway, this can become something that comes after Tim Hunt, another exposure of feminist deception, but on a huge scale. It all depends on the politics of the PRESS, will it pay attention to the reality, will it give it another “optics”, etc. We have to remember that the goals of our crooked establishment in science are political: employment, social change, women’s issues, etc.
Now that Tim Hun’t real comments have been published, will you lead the way and demand the resignation of all journalists who called him sexist?
Especially at the Guardian where you now publish articles?
Will you continue to publish there if they refuse to apologise, and don’t sack those journalists?
Well the elephant in the room, just before we move on from Tim Hunt, is that a fuller quote from the start of Hunt’s ill-fated speech in Korea appears to make it quite clear that Hunt’s opening remarks were made entirely “tougue-in-cheek” and did not represent his real views on women in the laboratory or anything else…
It was always quite clear to me that Hunt’s remarks about love and crying in the lab could not have been intended seriously (whether there was some literal truth in them, in Hunt’s case, or not). What concerned me, however, was the suggestion in earlier reports that Hunt went on to seriously advocate single-sex labs. It now appears quite clear that all the comments in question, including those about single-sex labs, were made between obviously ironic paretheses, and separated from the serious content of Hunt’s speech to follow by the words “But seriously…”.
Hunts opening remarks, without the words that indicated that he was speaking in the second-degree, were jumped upon by a journalist and instantly Tweeted to the world, completely out of their ironic context, causing the huge and unnecessary fuss that ensued.
I imagine, if she was really listening, that the journalist concerned knew that this was a non-story right from the start.. but journalists have to eat too, right? Yes, Hunt didn’t literally mean those things, but maybe with selective quoting, something could still be made of it…
It might be worth comparing, just out of interest, the moments of great discovery in the lives of scientists and journalists. Hunt has seen a number of such moments in his career, but one in particular occurred when he, together with a group of summer-school students in the early 1980s, first observed that the level of a protein, later called cyclin, oscillated with the cell-cycle in sea urchin oocytes. Eureka! And after a further couple of decades of hard work by Hunt and his co-wokers (of both sexes), Hunt deservedly received a Nobel prize for insights into one of the most fundamental processes in eukaryotes, with vital applications to cancer research etc. Great journalists too, have their Eureka moments… witness the Washington Post reporters who uncovered Watergate etc etc.
And then, there are the villains of the piece- scientists who invent or embellish their data… and often get caught when someone else tries and fails to replicate their findings. Bad journalists, like the one responsible for “Hunt-Gate”, are no better. This journalist intentionally misrepresented a speech by selective quoting to generate a scoop from a non-story, and managed to create in the process a Twitter storm and hundreds of newspaper articles and to extinguish two brilliant scientific careers. She has also, in my view, done immeasurable damage to the cause of women in science.
Congratulations Connie St Louis, what a result! You must be so proud!
It is interesting that James Watson is treated as a scientific pariah for suggesting those of African decent are of inferior intelligence. However Tim Hunt is soon forgiven and made a scientific martyr for perceived sexist comments about the trouble with having women in scientific work environments.
Is it really so much more socially acceptable to make discriminatory comments based on gender as opposed to race? Surely both forms of discrimination as a bad as each other and should be treated the same?
One important distinction is (afaict) Watson was being serious and (afaict) Hunt clearly wasn’t.
It’s got nothing to do with racism v sexism.
The best comment, for me is this one.
“…James Watson is treated as a scientific pariah..”
I don’t think so. He was made a social pariah, not scientific, by scientifically dishonest people. To suppose that all human populations are equal in intelligence is the same as to suppose that they are equal in hight, colour of skin, etc., etc.
In my comment to #69 comment by Marnie Dunsmore, I explained that differences do exist, but these statistical differences cannot be applied to judge individuals. We don’t need to pervert science in order to uphold human rights. Second point is that, again – in my opinion, discrimination is an unlawful act against individual(s), but a scientific opinion about populations must be protected as freedom of speech, there is no discrimination in it. It is clear to me that when crimes against Blacks were constantly committed in US, it was socially desirable to block a lot of speech because it was inciting masses of stupid and wicked people to violence and discrimination. But, what happened to James Watson, however, was very, very wrong.
What happened to Tim Hunt, was, as it now appears, simply a result of fabrication, was it not? I imagine, some now will say: “O, we didn’t know about the context, sorry about it.” Wrong! Everybody who did the political persecution knew what he/she was doing – a political persecution, period. Their revolutionary slogans and labels were a garbage from the start to the end.
I hesitate to keep this going, because UCL has done the right thing and there is no chance of a change of mind.
But I can’t help correcting you (again) on a few facts
You say, condescendingly “In my comment to #69 comment by Marnie Dunsmore, I explained that differences do exist”. What you don’t seem to appreciate is that IQ, and differences in IQ, are not set in stone. They change with time and expectation. It’s a bit like the times for women’s marathons dropped dramatically, once they realised they could run, as discussed at http://www.dcscience.net/2014/08/25/ucls-senior-common-room-and-the-boston-marathon-emancipation-in-the-1960s-and-now/
The claim that women were incapable of running 26 miles was as naive as the claim that no more than 5% of the population were capable of benefiting from higher education. Both expectations have changed very rapidly once the opportunities were there.
At every stage, conservatives like you have said, no more change is possible. Every time they have been proved wrong.
And it’s obviously untrue to say that the transcripts, however accurate they may be, make the slightest difference. All you have to do is listen to the Today programme, in which he put his views with admirable honestly.
I really think that, if you wish to put your views with such forcefulness, it would be a good idea for you to think more about the problem first.
While not want to get into a long debate, I strongly disagree with Michael. Watson’s empirical “scientific evidence” consisted of a flippant remark that everyone who had worked with black people knew this to be true. Highly racist and offensive in my view and led to him losing his current prestigious job. I now believe he is working in a less prestigious and less influential position somewhere in the back of beyond, so he has been made a scientific pariah. While, having spent 5 years living in the US, he is in a culture where it is common to hear blatantly racists and derogatory comments to be made by well-educated white people that is rarely challenged by others present, there is no excusing his comments or dressing them up as his scientific freedom of opinion.
Also regarding the humour of Hunt’s comments. Many a true word is said in gest and his initial radio 4 interview suggests that this “joke” reveals some true underlying latent views about women in sceince that he holds. Nevertheless, it would not be tolerable to open a speach with a racist or homophobic joke, so why should a sexist joke be less intolerable? His comments will have discouraged some yound women from following a scientific career path and made others in science that may be finding it a difficult, male-dominated environment to work in feel more disheartened, disillusioned and marginalised. Whether a joke or not, these comments are damaging to gender equality in science and a man of his stature should know better. Surely as a Nobel Prize winner he has done some media training to stop him making such a prat of himself?!
What I find most disappointing though is the apparent cronyism of his FRS and senior scientific buddies rallying round to protect him, trying to trivialise his comments. His comments have caused severe offence, are not funny and cannot be tolerated. We need zero tolerance on sexism just as we have for racism if things are to improve for gender equality in the work place. I feel some people may have confused personal friendships/loyalties with professional opinions here. Sadly Tim Hunt got what he deserved. However, once the dust settles people will be able to differentiate between his positive contributions to science and his damaging underlying views concerning female scientists.
Picking up on Bob’s point that we should be considering scientific evidence here, I had a look at empirical research in relevant areas: humor, jokes and remarks as part of everyday/casual sexism, the impact of sexism on hostility to women, and ways of effectively reducing everyday sexism. I’ve discussed it here.
Sexist remarks made in the form of a joke are no less sexist. Sexist remarks – even when made without malice – encourage those with attitudes hostile to women to believe their own views and actions are socially acceptable. Everyday sexism creates a psychological burden for women in the workplace and reinforces stereotyping and discriminatory behavior. While sexism is not seen as such by many people, it is by no means harmless.
Your opinion is that: “…IQ, and differences in IQ, are not set in stone. They change with time and expectation.”
1. I hate IQ because they are narrow reflections, and rather social, not scientific answers. And I do not believe in assigning numbers to individuals. 2. I would say that it’s not that the intelligence is changing with time, but our probe of intelligence (and accordingly – the results) is changing. 3. I agree that “..expectations have changed very rapidly once the opportunities were there.”, but it only suggests that training has changed, not that innate abilities have changed.
I repeat it again: I do not believe that there are any biological grounds to postulate equality in any abilities, and I only believe in equality before the law. I do not condone adjustments in science for political purposes, however noble the latter may be. And they, actually, proved to be much less than noble – they actually incited a permanent war.
To A disappointing observation:
You have seen some words of the two scientists that were offensive to you. But your accusations are purely political in nature, they are not scientific arguments. So, you promote discrimination on political grounds; you have to realise this very clearly. I have seen the horrible results of political discrimination in my old country. The Free World was outraged. But now, in Canada, the Constitution prohibits discrimination (in jobs etc., etc.) on many grounds, except the discrimination on political grounds. Something, and I know what exactly, went terribly wrong here.
You think that the effects of the political discrimination on the two scientists (firing them) were deserved. I think they were brutal violations of human rights and crimes against science as well.
I already spoke about the use of slogans. But the politics here went further: it invented the term “gender” that has no meaning in science. It has meaning in grammar, but in human biology there is no evidence of its existence. Moreover, “genders” started as whimsical replacement for “sexes”, but now they seem to multiply.
We are witnessing the falsification of science and abrogation of human rights, as a continuation of the revolution that started demurely, with calls for tolerance.
Trying to sift fact from fiction in this affair appears to be increasingly difficult.
The point about relationships with students being unprofessional, however, is perhaps more clear.
But what is the truth in Hunt’s case?
According to the Daily Mail (currently championing Hunt’s side), he slept with his current wife Mary before she married her first husband, Bret:
“She also said she’d slept with him before she and Bret got married”
Now that is interesting: because Mary and Bret married in 1981. Prior to that, her contact with Hunt was while she was an undergraduate at Cambridge (graduating in 1980), and Hunt was her Director of Studies in Biochemistry.
So here are two questions no journalist has asked, amid all the murk: did Tim Hunt have a sexual relationship with an *undergraduate* student while he was their Director of Studies at Cambridge? And if so, did he subsequently declare a personal involvement, and remove himself from any aspect of the assessment and award of their degree? That’s the minimum required, at least now, by some UK universities in such situations (while in the US, such a relationship would get you fired at some institutions).
And a question to Athene: regardless of what Hunt may or may not have done in this regard – do you think it is acceptable for academic staff to establish sexual relationships with undergraduate students at universities? Or should such behaviour be universally called out universally as unprofessional, as per item #1 on your list?