I’m sorry, this is yet another piece of writing in the wake of the Tim Hunt debacle. I find I am still very angry. We are, I hope, reaching the end of the saga yet little in the way of concrete actions which will actually help women in science has emerged or is likely to; this is why I am angry. All those shrill commenters who shrieked ‘sexist foul’ at the outset have not necessarily done any good for the cause they purport to support. Instead, we have seen the public humiliation of a man who has spent much of his life supporting young colleagues, of whatever race or gender, and who has a good track record specifically of being a promoter of women. I saw a tweet saying essentially who cared what happened to one old white man. If that was the only casualty I might agree, but it isn’t. We should be worrying, as scientists, about evidence, truth and integrity and all too often in commentaries and over twitter they have had far too little of a look in.
I do not want to rehash what happened or even to point fingers. It’s futile and will just continue to stoke the fires. It will now be impossible to ‘prove’ exactly what Tim said and how, but we can disprove some of the wilder claims that have been made. Louise Mensch has done an excellent job of uncovering timelines and facts, as can be seen in her series of blogposts where the hard evidence is gathered together, as has Debbie Kennett on her blog. I may not agree with Mensch’s politics, but I applaud her piece of investigative journalism. Why have others been so lazy right from the outset? Had facts been checked on day one, this whole horrid tale would have been nothing but a damp squib. Tim’s remarks were inaccurately and incompletely quoted; words of others were initially attributed to him and the reception of his words was described as ‘deathly silence’ when a recently released audio tape, available on the Mensch blog, shows there was laughter (and the beginning of applause is audible before the tape stopped).
At the end of this post I put down how I interpret what has been learned over the weeks as more and more people have spoken up (including people who were present on the day beyond the originators of the story). I have put it at the end so that people can first read the messages I want to tease out without having to wade through the minutiae of the tale, crucial though these are. For me I am convinced Tim’s reputation has been traduced based on what can only be described as, at best, sloppy journalism fuelled by a self-righteous fervour. His ability now to go and inspire the young (see this video for an example of him in action) has been unnecessariilydestroyed; invitations to him have now been withdrawn (e.g. the Italian Society of Anatomy and Histology withdrew its invitation to him for its September conference because ‘some hazardous occurrence for you and for the regular course of the event might happen’). What a waste!
I want to focus on evidence and how scientists and journalists alike have not done a good job on this story of seeking it out and using it as the only basis for their stories. Article after article around the world has taken St Louis’s tweeted three sentences and used them as the platform on which to act as judge and jury. They have not even, as I hoped might have transpired quite fast, used them as a catalyst to introduce change in our workplaces, change that is so desperately needed. But worse than this, it is also clear that this story has highlighted how journalism can look like it presents facts when actually there is all sorts of colour being added (or removed) to change appearances. It makes it all but impossible to know what to believe sometimes. I have become very disillusioned with the ‘truth’ of the written word.
Let me start by demonstrating my personal concerns using a piece I wrote for the Observer on June 21st in the wake of the furore. This article enabled me to build on the call for action I had made in my previous Tim Hunt post on this blog, encouraging everyone to do their bit to improve conditions for women in science (recall the pledge I asked people to make: #just1action4WIS)
I wrote this Observer article so it must accurately reflect my views, right? Well no, unfortunately not. The editor chose (and has since apologised for his actions to me) to remove one key sentence and replace it with another without checking with me first. So, in the piece I submitted I wrote
‘That his remarks appear not to have been recounted in full has probably fuelled the view that they were appallingly sexist.’
By this point, as a member of the ERC Scientific Council I had already seen the complete version of Tim’s toast from the EU report that was subsequently leaked to The Times. I knew of the second part of his speech beginning with the ‘Now seriously….’ which he had referred to in his own interview with the Observer. Without wanting to refer explicitly to the report, which as Council members we had been asked to treat in confidence, I wanted to make it clear that all was not as it might seem at first glance. In fact the more extended quote did not appear for several more days (see here (£)) , by which point neither Blum nor Oransky were prepared to deny the correctness of the additional remarks. (It should be noted that Jean Pierre Bourguignon, the ERC’s President, has gone on the record, in one of Louise Mensch’s blogposts, on what the ERC knew right from the outset and how he had personally talked to the Korean host face to face after the event to establish the facts: she had reported that the audience collectively had not noticed anything amiss at the time.)
So, in my Observer piece that crucial sentence went missing to be replaced by something I would never have chosen to write, namely
‘On Saturday, eight Nobel-winning scientists criticised the summary dismissal of Hunt by University College London.’
That eight white male scientists were closing ranks with Tim may have mattered to some, but to my mind it simply looked like the establishment sticking up for their colleagues. It did not strike me as relevant to what I wanted to say. But, there it is in black and white, I ‘said it’ for all to see. And no doubt for people to worry about why I felt what the other Nobel Prize winners said was relevant. But, if even something written in my own name can be modified in this way, why should one trust anything that has been written?
Let us look next at the question of interviews as they appeared in the newspapers. Paul Nurse, as President of the Royal Society as well as co-winner of the Nobel Prize with Tim, was inevitably going to be drawn in. He was interviewed by the Telegraph and when I read this I was quite frankly pretty surprised. I had heard Paul express his own views at length shortly beforehand and what he was quoted as saying was not really consistent with what I had heard him say in person. I think it would be fair to say that when he appeared on Broadcasting House the next day – a live appearance so no tinkering with his speech possible – we hear his views more accurately represented:
‘It became a complete Twitter, media storm, completely out of proportion. He should never have been sacked by University College, London.’
(Audio available on the Mensch post.) Something got lost in translation in the Telegraph interview. What a journalist chooses to include, and the context in which words are quoted, can completely change the nuances of how an ‘interview’ comes across. Clearly true in this case; likely to be true in general.
So, all those who think that the Observer interview with Tim Hunt and his wife Mary Collins demonstrate them as ‘whingeing’ or ‘asking for sympathy’ as I saw stated, might pause a moment to consider whether the flavour of his words are likely to be totally accurate – although I think the point he makes that UCL might have sought to hear more about what happened before they asked for his resignation is hardly a whinge, simply asking for due process (Some people explicitly seemed to think, via Twitter, that was an unreasonable thing for Tim to ask for. Why should he be denied due process? If he had actually been employed would UCL have behaved in such a cavalier way one wonders?)
So it’s time to turn to UCL and a related story about them (Disclosure: I hold an Hon DSc from UCL). They use the Garrick Club for dinners. That’s right, the Garrick Club that recently voted, again, to exclude women as members. The Club that the Times points out has a quarter of all the high court judges and QCs as members but who make it impossible for women judges to join. Not exactly a bastion of equality then, yet UCL – which keeps boasting about its commitment to equality as in the Provost Michael Arthur’s statement
‘Equality between the sexes is one of our core values’
– chooses to hold official events there.
I was asked to comment on this for the Times, which ran the original story. My views were accurately quoted this time, except that the second part of what I said was omitted, no doubt for reasons of space.
‘Individuals can of course make their own choices about where to dine but that professional working dinners should be held in a club which formally excludes women from membership seems totally inappropriate. This is particularly true if the dinners are associated with an organisation, such as UCL, publicly pledged to gender equality. As the incoming Master of Churchill College, last year I found myself attending a dinner at a club which does not admit women as members. I made it clear at the time I was very uncomfortable with this and I would not attend again at the same (or any similar) venue: this year the dinner will indeed be held elsewhere.’
I would have liked this second part to have appeared because it again stresses something I very much believe: we are all in this together and we need to work collectively and individually towards gender equality and improving working conditions for women in science. UCL have failed on this front.
Let us look at what the Garrick event organiser (UCL’s Tony Segal, a club member) said:
‘It has nothing to do with sexism. I love women. The more the better.’
I was tempted to tweet out those last two sentences, without any context (learning from the habits of some journalistic colleagues perhaps) – which personally I find outrageous even in their proper context. He was expressing the view not that it is excellent that we have many women who attend by right, rather it reads to me as if having lots of pretty women around makes for a pleasant evening. Personally I find his remarks offensive, although it prompted no Twitter outrage that I saw. But, he may well be being misreported. How can one tell? But, at the very least, I hope UCL – and Tony Segal in particular – will move next year’s event to a more fitting location. It can be done, as I know from my own experience as stated above. Giving custom to the Garrick financially allows them to perpetuate their injustices against women, such as QCs. Whether or not such women want to belong to a club like this is irrelevant.
So, to conclude, all I can say I have learnt about ‘evidence’ in this sorry tale of Tim Hunt is that little is as you see it. Print journalists, for all kinds of reasons which may be valid from their perspective of selling newspapers, are going to mould stories to fit the narrative they have in mind. Quotes will be selective, words may be inserted into written pieces, interviews will adopt the shape the editor wants not how the interviewee necessarily wants to come across. Evidence is to be used here, as with politicians, when it suits. Cherry-picking will occur.
But we scientists, we don’t need to do the same. Undoubtedly there has been cherry-picking by both eminent scientists and those with less clout throughout the Tim Hunt debacle to fit the image the original misleading tweet conveyed. That view seems to have been that Hunt is a sexist pig who deserves to be outed for all the damage he has done over many years to poor unsuspecting females in his group who haven’t a good word to say for him. Those assumptions were made implicitly – and sometimes explicitly alluded to – without a shred of evidence to back them up. At least one journalist has now made a fulsome apology to Tim Hunt and his (eminent in her own right as an immunologist) wife Mary Collins. I would wish that many of those others – scientists and journalists – who wrote bile based on bilge do likewise now the fundamental inaccuracy on which everything else was based is manifest. The scientists who instantly jumped in saying Tim should be removed from any committee where judgements were made about individuals should consider their own positions on any similar committees, since their own judgements are shown to be capable of bias.
The trouble is there are far too many people who are indeed sexist out there in our universities and labs. The rage unleashed is genuine because so many women have suffered too much at the hands of too many. But none of the evidence demonstrates this has been at the hands of Tim. There was no need for people to jump onto this specific bandwagon, at least without a lot more thought. This sort of behaviour is indeed how a mob behaves. Someone draws blood and that releases others’ inhibitions. More blood is drawn and more, forgetting the fact that there is a person involved.
Now, not only is that person damaged, but so is science – because it has lost its sight of truth and evidence – and so is the situation for women in science. Has the situation in our labs around the country (indeed around the world, since this has been a global story) been improved? I fear not. In fact, no one seems actually to have used this as a trigger to action. I was asked by a journalist whether my previous article of proposed actions led to any known changes in processes or behaviour anywhere, and I had to say not to my knowledge. I could at least add in the caveat that this had occurred during the examination season when universities had other things on their mind, but I fear that fact, although convenient, is actually irrelevant. People are good at wringing their hands, not good at making change happen. And we have to if we are to arrive at that true equality UCL and so many others lay claim to. I am far more worried about the existence of the many who may never say a word out of place, who explicitly make all the right noises about sexism and the importance of diversity, but who day by day act to hinder women’s progress by their actions. Smooth talkers but actual opponents of true equality.
Please, let us not waste the opportunity. Please, pledge just one action for women in science from my original list (#just1action4WIS) or other actions you want to add in and then make sure your own organisation collectively does a great deal more.
Looking at the evidence
So, journalists and scientists alike, please always consider the evidence and any time in the future that you might ever want to attack someone think carefully as to whether you have reproducible evidence from more than one source. The damage was done by the original Connie St Louis tweet which was at the time backed up by Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky (although they subsequently seem somewhat to have backed off from their original positions and would not confirm or deny the more extended remarks). Nevertheless, it was essentially one person’s word and the many others in the room were not asked for their take on what happened. The evidence now, from a variety of sources including an audio tape from an attendee of the end of the speech (available on the Mensch post) shows the statement from St Louis that the speech was met with ‘deathly silence’ is quite simply not true. Audible laughter can be heard in the tape and the beginning of applause. This tape was made by Russian journalist and attendee Natalia Demina who has throughout tried (through Twitter) to give a contrasting view of what happened to St Louis’ tweet and statements without having had much attention paid to her, at least initially.
There is a very interesting scientific analysis of how people may have ‘heard’ what happened differently, presented by Narinder Kapur and Debbie Kennett here. Eye witness accounts can differ for all kinds of reason, including cognitive bias and what is perceived as humour. Maybe to some listeners the speech really did feel the 6-7 minutes long St Louis stated, even though no account of the words spoken could possibly add up even to a time of half that duration, however nervous and full of umm’s it might have been. Maybe the ill-fated words made such an impression the rest was silenced and the laughter and applause was simply not heard by some. But, the audio proves it existed and that has to be a more reliable witness.
Yet, that one original tweet caused all the damage. Those parties who immediately sprang into action based their entire interpretation on that initial tweet of Tim’s remarks, a tweet that has been shown to be incomplete at the very least, certainly misleading and not correctly portraying the context (see Bourguignon’s comments in Mensch’s post about the reaction from the Korean host
‘Without being asked, [the Korean female host] said she was impressed that Sir Tim could improvise such a warm and funny speech (her words). Later she told me that all other Korean lunch participants she talked to didn’t notice or hear anything peculiar in Sir Tim’s speech.’
There is also a good timeline account here by Debbie Kennett who constantly updated her account as the story unfolded in which she cites much of the evidence. )
Nevertheless these angry readers of the St Louis tweet immediately sprang into action, making many assumptions, their brains racing as they convinced themselves that Tim was sexist, had a long history of sexist behaviour and indeed was a misogynist. I don’t want to give sources for those remarks, although I obviously could, because I hope those people who started throwing words like misogyny around have reconsidered their judgements. In all the sorry story not one woman has come forward to accuse Tim of misogyny or mistreatment. I don’t buy the idea that they would be frightened to do so: at the time (though perhaps no longer) I suspect they would have been greeted with open arms. But, on the contrary, all those who came forward talked warmly about the man: Maria Leptin’s tweet where she states he had been the one who appointed her director of EMBO; Ottoline Leyser, present chair of the Athena Forum and whom Tim had taught, in Times Higher Education (disclosure: Ottoline and I wrote a joint letter to the Times (£) supporting Tim); a collective letter (£) from those who had worked with Tim at UCL and many more, as well as previous unsolicited comments made over several years by those who’d interacted with Tim gathered together in this storify.
So, as I argued in my previous post, where was the evidence of sexism? People took three sentences that one person reported and built an entire edifice upon it, thereby jettisoning a man’s career. And let’s not forget what important work this man did in cell cycle regulation and its relevance to understanding cancer.
What lessons can we learn? Firstly, evidence matters. Why did so many people not stop to think whether it was likely someone would be so overtly sexist to a largely female audience when he had no prior form? I do not accept the argument that the one previous interview everyone quoted (N.B. it was always the same interview not many different occasions) demonstrated he didn’t believe in equality of treatment. I am frequently challenged why I think we need 50:50 in the population of physicists, something in fact I have never said. The problem is not the absolute numbers of female physicists or male vets, it is the number that get turned away for sexist or cultural reasons. Tim’s previous remarks (I give them here in full, not just the limited couple of sentences usually quoted) were:
“I’m not sure there is really a problem, actually. People just look at the statistics. I dare, myself, think there is any discrimination, either for or against men or women. I think people are really good at selecting good scientists but I must admit the inequalities in the outcomes, especially at the higher end, are quite staggering. And I have no idea what the reasons are. One should start asking why women being under-represented in senior positions is such a big problem. Is this actually a bad thing? It is not immediately obvious for me… is this bad for women? Or bad for science? Or bad for society? I don’t know, it clearly upsets people a lot.”
I interpret these as consonant with the idea that there isn’t a problem if there aren’t as many female scientific leaders as male if that is how it turns out when everyone is treated equally. All this proves is that he, like many another, has not caught up with the idea of unconscious bias. Since Tim has been interviewed many times – and given many talks over the years since his Nobel Prize – and all the evidence people can find for his alleged sexism is their interpretation of one single interview, I don’t find it very convincing that he is sexist through and through.
My own evidence of his nature is based on actual interactions with him over a number of years. I found it strange that people believed that a tweet of three sentences was more informative of the character of the man than my many conversations and observations of him in action at committees. I was accused of defending ‘a friend’ instead of people stopping to think if the few words quoted actually amounted to anything more than a bad sense of humour and that my greater knowledge might actually be saying something useful. In my previous post I called his words indefensible. I regret saying that. Now the full content of what he said is available it is clear that his remarks may perhaps have been idiotic and unwise but they were self-deprecating humour about his own tangled emotional life, not thoughts about the emotional state of women. What I fear is that forever more far too many people will remember nothing about the story and the actual facts beyond that original, misleading tweet.
The BBC Today ‘interview’, which even to my ears didn’t sound like a convincing apology, is now shown – via the transcript Louise Mensch has managed to access – to have been mixed and matched in ways to mean one can’t deduce anything much from it: the two versions broadcast an hour apart have the crucial ‘I’m just trying to be honest’ phrase moved around so that it is clear that what is being broadcast is not actually the words in the way in which Tim spoke them. The actual questions to which he was answering have never been released by the BBC. Furthermore, the timing of his recorded response was such that he probably had as yet no idea of how his remarks had been reported and were being perceived, in which case how was he supposed to know for what he was to apologise? As Fiona Fox has indicated, we should not expect our scientists to have to behave (or be judged) like politicians.
So, for me, it is clear that Tim’s actual words convey nothing more than a disastrous attempt at self-deprecating humour about his own emotional entanglements in his life, followed by enthusiastic words about women doing science, entirely consistent with everything he has done throughout his life. He was being honest, but not in the way the original stories chose to portray. His ability to support scientists, of any race or gender, has now been compromised by the actions of others. I see it as a tragedy for him personally, for science in general and for women in science in particular.
I think the most eloquent response you will get is silence. I have little respect for senior academics who continued to attack Hunt even as evidence became available that he had been wronged. But I have utter contempt for senior academics who initially attacked him, but remained silent when more reliable evidence became available. I studied at four universities, and one in Massachusetts, I am ashamed to say, attacked Hunt. That university recently removed the comments damaging to Hunt from its web page. Sadly it is still there on the alumni page, and the best I have managed to do is have my own comments added, but only in a location where no one will see it. Hunt has been destroyed by this. That it was allowed to happen is an appalling indictment of our universities, UCL in particular.
Which university was that? Be great to know so I can list it in the retractions, along with Forbes. Many thanks
WPI in Massachusetts. The president wrote a column in the Boston Globe on 24th June. This was repeated on the WPI website, and has now been removed. It is still on the Alumni website. I worked for EXXON MOBIL, so it was natural to take an MS degree there. Several alumni criticised the column at the time on the grounds of new evidence. I cannot understand why it is still on the alumni page. In fact the president’s column was not offensive, just ill informed. She will probably agree with you.
many thanks, v useful
It is rather sad that the only place where you can get your comments correctly recorded is in your own blog. While the broadsheets are generally better than the tabloids, their first concern is not telling the truth but selling newspapers, and the reputation of journalists is deservedly down in the gutter along with politicians (in both professions there are a few shining exceptions to this rule).
Twitter storms are just another example of “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Oh dear, I really thought this business could not be dragged on any longer, after Council supported unanimously UCL’s actions. But since this post can be interpreted as an attack on my views, as well as UCL’s. I’ll have one last try.
Since I posted a mildly-worded blog in support of women in science, I have been subjected to a tirade af vile abuse, and even threats of violence. Anything that was said after the initial revelations was very mild compared with the backlash from Mensch’s supporters. At least I now understand better the way so many women must feel when the internet thugs get to work on them.
I’ve now seen several summaries of the evidence. They are all heavily influenced by the political views of the writer (including, no doubt, my own). For example, I’m astonished that you don’t seem to have mentioned at all Hunt’s 2014 interview in Lab Times. And your interpretation of the Today programme interview seems distinctly odd to me. It’s also quite unfair to suggest that UCL holds official dinners at the Garrick Club. One clinician did, As you must know, if you are arranging a dinner for a speaker, you don’t have to tell the provost where you are holding it..
I find it incredible that it’s possible to be attacked as viciously as I have been, merely for supporting UCL’s decision to accept Hunt’s resignation. He has never worked at UCL and had no duties at UCL. But he is a nice man and an honourable one. His views on women are no worse than those of many other men. He could see, I imagine, that that was his only option.
At least, I have learned one thing from this sorry episode. The Royal Society’s Diversity Committtee has plenty of work to do. Any old-fashioned views that Hunt may have pale into insigificance compared with the grotesque sexism that has been unearthed among some of UCL’s critics.
I was very puzzled that Paul Nurse suggested hat UCL was wrong, since the Royal Society also accepted his resignation, as did the ERC (and in both of those organisations, unlike at UCL,he had some real duties).
Are you suggesting that Nurse was wrong to accept his resignation? I really think you should make that clear.
I’m sorry you’ve been the focus of abuse. That is never pleasant. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the tone of some of the comments on my previous blogpost or over Twitter (‘I should be executed’ was particularly choice). I deliberately tried to leave all names out above (other than the original 3) because it is simply not helpful. as I said What I am concerned about is the way the original tweet has framed the whole discussion. It seems impossible for some people to absorb the complexities behind the situation. As I say, it is impossible to ‘prove’ anything more about what was said at the time and it’s fruitless to go on trying. But I also wanted to point out how much subsequently is not what it seems.
To your specific points
1 I quote the Lab Times piece in entirety and discuss it so I’m not sure if you read my post all the way through.
2 As for UCL I wanted to point out that their values are not always met. I am not suggesting the Provost can possibly know everything but I do hope he will act whenever he is made aware of issues around exclusion, sexism and discrimination in the institution. You do not comment on the inappropriateness of Segal’s comments.
3 I can see that it was a constructive action to accept Tim’s resignation for that particular committee so that people continued to have confidence in the RS’s work. However across the board I wish all organisations could have waited until a more complete picture of what happened and was said had been built up before making decisions. I hope Tim will soon be serving on other RS committees, even if in the same spirit they are not ones ‘judging’ people. You and I agree that the new diversity committee undoubtedly has work to do and I rely on it to choose effective targets.
I can tell you why people have reacted angrily towards your views on Tim Hunt – because they are typical of the deluded social justice warrior who would sooner sacrifice rationality and objective analysis in pursuit of a heroic moral crusade: precisely the reason this whole Tim Hunt affair even happened.
I cannot believe you would be disingenuous enough to offer the literary equivalent of a half-hearted shrug over the fact he resigned. Yes, we’ve heard he wasn’t actually employed by UCL; and hey, if the Royal Society did nothing more than accept his resignation well then, what could they have done about that?
Implicit there is your support for social cleansing above personal merit. It doesn’t really matter to you that a respected member of his field with a distinguished career was stripped of his status and reputation in said field – what does matter is that his views may be what you consider to be ‘old-fashioned’. I suppose you’d rather have one Connie St Louis’ for every 10 Tim Hunts, wouldn’t you? You’re part of the problem.
I wil save Athene Donald the need to reply. Yes, nurse was wrong. He is guilty of the same level of mismanagement as UCL. To his credit, he had the dignity to openly change his position as more information became available. I suggest UCL enrol on an administration course over at City. They handle things better.
I actually agree that it is wise of City University to do due diligence and due process.
i am sorry David (Colquhoun) but i called you “disingenous” during our very first Twitter encounter on the very evening of the breaking of this story; and my diagnosis was unerringly accurate… you have twisted and turned through this story… oscillating between faux compassion and (quite incredulously given how active a role you played in the pillorying of Sir Tim) victimhood… yet you never missed an opportunity to stick the knife in… labelling him a misogynist… mocking those (including myself) that suggested some kind of “due process” should be followed even re-posting images of an “ice bucket challenge” on your Facebook page (which you then quite clearly lied about) in your frenzy to discredit someone who is a fellow scientist of the greatest standing and one might have imagined a colleague…
but there was no “innocent until proven guilty” here; and even as the truth behind this story has emerged you have persisted… i have seen no shred of doubt, self-reflection or compassion… both depressing and shocking at the same time…
this story (whatever you may fantasise) has globally damaged UCL’s reputation and you have been a considerable player both overtly and behind the scenes… Connie St Louis’s story would not hold up in court for a nanosecond yet you as a supposed scientist would have a man ruined on its back; shame on you… you have proven to be utterly your own worst PR agent and represent a liability to UCL’s standing… on this latter matter i am amazed that they have not asked you to be quiet (and that is being very polite) a long time ago…
i am left wondering what “grotesque -isms” are lurking under your waters; as you scrabble to curry fauxminist favour… i don’t think anyone is very convinced… i for one am not
This is the most disingenuous and revisionist piece of self justificatory nonsense you have ever come out with. LM has done a great job of documenting your pot-stirring and gleeful finger pointing. Either you are in utter denial or you are completely self delusional. Perhaps your own political biases coming to the fore? Or are they ‘unconscious’ ones of a different kind?
It should trouble everybody that you are sitting on any committee of the Royal Society.
“I find it incredible that it’s possible to be attacked as viciously as I have been, merely for supporting UCL’s decision to accept Hunt’s resignation.”
I can’t help the feeling that you are especially slippery.
This is not all you have done. You know it, we know it. Perhaps if you are still surprised that people are not being particularly kind to you, continued dishonesty like this might provide a clue.
With respect David I had a look at the Tweets directed at you on the Sir Tim Hunt affair and while some are what I would call robust and frank, but never vile or abusive. If it was the case, as my working class peer group may comment, grow a pair, man up.
Maybe some of you academics may want take note of what I say on a general level and how some of you are perceived by the great unwashed who sat at the back of the class, cringing the teacher may ask them a question. In a sentence, us dunces.
In the ivory tower of academia, from all the politically correct garbage emanating from universities, especially from the “Gender Studies” classrooms, men and women who have less cerebral vocations see you lot as a bunch of effete, bed, wetters. Much of our opprobrium is reserved for the “White Knights.” White, middle class males who through guilt and generally not logic, appease and preen the 3rd Wave Feminists (3WF). This is either from fear of losing one’s job, through to the latest feeling of feminist Groupthink obligation. The perception for us the unwashed, is that 3WF’s are hypocrites of the highest order. The targets are nearly exlusively white males. However, feminists never cite the open goal and blatant misogyny of some African-American rap lyrics (women portrayed as “hos and b*tches”), to controversial relationship of women in Islam, the 3WFs have had their tongues cut out. The general feeling here is of buttock clenching hypocrisy, to abject cowardice. Intellectuals may imply soft racism in that they are applying different standards to different groups of people.
The fact that white and black working class men are at a serious disadvantage economically to privileged, white middle class women career wise, is a fact easily overlooked. Dr. Emily Grossman gurned her way through an interview on Sky with Milo Yiannopulous on Sir Tim Hunt, after spending her formative years at a private girls school, rather than Hackney Comprehensive. Do you know what, us plebs just got on with it. Dr Grossman added during the Sky interview said she cried at the end of her Cambridge exams, rather adding to Hunt’s tongue in cheek stereotype.
I find it remarkable that Sir Tim Hunt flew all the way to South Korea, no doubt having his expenses paid from start to finish, to deliberately make a point of insulting his female audience.
Ms. Connie St Louis, of course when it comes to intersectionality is nearly bullet proof. Afro-Caribbean and a woman, the equivalent in victim poker of holding two aces, she really has raised her hand expecting no callers. Academia has nurtured and encouraged the most appalling atmosphere of intimidation and misplaced victimhood of women. The fact that 55% of university students are women, and the gender pay gap now has women earning more than men up to the age of 35, 78% of suicides are men, is not good enough for the 3WFs. It is our capitulation, subjugation and humiliation that is their end game, it is not about equality.
Many of you will be shocked at my blunt, abrasive and even coarse “style”. Sorry that is the world I live in. The nearest I have ever come to Cambridge University is the M11.
The link at the previous article in the “I was asked by a journalist whether my previous article” sentence does not work. I had to edit url to find that article.
I should make two comments in response to tweets I have seen. Firstly, I am myself guilty of sloppy wording; it is always hard to get everything spot on first time. Prof Bourguignon did indeed meet with the Korean after the event, but this was not meant to imply straight after the event as the phrasing has been read. I believe it was several days later.
Secondly, I was not attempting to accuse the Observer of censorship as others have alluded to it as. I do not know why they removed that particular sentence – it may have looked like an unsupported statement, which at the time of course it was. But – as happened in the piece I wrote for Time magazine which similarly had a (different) statement about the ERC that was very important but may have looked curiously out of place – I could have defended its relevance and importance if I had been asked. In the case of Time magazine the editor was perfectly willing to accept the sentence should stand when they checked their changes with me and I’m quite sure they were simply trying to tighten up my prose/keep it to length. The Observer may have felt they were doing the same thing.
Finally, I have corrected the incorrect link alluded to above by @unsafeideas.
Dear Professor Colquhoun,
1. You defame me.
2. You are not being attacked ‘merely for supporting UCL’s decision to accept’ the resignation. You lobbied for it before Sir Tim even went on the Today show. You called Sir Tim ‘the misogynistic Nobel prize winner’ on Twitter before the today show. That is defamatory. Sir Tim has never been a misogynist. You lobbied both UCL and the Royal Society against Sir Tim.
3. Sir Paul Nurse said in his letter to the Telegraph, correcting their misreporting, which has been corrected online, that it was the *perception* of Sir Tim’s comments that were unacceptable. Sir Tim agreed with that, as we all do, but you bear a great deal of responsibility for that false perception. Before the audio was released, Sir Paul evidently thought that Sir Tim had, in earnest, described himself as “a chauvinist”. As the audio clearly shows when Sir Tim says ‘monsters like me’, he is mocking, not affirming, the idea that he is a monster. Sir Tim never in earnest referred to himself as a chauvinist; he ironically mocked the idea.
“‘Scientists see scientists as scientists. I don’t think it matters if they’re boys or girls.’ – Sir Tim Hunt, 2011
4. It is you, Professor Colquhoun, who publicized the 2014 blog in which Sir Tim poses, as scientists do, a hypothetical question about women at the top of the sciences. You are a hypocrite; rather more recently, in February of this year, you posted the following comments about women in science, all of which I have collated in a Storify:
“Is the relative lack of women in senior jobs a result of sexism per se, or is it the long hours needed for science?”
upon being challenged about sexist expectations for childcare and other jobs you responded in a series of tweets:
“it’s obvious; somebody has to do the rest of life’s jobs, and it’s usually not the man. It’s not only children. Ive been on many selection committees and never seen sexism among scientists themselves -may be different in other areas?” Then you make the identical point you castigate Sir Tim for raising: “the problem comes earlier -there are a lot more male applicants for senior jobs.”
In May of this year you tweet this explicitly sexist comment about women in academia:
“One can look at it this way. The women who get power do so because they have the worst characteristics of men”
I’m not sure if Professor Dame Athene has ‘the worst characteristics of men’ but I am gravely concerned that somebody who has not only prejudged his peer based on a tweet, and misrepresented him, but who feels now that he can make sexist comments with impunity, is on the Royal Society’s Diversity Committee. Perhaps the Diversity sought is between truth and falsehood. In that respect Mr. Colquhoun, you do an admirable job of offering the latter as you describe Sir Tim as “misogynistic”.
And of course I haven’t even got to your public speculations on the Nobel prize and sanity, or your other tweets on Sir Tim’s mental health.
What is genuinely regrettable is that even now you cannot bring yourself to apologise. Scientists, I thought, were meant to be evidence-based. When it comes to academic politics, that is regrettably untrue.
I’ve watched this play out from the cheap seats, occasionally retweeting stuff. Mensch wins the hero award. David: Your explanation is disingenuous to a higher order. Everything you just said smelled of cover your ass. This whole affair is a horrifying example of what happens when social warriors declare war. You set legitimate causes back when you do it. I will be writing about this later in the year. There are heroes and villains.
Far too kind Professor Collum (of Organic Chemistry, at Cornell, for those who don’t know). My collaborator Natalia Demina does not get enough credit, she worked hard, as Prof Dame Athene notes, to get the truth out, but nobody paid any attention.
As Prof. Donald notes here, it is women in science who suffer when a life-long ally and mentor of women is attacked by feminists. I am (still, despite provocation) a feminist and felt it was very important not to let this kind of false tale-telling define our movement. I felt it was the least that was owed to Sir Tim. The very, very least.
All I did really was go and look for evidence. Sir Tim and his family must have suffered profoundly from this false reporting. I hope that his next public lecture might admit non-scientists. I should like to go. I could sit in the back and learn something.
We don’t need to cull allies of women in science. We need more of them, not fewer of them.
Prof Donald; M. Bourguignon told me that he met with the Korean scientist later in Brussels, face to face, but he spoke with her on the day of the luncheon itself, June 8th. That is earlier than any major report other than Ms. St. Louis’ fallacious tweet.
Interest to declare, married to Tim Hunt
Dear Athene, dear David,
I have had a very helpful exchange with @ThomasBasboell about the Lab Times interview.
The whole piece is a bit incoherent, I personally think it falls into two halves:
1. “I’m not sure there is really a problem, actually. People just look at the statistics. I dare, myself, think there is any discrimination, either for or against men or women. I think people are really good at selecting good scientists but I must admit the inequalities in the outcomes, especially at the higher end, are quite staggering. And I have no idea what the reasons are.” (?dare=don’t)
This bit has at its core “I think people are really good at selecting good scientists”. Tim is truly gender blind when he has a set of scientists in front of him presenting their science. He is “good at selecting good scientists”. He is not a sexist or indeed a misogynist as he has now been labelled. He obviously has not developed any idea here about pool sizes, women being possibly more cautious in applying, women having more caring responsibilities etc etc. He should have I think, and perhaps he will write on this in future.
“One should start asking why women being under-represented in senior positions is such a big problem. Is this actually a bad thing? It is not immediately obvious for me… is this bad for women? Or bad for science? Or bad for society? I don’t know, it clearly upsets people a lot.”
Now here is a misunderstanding of Tim’s view of himself. He does not think he is “Senior”, he does not want to be Senior. He has never been a Professor, run a Department, rarely Chaired a Committee (the only one I can remember is the EMBO Council of Maria Leptin fame). His greatest joy has been to go to the lab and work with clever people.
My view on “Women in Senior Positions” is different. I think they serve to encourage more junior women to continue in science, and science needs all the good scientists it can get. Because of this I have put my head above the parapet and taken on a couple of these. My time as Head of Division of Infection and Immunity at UCL was particularly happy.
This episode has taught me the power of social media. I was disappointed to find your Tweet of 30/5/2015 David, “One can look at it this way. The women who get power do so because they have the worst characteristics of men”. Does this refer to me as previous Dean of your Faculty? To your current senior female colleagues? Surely this is discouraging to women considering taking up senior positions?
It’s good to see that you’ve joined in the discussion, since you presumably know more about it than most. And it’s good to hear that you agree that it matters to have women in senior positions. Role models matter a lot , as I pointed out in my post about the integration of UCL’s senior common room. But that was in 1969. It was a surprise to me that people would still be arguing about it in 2015. You can get a better perspective by reading the post, rather than a single tweet.
No, that tweet was certainly not directed to you personally. Rather, it was a general comment about the increasingly undesirable nature of senior positions. There was a time when being head of department had compensations -you had influence over appointments, influence over space and influence over teaching. You even had a bit of money to spend on your department. Now you have none of these things, but rather you have to cope with an immense and ever-increasing load of bureaucratic box-ticking. That’s why I sympathise a lot with Tim for never having wished to spend his time in that way. That’s why, when my turn came up for stint as head of the late, lamented pharmacology department, I reneged on the agreement, because I saw that it would not leave me time to do the sort of hands-on data analysis, computer programming and algebra, which I wanted to continue.
So, in a way, I admire enormously anyone who is willing to take on that sort of job. It involves a lot of sacrifice and little reward.
I thought three times before responding at all to Athene’s piece. The last thing I wanted to do was to stir up the trolls again. After all, I don’t think that UCL needs to be taught lessons about sexism by Cambridge. It took 100 years for Cambridge to catch up with UCL when it comes to admission of women.
There is one slight inaccuracy (for which I have already apologised), and that is that I used the word “misogynist” (in a single tweet, as far as I can recall). I think that I used that word because it sounded less harsh than “sexist”, but that was a mistake, because the two words mean different things.
I think that is inching close to a retraction.
Oh how quickly you forget Mr. Colquhoun!
While “UCL values” do not apparently extending to “reading things” – as here you accuse Prof. Dame Athene of omitting a blog quote which she cites in full – I doubt that your English is so poor in the faculty there that you do not know the meaning of the word ‘Misogynist’. And you used it more than once; you used it on Twitter; you RTed articles that used the word; you used it on Facebook; you cited anonymous tweets against Sir Tim’s record and you published them on your own blog; you posted defamatory, libelous comments to the Guardian suggesting that Sir Tim would judge a female student unfairly. And I have taken the liberty of collating these to remind you of your multiple defamations against Sir Tim. I have also archive.is each and every one of them for posterity.
Here’s a primer:
I did note in passing the interesting tweet in which you say you were “in the thick of it” in reference to UCL’s forcing of Sir Tim to resign by their call to Professor Collins.
Come sir; ‘just for supporting the decision of the UCL council’? Don’t be bashful; you were a protagonist. Why so modest now?
and where is the apology? Not that it could in any way erase the extraordinarily defamatory nature of the remark, but when you say ‘For which I have already apologized’ where is it?
I don’t know, does Cambridge call women scientists who are employees of the university and tell them to give messages to their spouses to resign or be sacked?
Because I’d call that exceptionally sexist.
As soon as a researcher supervises a PhD candidate the former become the senior in power to the latter. @ThomasBasdoel has written prolifically and published many blogposts on the subject of this blogpost we comment I assume you refer to the discussion about the blogpost where he concluded that Sir Tim Hunt (STH) is curious when other are ambitious. As an adult psychiatrist, I reckon the critics of STH are a very diverse lot indeed and some of them are very curious and creative scientists. Our gifted and prolific philosopher also postulated in this line of argument that critics of STH fail to see that in reality research isn’t run from the top but down up. I disagree for biological researches since one needs a senior to agree on one’s ability and approve one’s subject for a PhD. Those born into money can do without a scholarship but they would need a senior to supervise the PhD and a head to agree to offer a place in her or his laboratory. PS: Nothing wrong with that since, even with my hypothetical PhD candidate agreeing to do his thesis in biology without any scholarship to live on, public or industrial money and supervisor time will be spent on any PhD in science. Not to even mention the fact that very senior researchers might lose their position when they fail at obtaining grants for their project, it is just impossible to retain that science isn’t run from the top in 2015; This, to my mind, invalidates this philosopher ‘s reasoning at least for scientific research.
Many thanks for keeping a spotlight on this disgraceful episode, which concerns the future welfare of British academia and which should be taken to heart by anyone who cares about such human rights as freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of publication, and academic freedom.
This is an interesting, coherent and eloquent blog, in sharp contrast to many I’ve read on this subject.
But as you bring up the importance of evidence, I feel it’s important to correct a number of points where I believe your evidence is faulty, or evidence which you have failed to include.
First of all…’By this point, as a member of the ERC Scientific Council I had already seen the complete version of Tim’s toast from the EU report that was subsequently leaked to The Times. I knew of the second part of his speech beginning with the ‘Now seriously….’ which he had referred to in his own interview with the Observer. Without wanting to refer explicitly to the report, which as Council members we had been asked to treat in confidence, I wanted to make it clear that all was not as it might seem at first glance.’
It is important to stress that the ERC have clearly stated that this was not a transcript, as people have inaccurately reported. They also deny it is a complete version of his remarks. They say it was an ‘internal report’ and not designed to be definitive or complete at all. Marcin Monko, the ERC press officer who compiled it, will not say how many people he spoke to, or name them, or whether it was merely his own recollection. As a piece of evidence therefore it’s pretty useless.
Hunt says he said ‘now seriously’ but a number of others have gone on the record to say they did not hear him say those words. How important that is in the grand scheme of things is another matter, but given those people are on the record and the ERC report, which, through my communications with them is evidentially useless, I don’t think it’s quite so cut and dried that he said those words at all. Hunt said in his Guardian interview: ‘I stood up and went mad,’ which hardly suggests that it was a careful and considered bit of speaking.
Next we move on to Paul Nurse. I contacted the reporter who interviewed him and she told me she reported his words faithfully but clarified he was talking about Hunt’s position with the Royal Society, not the UCL. She said she was surprised at how vocal he was in his censure of Hunt. It is true he then went on the radio and said he should not have been removed from his honorary position at UCL. But then he clarified his own position in a letter to the Telegraph. The full letter is printed here (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/11734676/Letters-Bloated-BBC-should-look-to-its-own-management-for-necessary-savings.html) but, for me, the stand out quote is: ‘Regardless of whether his comments on women in science were in jest or not, how they were perceived could put some women off pursuing a career in science and that is not acceptable. Sir Tim has apologised for what he said, and when I spoke to him he felt that he should resign from an awards committee he was on at the Royal Society.’
He then asked people to move on. Fat chance!
I have a number of the problems with the audio you mentioned, recorded by Natalia Demina, but that’s for another time, another place. But just to say that Connie St Louis actually told The Times there was ‘nervous laughter’ before she appeared on the Today programme, where it’s true she said there was a deathly silence (the audio and the ERC ‘transcript’ also appear to be at odds.) A number of people chose to remain silent in protest or out of sheer embarrassment, and have said so, but it is clear some did laugh and there was what Sir Tim called ‘polite applause’ as you would expect from a polite audience not wishing to upset their guest. Her reporting is not without flaw – the ‘thanks for making lunch’ comment was wrong but swiftly corrected – but five other credible people are on the record backing her account as fundamentally accurate (six, if we include Sir Tim on the Today Programme, which we should. He had been sent the Times front page of June 10th ahead of his pre-recorded interview, which included far more detail than CsL’s original tweet and when asked if he had been accurately reported, confirmed that he had.)
While on the subject of the BBC, there is no credible evidence they selectively edited Sir Tim’s words. They deny that 100% and deny misquoting him in anyway. Here is a link to short blog I wrote with Paula Higgins, written in response to Louise Mensch’s (ironically) selective quoting of their statement https://medium.com/@danwaddell/don-t-menschn-the-bbc-db093e1e41e0
They completely deny splicing or changing any meaning. They simply edited the pre-recorded interview for length as they routinely do. They have not released the full audio or the list of questions as they never do and it would set a dangerous precedent, as I’m sure you’d appreciate. The BBC has many enemies (a very vocal and persistent one being Louise Mensch…).
It may or may not be significant, but Sir Tim still hasn’t complained to them about the way his words were presented.
As I said above, it’s not true either to say that Sir Tim ‘probably had as yet no idea of how his remarks had been reported and were being perceived.’ He did; he had a copy of first edition of The Times’s front page, where his remarks were reported under a banner headline. I think that’d give you an idea something was up!!! I can upload or send you a jpeg of that front page should you wish.
‘So, for me, it is clear that Tim’s actual words convey nothing more than a disastrous attempt at self-deprecating humour about his own emotional entanglements in his life…’
Not a single eyewitness, pro or anti, remember Hunt mentioning his wife or his marriage in his short speech. Were they supposed to guess? Nor did he mention his wife and his emotional entanglements in labs the next morning when questioned by Deborah Blum, as verified to us by photographer Kathryn O’Hara. You would think he’d explain he was talking about his wife at this opportunity, wouldn’t you? But he didn’t. He confirmed that he had been trying to be honest about the problems of collaborating with women (not his wife) – a view he reiterated on the Today Programme when he said: ‘It’s terribly important that you, um, can criticise people’s ideas without criticising them. And if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from, you know, getting at the absolute truth…’
Finally (and sorry for the length of this comment), you mention M. Bourguignon of the ERC, who did indeed correspond with Louise. I have asked him if he would pass on the name of the unnamed ‘Korean host’ whom he met face-to-face and praised Sir Tim’s speech but he says the people he spoke to do not want to be publicly named, which is their choice of course.
However one Korean women who seems to have been present was Hee Young Paik, and she has gone on the record. She is an experienced academic, served as her country’s Minister for Gender Equality and Family for two years, and is current President of the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations, who sponsored the lunch where the remarks were made. You do not mention their statement, signed by Hee Young Paik. It’s well worth reading, along with Hunt’s apology in which he accepts he upset his hosts. http://www.europeanwomeninmaths.org/sites/default/files/documents/news/kofwstpress.pdf
Hunt said something that was, in his own words, ‘stupid and ill-judged’, ‘inexcusable, and in his wife’s words, ‘unbelievably stupid.’ She also said she could see how his words could be offensive to those who didn’t know him. Few there knew him and many found it offensive. It was unfunny, as he admits. So unfunny that a number didn’t even twig on he was joking. He made a heartfelt ‘apology’ for offending people. That was accepted by his hosts. There’s certainly a debate to be had about the actions of UCL, but let’s not forget that he also resigned from his committee role at the Royal Society and, even more pertinently, he was ‘forced’ to stand down – his word – from his role on their Science Committee by the ERC, who paid for his trip to WCSJ and, bizarrely, seemed try try and defend him at the same time they stripped him of his role. ‘That hurt,’ Tim said. Just a thought – why aren’t people demanding his reinstatement by the ERC?
What should have been a simple story: scientist says something sexist and stupid, offends some of his audience, his comments are reported, he resigns, apologises, the world moves on, has instead been twisted into a ludicrously complex saga full of myths and half-truths and bitter debate. I accept that a rush to judgement might be disturbing. But so is rewriting history.
Dan, the real story is indeed simple; scientist gives short, off-the-cuff speech praising women in science, which includes remark that could be interpreted as sexist, particularly by those ignorant of his own history. And then some of the organisers of the conference decided to report the speech in such a way as to create outrage. Their account is challenged by a number of those present, and is proven in certain respects to be inaccurate. And then everything snowballs, to the regret (I should imagine) of everyone concerned, not least those organisers.
Your clause “his comments are reported” in your version of the simple story is, to say the least, tendentious!
I’m not sure I can reply to all your varied points in the time I have but please note:
1 I did not myself refer to the ERC report as containing a transcript for the very reason you say. I said it showed more was said….indeed there is plenty of evidence now of what more he said was highly supportive of (Korean) women in science, totally consistent with his character.
2 Yes Tim said some stupid things, I think we can all agree on that. As I said in a comment on my earlier post, calling him out by talking to him 1:1 on that would have been perfectly legitimate. But that isn’t what happened. He is now deemed ‘sexist’ because people will not hear that he said good things about women, and always has, but only focus on those 3 sentences.
3 My whole point is that things are awfully unclear and little is what it appears in the reporting. I did not say the BBC selectively edited, but they did edit it, probably necessarily for lenght, in ways that probably affected how it came across. That’s the point I’ve tried to make about the Observer; things can be changed without intent let alone malice. Tim may have been sent the Times, I don’t know, but that isn’t the same thing as that he had read it and absorbed the full scale horror that people were unfolding.
4 Paul Nurse referred to ‘perceptions’ for why it was right for Tim to resign. That’s fine, but if we are on the subject of perceptions we have to recognize that how people reacted to the original tweet, and the comment about ‘deathly silence’ is also all about perceptions. If Connie St Louis knew there had been laughter, however nervous which actually isn’t how the tape sounds, then referring to ‘deathly silence’ is going to create a very different perception from reality. And that has been extremely damaging for the way the whole episode has been viewed.
The bbc do not deny splicing. They deny changing the meaning. The bbc do not deny misquoting. They deny misquoting ‘his original comments’ though they also did that.
The word “transcript” is a complete red herring. The internal report does not say this without adding the qualifier “as best as I can remember it.” Mr. Ivan Oransky in the same way used the word “transcript” – “we compiled a post-hoc transcript.” But Mr. Waddell does not object to “transcript” there.
The fact is that no transcript that I know of exists and we use the term as loosely as the three reporters first used it. We know the transcript is not exact, because neither version contains the rather crucial words
Lastly, let me be quite clear: M. Bourguignon has said that although the report may have been written in due course he spoke to both the author of the report, and the Korean woman host of the event, on the actual day itself. He received the same information verbally at that time, May 8, as he was later to receive in writing.
By ‘the ERC’ Dan means ‘the ERC press office’. As politicians and ex-politicans(!) know, this is not quite the same thing. They have been mistaken, as press offices can be, with the best will in the world. For example, when I inquired about M. Bourguignon’s public statement of June 10th, the ERC press office gave me a reply about what M. Bourguignon meant which turned out to be mistaken, as I shortly thereafter received a fuller reply from the President himself. I impute no malice to this, just normal error.
Mr. Waddell also ignores my second blog which cites multiple named witnesses saying Sir Tim sat down to sustained applause. Even Mr. Oransky admits applause.
Mr. Waddell also falsely states that Sir Tim was forced to stand down by the ERC. It is the EU who determine these appointments. M. Bourguignon has been quite clear on Sir Tim’s long record at the ERC supporting its Gender Equality Plan, launched 2011, for which he always voted. He chaired the selection panel which appointed Dr. Maria Leptin as the first female head of the EMBO (as she has tweeted in a rare intervention).
Your suggestion that the ERC reinstate Sir Tim is an excellent one, but they cannot do so; the EU determines who sits on the Council.
It is disappointing Dan, that you continue to misquote Sir Tim. He did not say in the BBC that he had been ‘accurately reported’. He said ‘My words were quite accurately reported’ and he referred only to the 37 words not to their characterizations. You refer to a PDF. Sir Tim’s interview says he was on the way to the airport. He will hardly have printed it off. At best a glance on a phone at the key line Ms. St. Louis quoted.
‘My words were quite accurately reported’ Sir Tim in fact says and then he qualifies ‘meant in a totally light hearted and ironic way.’ Saying that those words were ironic (or sarcastic, self-deprecating) does not, as you imply, affirm Ms. St. Louis’ characterization of them as serious. It negates it.
Sir Tim said to the BBC the words were correct but meant ironically. He never said ‘accurate reporting’ or anything close to it. Dan also misquotes Sir Tim as having said ‘women’ or talked about ‘women’ on the BBC when he says ‘people’. This is not theoretical. Sir Tim has had no trouble whatsoever working with women in the lab all his life, crediting female colleagues in his Nobel lecture. It is simply false.
We can all hear in “especially not monsters like me,” that he is denying he is a ‘monster’ with his amused tone, not affirming it.
Thanks for responding to my post Athene. I hope you do find time to respond to the points I’ve raised, not least the statement issued by the KOFSWT and the apology Mr Hunt offered in return. It seems to have been forgotten in all the heat and noise surrounding this issue. I genuinely think those should have been the last words on the matter. Instead, despite offering that apology, some seem hellbent on absolving Mr Hunt of all responsibility for his words and actions.
One aspect I forgot to mention in my post was is the use of ‘Gamergate’ acolytes to attack those questioning Hunt. It shares some similarities to that issue: it’s not about seeking truth, but harrassing and bullying. A number of people have been forced to walk away from the debate after being hectored and abused incessantly online. Also: look beneath the line on any blogposts about the subject, Guardian, Telegraph or The Times and you will see some vile abuse of Connie St Louis too. But the analysis of some in rabble-rousing and fomenting these reactions is also best left to another place, another time.
Dan, if you refused to hold the same views as those held by people responsible for vile abuse, you couldn’t hold any views on this affair. Witness the abuse received by Athene and Tim.
Tim should not have made a statement that could be construed as sexist; he shouldn’t have made it in any context, and certainly not at a conference on women in science, while giving a speech praising women in science and encouraging more women to become scientists. It was, as his wife has said, stupid, and it was right that he apologised. I think most people agree on that.
But that speech was deliberately mischaracterised by a small group of the conference organisers intent on pursuing an agenda rather than telling the truth. Whether they lied or not, their account of the speech has turned out to be false in certain respects, and misleading in others. It is their actions that have caused everything that has followed, including his forced resignations. It is their actions that you seek to defend, and I’m not sure why you are so determined to do so.
Just a few short observations.
Dan, I find it rather remarkable that you dismiss the ERC report on Dr. Hunt’s remarks as “pretty useless” because they have acknowledged that it’s not a verbatim transcript and is not complete. Yet Deborah Blum’s recollection of her next-day conversation with Dr. Hunt, on which she took no notes, is treated as gospel.
You say that the ERC report doesn’t match Natalia Demina’s audio. But in fact, it’s easy to see how, in notes taken from memory after the event, “I really hope that there won’t be anything holding you back, especially not monsters like me” could turn into “you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.” I also assume this is what became “I don’t want to stand in the way of women” in Connie St. Louis’s account (which makes it sound like an absurdly patronizing comment). Incidentally, you are ignoring the fact that after the report was released, Deborah Blum seemed to suggest (here) that it was a more “polished” version of Dr. Hunt’s “somewhat fumbling” actual remarks.
By the way, this is now the second time (at least) that you’ve said you have “problems” with Demina’s recording. Why not state upfront whatever it is you’re insinuating? And what is the import of her forgetting that she had the audio? Are you suggesting that the audio was fabricated? Are you saying D. is an unreliable witness because she forgot about it?
In the meantime, you invoke Charles Seife as a witness, despite the fact that he categorically declared that Tim Hunt was “lying” … and made a claim on which he immediately had to hedge because it contradicted the St. Louis/Blum accounts (he asserted that Dr. Hunt never said “MY trouble with girls”).
In your first post you say that Dr. Hee Young Paik “seems to have been” at the luncheon. Then you write, “Several KOFWST members were at the lunch, not just Hee Young Paik.” So was Dr. Paik there or not? I have not seen any definitive statement on the matter either way.
As for your suggestion that the whole matter should have ended with Dr. Hunt’s apology to KOWFST, you rather cavalierly dismiss the extraordinary vilification of Dr. Hunt in the media. He was described as “sexist” and “misogynist.” It was suggested that people like him were responsible for the dearth of women in science. A Popular Science cartoon (tweeted by Deborah Blum) depicted him as publicly mocking his wife and kicking a dark-skinned little girl. You sarcastically refer to Dr. Hunt’s “powerful friends,” but a lot of the people who spoke out on his behalf were his female ex-students and ex-colleagues who took umbrage at the notion that he was a sexist.
I also find it rather ironic that you complain of the abuse received by people who criticized Dr. Hunt, yet dismiss his supporters as “right-wing pundits,” “anti-SJW types” and “gamergaters.” I’d say that the Tim Hunt fiasco is a good example of why there are excellent reasons to be concerned about the “social justice warrior” variety of identity politics (concerns that have been voiced by a number of liberals and leftists in both the US and the UK). And while I definitely don’t want to make a detour here to discuss GamerGate, it might interest you to know that Slate.com tech columnist David Auerbach, very much a liberal, has agreed that the harassment and bullying was directed at both sides in GamerGate. Oxford-based science consultant Chris von Cselavay (FRSA) has written about how both he and his wife were subjected to a barrage of death threats and other harassment after he wrote several posts analyzing online data and coming to conclusions that differed from the media stereotype of GamerGate as a misogynist harassment campaign.
Getting back to the matter at hand: Yes, I think Dr. Hunt’s joke was ill-advised. I think everyone agrees on that. But I also think that his accusers are guilty of far worse unprofessional conduct. Deborah Blum (for whom I used to have a lot of respect — some years ago I reviewed her book “Brain Sex” and enjoyed it very much) has tweeted articles with claims that she had to know were false. And she also participated in this tacky Twitter exchange suggesting that Dr. Hunt deserves to be beaten by his wife. Yes, I realize this was a joke, but if it’s inappropriate to joke about lovelorn women scientists, surely it’s also inappropriate to joke about domestic violence against a 72-year-old man?
Cathy, Hee Young Paik was present at the luncheon. She gave a speech before Blum and Hunt.
It may not be a transcript, but it is the only thing written down. Connie St Louis and her two collaborators met later to agree what they had heard, and then went with it. Even then I gather nothing was written down. The problem here is that they have since failed to agree on what they agreed to, whatever that was. And Connie St Louis has changed her story several times. That supposed transcript has not changed, the author is impartial, and independent witnesses have come forward who have agreed with it. But if you prefer to trust Connie St Louis that is fine by me.
Sorry Chris, but you’re wrong. It’s not the only thing written down. And even the ERC have distanced themselves from it. The author wasn’t impartial – the ERC were responsible for sending Hunt along with two other female scientists to Seoul. There are nice grinning photos of the author with Sir Tim at the conference. I don’t think it taints his account personally, but people seem determined to insinuate that something is untoward because CSL, DB and IO know each other. Here’s a surprise – most specialist journos know each other. They attend the same events, conferences, pressers all the time. Journalists, whisper it quietly, are also a sociable bunch who like top gossip and have a drink. Friendships are made. That they are friends is of little relevance. We’d have to discount half the stories written if that were the case.
No one was making notes at the lunch or taping it. Everyone I’ve contacted said it wasn’t that kind of event. The one exception was Natalia Demina, who said she purposefully turned on her phone recorder to record Hunt, but then forgot she had this recording for five weeks because of jet lag. CSL, Blum and Oransky did get together to discuss if Hunt had actually said what they had heard him say. CsL wrote something. You’ve read it. We’ve all read it. It was supported by Blum and Oransky, who spoke with her, but also Charles Seife and Scott Watkins who didn’t. We also have Hee Young Paik’s statement, which supports it.
Much has been made of CSL, DB and IO coming together to ‘agree’ a story. I’m a journalist. It is common when journalists encounter a story, and have not recorded someone’s words, that they come together afterwards and compare notes to make sure they have an accurate record as possible. I’ve seen it happen many, many times. It can be disturbing when print journalists – and this is common among British tabloids – come together to ‘agree a line’ so their news desks won’t criticise them if their line differs from a rival. But that didn’t happen here. They are clear they came together to remember what Hunt said. The ‘line’ was CSLs’s. That might be why others differ from here in some details. But all five say that her account is ‘fundamentally accurate.’ And, as I keep saying, we have the KOFWST statement. They sponsored the lunch. They were there. It’s deeply insulting to insinuate, as some have, that Hee Young Paik was coerced into issuing that statement. She, like many members of KOFWST are successful, strong-minded women in their own right.
You miss the point, Dan, that in the febrile atmosphere created by the media storm those of us who felt that Tim was being unfairly judged felt under enormous pressure not to speak out. If you don’t understand that, read the comments on my first post (and I would regard myself as strong-minded) to see the sort of stuff that was thrown at me for suggesting Tim was not sexist. So your argument about the Koreans simply doesn’t hold up. It is impossible to know what they felt. They knew people were upset, what do you expect them to do as hosts?
Athene, I’m not sure I did, but I apologise if so.
It is possible to know how they felt: by asking them. Several KOFWST members were at the lunch, not just Hee Young Paik. With their membership they discussed how they should respond and agreed on the statement. Some people are criticising them for taking a week to produce the statement. But these are the same people who criticise CsL and others for a rush to judgement! That they took the time to consider what was said and consult their membership is a good thing, surely? Mr Hunt did not dismiss it as not being genuine, or feel it was as a result of pressure. Otherwise he would have ignored it. He quite rightly took it seriously, responded quickly and fully with a ‘heartfelt’ apology. This was several days after his return from Seoul, when he was only too aware of the ‘media storm’ and how the story had exploded.
It’s also wrong to imply, as some have, they were coerced into it, or felt obliged to as hosts (The Korean Science Journalists Association was actually the host, and organised the event: KOFWST were the sponsors.) Hee Young Paik was a government minister for two years. The idea she would be bounced into this is insulting. The polite thing to have done would have been to stay out of it and say nothing. Mr Hunt, as has been shown, has some very powerful friends. But no: they chose to call out bad behaviour where they and their members saw it.
Surely you can support that?
Why does Deborah Blum’s excerpted quote from the letter contain a passage that does not occur in the letter?
I would like to know whether the letter and\or statement by Hee Young Paik came AFTER or BEFORE the subsequent furore intiated by the tweets of Connie St Louis which we now know to be highly mislreading in two important respects:-
1. CSL described Tim Hunts speech as being met by all there with “stony faced silence” – we now have clear evidence that this was untrue.
2. CSL also stated unequivocally that he “was being serious” from the audio tape and other witnesses that were there we also know this was untrue.
In short it is highly possible that some KOFWST (especially Hee Young Paik) changed their view of Tim Hunts speech post hoc in thinking that their intitial perception was possibly tainted by a cultural misinterpretation given that another prominent womens advocate and journalist with a very impressive CV had written a totally negative interpretation of what Sir Tim Hunt said and meant.
you have raised a good point. The problem is the version they agreed to. Could the three of them produce signed statement of what they agreed to have heard. Could the other reporters endorse it.
this will nest under the above post but responds to your second post in the string.
I have refrained from publishing some correspondence in the interests of women in science.
However, it is clear that Dr. Paik and various members of KOFWST were lobbied and misled, on some primary evidence. Firstly, Dr. Paik’s letter completely misquotes Sir Tim on BBC Radio 4 Today show. We can assume that in Korea, Dr. Paik is not likely to have heard the show live. It must either have been on iplayer, or relayed to her. If she heard it on iplayer, then regrettably, there was a deliberate misquotation by KOFWST. It is far more likely that this wrongful information was given to Dr. Paik.
Secondly, there are very significant differences in the Korean and English versions of both the apology and the response. Ms. Blum touted a phrase that is not in the Korean, and will not answer if she wrote it. It is because I do not wish to critize KOFWST that I have not reported fully. How would that serve a good purpose?
Thirdly, Deborah Blum has made repeated public reference to her conversations with Dr. Paik and KoFWST both pre and post apology on Twitter and elsewhere, and Connie St. Louis also references this as does Mr Seife of NYU, every time falsely calling KOFWST “hosts”. It is clear that they have asked you to correct this misreport. They were not the hosts. The Korean HOSTS of the event and Sir Tim praised the toast to the President of the ERC on the day it was given and repeated this praise later.
Fourthly, there is the matter of the distribution of the “press release.” There are good reasons why I do not report upon how this was distributed and to whom. One might note the early access of Ms. Blum in time for her Daily Beast piece and the following day the Korean version on the website of Connie St. Louis (only). The “press release” was not, in fact, supplied to the general press, with one exception, whom I shall not name.
Fifthly, Sir Tim Hunt apologizes graciously to Dr. Paik for making a joke that could have been misunderstood. As I reported in my blog, some in KOFWST would have heard that joke through translators.
Translators can cause error. In fact, you will have read my report faulting Buzzfeed and the Daily Beast for ‘thanking the women for making lunch, because that was their role.’ It was in fact, a Korean woman politician who said that. When she said it, an audible groan of dismay arose from the audience. It was felt to be a very sexist remark. As Dr. Scott Watkins tweeted, “bad form all around.” Later he revised his condemnation saying ‘a possible error in translation.’
The woman politician who made that ostensibly sexist remark was a member of KOFWST.
I shall refrain from naming her.
It is important KOFWST now be allowed to get on with their work in Korea, and that is why my blog, noting they had been misled, and the malicious effects of translators – suffered not only by Sir Tim but a KOFWST member present – could have been at work.
Thanks Louise but it doesn’t clear things up. The statement doesn’t misquote.
I have correspondence that contradicts your view, which I’ll publish shortly. As I’ve told you on Twitter, the hosts were the KSJA and the sponsors KOFWST. That’s clear to me, thanks.
By the way, no one has asked me to correct anything on their behalf.
The KOFWST consulted with their membership and produced their statement. Mr Hunt replied in full and apologised, accepted he was out of order, an apology which they have accepted. Graciously too, I might add, as you will discover.
This blog doesn’t need he said/she said between me and you, so I’ll leave it there. But if you want to continue to belittle a group of women scientists ‘in the interests of women in science’ feel free to continue.
No, he doesn’t apologize for being “out of order”. He apologizes for an “ill-judged” attempt at a “self-deprecating joke.” Upon being wrongly told that nobody found it funny (isn’t it good we now have not only witness proof from the Korean women scientists hosts, but audio of the laughter, to show otherwise) Sir Tim graciously agrees (because he’s very polite.).
As I say, a member of KOFWST was mistranslated at that lunch and perceived as sexist.
You may want to compare the Korean text of Sir Tim’s reply, against his English reply. Just a thought.
In terms of belittling a group of women scientists, do you now then fully accept that the Korean woman scientist who HOSTED Sir Tim, and the colleagues she spoke to at the lunch, enjoyed the toast, found nothing amiss, thought it warm and funny, and confirmed that on the same day to the President of the ERC?
Are you not cherry-picking your women scientists a little?
I look forward to your report on what M. Bourguignon told you about the Korean women scientists who hosted the event, and what they thought. I know you’ll be thorough! 🙂
I’ld accept that Louise, if I could contact her. But she remains anonymous, despite my requests to the ERC and M. Bourguignon. They seem reluctant to release her name or even confirm if she was a member of the KSJA. I’ll keep persisting though 🙂
Oh and you and Athene might want to review your post above. I know you don’t name the woman who made the ‘sexist remark’ you mention, but it’s quite easy to work out given what else you say, and it’s actionable.
If I had anywhere alleged she made a sexist remark, as opposed to having a translator mangle her remark so it was wrongly perceived as sexist, it might be.
you appear to say that you are going to deliberately leave out the praise of the Korean woman scientist who hosted the event and her testimony that her colleagues thought the same, because you do not have her name.
If she chooses to remain anonymous, that is her choice. In no way does it invalidate her testimony. For example, you are happy here to refer to un-named ‘other members of KoFWST’. To be consistent, you should either refer only to Dr. Paik, or name only those KOFWST members you have spoken to.
You are desperately trying to have it both ways. The Korean woman scientist who hosted the event thoroughly appreciated Sir Tim’s non-sexist toast. M. Bourguignon has clearly told you that directly; Professor Dame Athene Donald, ERC, is affirming it publicly in this blog and as a member of the ERC. If you are to report the reaction of Korean women scientists, you will be deliberately misreporting if you leave out the very different reaction of the host and of her colleagues. I trust you will respect these women scientists and scientists of colour enough to report their reactions. Her decision not to give her name does not invalidate this reaction one little bit, nor does it make it untrue. M. Bourguignon and Prof Donald confirm the report and its contents as the true account of this scientist.
Dan, what is the evidence for your statement that the ERC have “distanced themselves” from the report?
Not only have they not “distanced themselves” from the report, the President of the ERC has confirmed its accuracy to me on the record, by saying he heard the same thing verbally from the writer of the report, on the day of the lunch.
The President of the ERC >> the ERC press office.
Professor Dame Athene validates the report herself as well in this blog.
I see no ‘distancing’.
Dan, I think you’re getting too bogged down in the minutiae of who said what. All we can say is that the eye witness accounts differ which is what we would expect from our knowledge of the scientific literature on the subject. Everyone has come away from the event with their own subjective memories just as we can go to the cinema and see a film and react in very different ways. However, we are all influenced by the people around us. If other people in the cinema laugh then you’re more likely to laugh yourself. If you see the same play on two different nights you’ll see that the audiences respond differently and don’t laugh in the same places.
Friends will always defend friends but those friendships and the conflicts of interests (eg, involvement on the organising committee) should have been declared.
Incidentally I don’t know why you are disregarding the ERC “transcript”. Like Athene, I knew about the existence of this document before everyone else did. I was contacted by The Times on 21st June to comment on it after I tweeted in response to a Sunday Times article that it was good to see that UCL were thinking of reinstating Tim Hunt. At the time I was told that they were trying to get further confirmation of its accuracy. The leaked account was not published until 24th June so clearly The Times did some due diligence and proper fact checking before they felt confident enough to publish. I was also initially somewhat wary of speaking out in public on the matter given the strong anti-Hunt sentiment at the time and because of my tenuous honorary position at UCL.
The fact that the ERC won’t reveal details of how the report was compiled does not mean that it’s not valid. Incidentally given that The Times took great care not to reveal any names do you have permission to reveal the name of your correspondent at the ERC?
The Times didn’t publish my comments but for the record this is what I said to them on 21st June and my views have remain unchanged since then:
“Rachel Walker’s letter in the Guardian summed up what I thought at the time:
Amid all the furore and disintegration of a Nobel prize-winning scientist’s career, as a woman I would like to know what came before and after these three sentences in his lecture.
I was disappointed that UCL acted so quickly without any proper hearing, and seemingly based solely on hearsay. It seemed obvious to me that the comments were intended as a joke. The reaction was out of all proportion to the perceived “crime”. Social media can be a power for good but it can also cause great harm when individuals are subjected to trial by social media, and especially so when individuals are not in full possession of all the facts. We should in any case be judged on the totality of our work and our achievements. We should all have the right to make fools of ourselves and to make mistakes. We should also treat people with compassion and kindness.
Debbie makes very good points. If you haven’t been in the eye of the storm – and you haven’t – you can have no idea of what pressures people felt. Just from where I was, way off centre, it was horrible. If the Koreans felt they should express displeasure because they were being told the behaviour was outrageous, plus cultural differences could have confused things, then that letter may have been written. I cannot give hard evidence for this, but I have been led to believe such pressure was felt.
I feel the eye witness Natalia Demina’s new comment is hugely helpful in giving us a better idea of the mood AT THE TIME than post hoc reactions.
It seems we’ll have to disagree on this Athene. I have evidence no pressure was applied and I maintain that it’s somewhat patronising to accuse KOFWST of being manipulated and so become become the latest group to be accused of taking part of a vast conspiracy against TH that includes senior Science journalists, UCL, senior UK academics, Korean scientists and academics and engineers, the ERC Science Committee, the Royal Society, the BBC, ‘feminazis’ and ‘social justice warriors’. That’s a lot of assumptions. In competing theories, I’ll always choose the one with the fewest assumptions.
As I’ve mentioned above, there are a number of contemporaneous eyewitness statements that contradict Natalia’s, and which come from a less forgetful source. But we all believe who we want to believe I suppose.
I’ m a member of the ERC Science Council. It’s the first time I’ve been accused of being part of a conspiracy against Tim in that (or indeed any other) capacity.
I have to say with slight levity that I do love the way you are mansplaining the view of the ERC to a member of the ERC.
The ERC press office, which may for all we know require approval from the EU, is not the same as the ERC itself.
You are hearing directly from the President of the ERC and a senior woman scientist who is a member of it, of their high regard for Sir Tim Hunt and their knowledge of his long-standing support for the ERC’s gender equality work.
But instead you tell Professor Dame Athene Donald, ERC, what the ERC thinks. Is it not just possible she might have a more informed view on that matter?
Oh! I -so- want to be outraged at the mansplaining comment. But I just can’t muster it.
“I see it as a tragedy for him personally, for science in general and for women in science in particular.”
A classic line that should go down as one of the finest lines in English, along with the opening line of Earl Spencer’s eulogy to Lady Diana.
Even more disquieting for the organizations Tim Hunt was coerced into resigning from, this incident exposes the cosmetic, bureaucratic, and frankly futile nature of their existence, in so far as it is to promote science. If the Royal Society was so carefree with evidence, it means that its major mission is no longer science but public relations.
I do not think journalism has been discredited. There will always be bias in journalism. I never took them seriously anyway. But I did take the Royal Society seriously. No longer.
I do not think science has been harmed. Science is robust. It is scientific organizations that have been harmed by the Tim Hunt affair. They, and the academics within them, are fragile and their fragility has been exposed.
I have confidence in the Royal Society. They acted on false information, true, but Sir Paul has been explicit re UCL. Now audio shows that when Sir Tim said ‘chauvinist monster’ he was mocking that idea not asserting it, they will be free to put things right in due course.
The RS relied on validation by a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and it has taken a lot of work to uncover all the misreporting in her account. Only late in the say (yesterday) do I find that Ms. Deborah Blum had to retract and apologize for a false quotation she made, when on another panel, about another Tim – the popular writer Tim Ferris. Here is the link:
Below the piece Mr. Ferris is quoted:
Regarding the following recollection: ‘I was on a panel with Timothy Ferris, who’s a high-end astronomy and cosmology writer. He said, “Why would you waste your time writing for people who couldn’t even make it into entry-level astronomy?”‘ I have never held this opinion, do not speak in the fashion quoted, and hence seriously doubt that ever I said this. If there is a transcript or recording of the panel indicating otherwise I’ll of course readily correct this post. But, again, this quotation does not ring true to me at all. I have always prided myself on the fact that my readers come from all sorts of backgrounds and are many sorts of people. I myself took only one science course at university.”
Does that sound familiar to readers of this blog?
Mr. Ferris is a very successful man, and the blog post has at its end:
“Editor’s Note: Since the time this article first ran, Deborah Blum retracted a statement she made regarding Timothy Ferris and has apologized for any offense it may have caused. It has been removed.”
‘the trouble with Tims,’ perhaps.
Alas, it was on this woman and other that the Royal Society relied. There is ‘previous form’, but none of it belongs to Sir Tim Hunt.
Connie St Louis has previous, too. Here are three examples of her being challenged. The first two from the Columbia Journalism Review http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/science_media_centers_the_pres.php?page=all#sthash.wu4yrKpb.dpuf:
CSL: Richard Black, the former BBC environment correspondent quoted in your piece, in an interview for this piece also said, “The Science Media Centre is too influential and clearly has an agenda that is far too partial.” [Update: Black disputes that he said this, although St. Louis stands by the quote.]
CSL: Recently the newspaper The Australian sacked its science reporter, Leigh Dayton. The reason she was given by the editors was “they could rely on the supply of press releases from the Australian SMC so that their general reporters could write the science news.” [Ed. note: Australian science writer and publicist Niall Byrne reports that Dayton denied having said this during an appearance in July at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Finland.]
And this from the unfortunate Press Gazette http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/backlash-has-been-horrible-says-science-journalist-who-reported-tim-hunt-sexist-conference-comments:
*An earlier version of this story contained the following quote from Connie St Louis: “I answered this question already when the Daily Mail crashed into one of my lectures. They weren’t invited and the photographer just walks in and takes a picture while I’m giving a lecture.”
Press Gazette took this line out after questions were raised about whether this was a fair reflection of events.
Press Gazette understands that the Daily Mail reporter concerned attended the Association of British Science Writers Summer School at the Royal Society on 25 June as a paying delegate. They said they asked St Louis a question at the end of her lecture and that she also consented to an interview and photograph after she had finished speaking.
SECOND EDITOR’S UPDATE
Connie St Louis has contacted Press Gazette to say that she stands by her description of the Daily Mail having “crashed into” one of her lectures. She said the Mail journalists were only at the day-long ABSW Summer School event to ask her about the Tim Hunt affair (they did not stay for the other sessions) and reiterated that the photographer took pictures of her inside the Royal Society without her permission – before she agreed to have her photograph taken outside.
Without verification it is hard to take her reports at face value.
Let’s not forget that, as I pointed out in my last article on the subject, CSL has continued to stand by the claim (not found in her initial tweet, and arising later from a misunderstanding of Scott Watkin’s tweet) that Tim Hunt “thanked the women for making lunch” — even after that claim was retracted by two publications, The Daily Beast and Buzzfeed, that published reports hewing very close to the anti-Tim Hunt narrative.
Sir Tim is far too gracious to the bullying Korean women’s letter. He should get lawyers to examine the situation. Otherwise he risks throwing away the basic values of science and academic research out of excessive pliancy to the posturing of the easily offended.
“I saw a tweet saying essentially who cared what happened to one old white man. If that was the only casualty I might agree,”
I am male, white and 44. I also have feelings. In 20-25 years I will be an old, white man. I am asking myself how it will feel to know that people like you think it’s absolutely fine not to care what happens to me.
How right can you be since humanism in general and the EU convention of Human Rights in particular apply to each and every individual including a powerful and famous old white man Nobel laureate.
Tolerating McCarthyism against European citizen Tim Hunt is against the EU convention of Human Rights. Freedom of expression- Freedom of thought, conscience and religion- Right to a fair trial-No punishment without Law. are 4 articles of the EU convention of HR that comes to mind in this case.
Just replace communism by sexism and you see McCarthyism at work with its complete disregard for the strength of evidence, its fanatical urge to shame and swiftly remove from any place of power-no matter how modest- any suspect.
Ivana, I keep disagreeing with you over the term Mccarthyism. Even under Mccarthyism the FBI did a full investigation in every case, and demonstrated in most cases that the person indicted was innocent. Hunt never had the benefit of a proper investigation, but was presumed guilty. I still believe that comparing UCL and RS to Mccarthyism is an insult to Mccarthyism. We need new term to replace Mccarthyism. But we agree on everything else.
Shall we agree on calling it MacCarthyism gone mad when waiting for historians to find later a proper name to remember this sad time when gender studies ‘shortcomings produced non factual feminism (indifferent to data and truth) able to do worst than Maccarthyism in the spirit of evicting any sexist, according to them, from any position of power or honor ?
I think that is a very good compromise. Even Mccarthy deserves justice.
Thank you. The casual dehumanizing based on sexual characteristics and race were interesting. At least it didn’t stray into the remainder of the mindlessly self-centered identity-labeling, the misuse of ‘cis,’ et cetera. But, egalitarianism is just so old white male, as was the Enlightenment, for that matter. Alas, human rights seem so last millennium.
I have yet to come up with a pithy descriptive term that isn’t also obscene. McCarthyism does touch on the process. Folks do use cultural authoritarianism…
On this post, as on my last, I have been approving all comments without question. However I have called for no more finger pointing and I intend to honour that. There are still plenty of issues to debate but I do not want to find this place being used merely to direct public vitriol at a new target as seems to be starting to happen. Please refrain or I shall start being an active moderator and your comments will go to spam.
Brilliant blog post! Some of the comments are silly/wrong/deeply depressing, but Louise Mensch, Professor Mary Collins and Athene Donald have argued against most of those points very effectively already. So instead I will say:
1) the fact that Sir Tim didn’t mention his wife *by name* doesn’t mean he wasn’t talking about her. The fact that 2, 7 or 12.5 people might not have known he was referring to her, or to his own love life, doesn’t mean that he was not referring to it. For example, if I say, ‘J’adore les parapluies’ in front of some people who don’t speak French, that doesn’t mean I haven’t said that I love umbrellas. I can also talk quite clearly about my husband without referring to him by name or saying ‘husband’. ‘Let me tell you about my trouble with men,’ I might say. ‘They don’t plump up the sofa cushions before they go to bed, having spent all evening squashing them, and they’re incapable of wiping the kitchen work surfaces properly!’ The ‘my’ before ‘trouble’ makes it clear that I’m talking about men *I’ve known*. There’s a strong chance that includes my husband (spoiler: it does!) The overblown nature of my statement suggests I’m joking, and that of course I don’t seriously think that *not one single man on earth* can clean up a kitchen properly. (On the contrary, I believe there’s a chap in Basingstoke…)
Anyone who wants to claim that Sir Tim wasn’t being ironic about his own experience must surely argue that ‘they fall in love with you, you fall in love with them’ means that *all* women in his lab fall in love with him, and that he falls in love with *all* women in his lab. If you want to take his words literally, that’s the exact meaning of what he said, right? He said ‘they’, not ‘some of them’.
Once you concede – as common sense dictates you must – that he *can only have meant* some, not all, then all you have to do is put the ‘some’ together with the ‘my trouble’ and what do you get? The strong probability that Sir Tim was indeed referring to his own experience, as he has explained – or else which ‘some’ was he talking about? All the women he’s never met and never fallen in love with? Unlikely.
2) ‘But some people didn’t get that! And they were offended!’ True. But that’s not Sir Tim’s fault and he shouldn’t suffer for it. Let’s forget the nitty gritty of what the Beeb did and what the Observer did and what UCL did and what Sir Paul Nurse said. All that stuff just gives us endless material to tangle up in endless arguments. Let’s think instead about this, the only story that matters, really: Sir Tim made some remarks. After which, his good name, reputation, and ability to go about giving talks and doing important science work were all severely damaged. He’s a good guy who has supported his female colleagues throughout his entire career, and *he did not deserve, in any way, the terrible thing that happened to him*. Yet it happened, because some people thought he’d been sexist. And yet those defending the people who outed him for alleged sexism have made these comments:
‘He whined like a little girl’
‘One can look at it this way. The women who get power do so because they have the worst characteristics of men’
Both of those are undeniably sexist comments. If you made them, or if you’re currently arguing the anti-Tim-Hunt-speech case alongside those who made them, ask yourself this: how would you feel if you/your ally lost their career and reputation as a result of those few words? Would you feel that was terribly unfair? Would you like that to happen to you, or would the idea horrify you? If it would, then what has happened to Sir Tim Hunt should horrify you at least equally.
He said a few words some people interpreted as sexist. Others didn’t interpret them that way. He didn’t intend them that way. Then a terrible thing happened to him as a result. Forget whose fault that was – maybe it was no one’s fault, but rather a combination of unfortunate circumstances – and concentrate on trying to undo the harm to Sir Tim, which I cannot honestly believe anyone still thinks he deserves.
that about sums it up Sophie. Thanks.
I think it’s obvious to any neutral onlooker that there are some gremlins in the works at University College London that have flouted due process and duty of care. This has damaged the cause of ‘diversity’ (true diversity which is ideological as well as biological) which aims to eliminate bias and discrimination through fair treatment and open dialogue.
The remarkable event at this time is that University College London’s management and certain toxic elements within its faculty (Colquhoun included) are determined to drag the rest of the institution down with them as they persist in digging in their heels against the scrutiny of society and the wider scientific community.
Here’s a version of events that was posted as late as July 27 and, remarkably, was promoted by Deborah Blum on twitter.
That an account that is this unhinged from reality can still be published and then endorsed by one of the original “reporters” of the story is surreal. I don’t know what to make of it.
Thomas, it depends which newspapers people read. Do not expect anyone whose only source of news is the Guardian or Daily Mail to be well informed about anything. The Guardian, in particular, has still refused to discuss any of the recent developments in Tim Hunt’s case. They are in denial, their readers ill informed.
I’m not too surprised that someone would write an uninformed blogpost. That happens all the time. I’m surprised that Deborah Blum, whose integrity is at stake in this case, would happily endorse a blog post gets it this badly wrong.
I’m not sure what is more depressing, the original, seemingly calculated vilification of Tim Hunt or the continued obstinance and entrenchment of some of those who subsequently and in some cases somewhat gleefully rushed to stick the knife in.
Louise Mensch has done an extraordinary amount of work to get to the bottom of the whole affair; that many are unable or unwilling to acknowledge the facts as she has laid them out purely because of her political history speaks volumes about their own prejudices, bigotry and probity.
This may seem really obtuse, but Radley Balko asks the provocative question of why the high visibility campus rape cases are falliing apart.
I believe the conclusion is that they often have a social warfare underpinning that has blinded participants to the most fundamental principles of fact finding. When truth and agenda part ways, one of them gets sacrificed.
I agree with Washington Post here. The more serious the allegation the more rigorous the due process should be. Not to get sidetracked from the original topic, but, due process is due process.
Now let me get this straight. Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt held an honorary position at UCL, giving free lectures and whatever. Sir Tim is asked to resign by somebody because of what Provost Michael Arthur says are views incompatible with UCL’s mission. Have I got that right? Prof. David Colquhoun is also an honorary professor at UCL. As the intrepid Louise Mensch demonstrates, Prof. Colquhoun makes insulting remarks about Sir Tim, women in high leadership positions, ice bucket challenges, and blah blah blah. He also doesn’t believe in due process for honorary appointments, at least where Sir Tim’s dismissal is concerned. Enter Prof. Dorothy Bishop, who does not work at UCL but is a Wellcome Trust funded PI at Oxford, who tweets in front of God and everybody to Prof. Geraint Rees, Sir Tim’s dean, insisting, if that is the right word, that Sir Tim be removed from UCL committees. And so that happens. That and more. In front of God and everybody. And the whole world piles on. Can you see where this is going? Why does Prof. Colquhoun not contradict UCL’s mission while Sir Tim does? Why does somebody from another university apparently, and I do say apparently, get to order a UCL dean around? Transparency, duty of care, due process, and above all academic integrity seem to have flown the coop here. I just don’t understand how UCL thinks it’s defending its mission by throwing one man to the mob and protecting others. Please explain. Somebody.
Thank you for articulating so eloquently what many of us have been feeling about this whole affair. I also fully endorse Sophie Hannah’s comments and in particular the need to undo the harm done to Sir Tim and to his reputation.
I hope that we will eventually see public apologies from all the people involved for the harm that has been caused. I also hope that the newspapers that have published false accusations will publish suitable retractions to set the record straight.
I believe everyone was acting in good faith and no one could have predicted the way that events would spiral out of control, but it very much seems to me that in the desire to pursue an ideology people have forgotten that there are human beings on the receiving end of their actions. Those human beings have feelings, and they also have partners, children, parents and siblings of both sexes who will share their pain. In a civilised and humane society no one should have to suffer the indignity and shame of a trial by social media based on incomplete, inaccurate and exaggerated evidence.
There are no doubt issues relating to sexism in science which need to be dealt with but first of all we need to learn to treat each other with kindness, compassion and respect.
The central question is, should UCL have sacked someone for making a joke? In recent weeks attention has focused on the intent of the joke, the target of the joke, how successful it was as a joke. I think this somewhat misses the point, although by now it is clear that Sir Tim has been stitched up.
I agree with The Times editorial following UCL Council’s self-serving statement, which speaks in no uncertain terms of unconscionable intellectual betrayal. “The provost and council of the college have been deaf to reason, blind to common sense and guided by shallow group think when a deep commitment to intellect and free expression was required”. This is the letter I sent to the Council before they met early this month.
Dear Council Members,
I understand that you will meet on July 9th, and that the debacle around Professor Hunt will be discussed. As an MSc and PhD graduate of UCL and an observer of the increasing tendency for social media calls for people to lose their jobs over infractions of formal or informal speech codes, I have followed this affair from the start. I attach with this an email that I sent to the Provost last week, before Jonathan Dimbleby’s resignation and before the journalist Louise Mensch’s detailed investigation was published. I have not been given even the simple courtesy of an acknowledgment of receipt.
I would like to add some further points about how the discussion has been conducted in the past few days. Broadly speaking, people who (at least claim to) speak for UCL have casually dismissed criticism of UCL’s action as irrelevant – “elderly white men”, “reactionaries and libertarians”, “revanchists” or “the right wing press” who have “spun” the story. Apparently, if The Times (a newspaper of record), The Daily Mail or The Sun reports or comments on something, then it is not to be “trusted”. More subtly, criticism has been further dismissed as not appreciating the issues, or as Professor David Price said, “lack of understanding or logic”. These are all ad hominem responses which dismiss the criticism and leave it unanswered, apparently because it is being made by the wrong kind of people, people with the wrong politics, or people who are a bit thick. Might it not be the case that people fully appreciate and understand the facts, do not lack logic and quite simply disagree with what UCL has done? A university should know better; honest discourse owes nothing to trust, or the perceived characteristics of the proponent of a position, and everything to the substantive points they make. Various journalists, left and right, male and female, have made substantive points in criticism of UCL, and which therefore can be interrogated in their own right. For example, the Provost claimed that social media had nothing to do with UCL’s decision. This, now, beyond doubt, is incorrect. The only information available at the time was on social media.
I believe that we should judge people on how they act, not on what they say. Professor Hunt, as far as I know, has broken no employment law and indeed I rather suspect that if he had behaved in any discriminatory manner in his laboratories, we would have heard no end of it by now. Instead, we have only heard words of support from his former collaborators (see for example http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article4477112.ece). I am not any kind of legal expert, but I wonder about the legality of removing Professor Hunt from a position in this way. I suspect the protest “he resigned” would carry little weight under legal scrutiny.
Much has been made of the fact that Professor Hunt’s position was honorary and therefore nothing was lost. This is disingenuous. UCL has destroyed the reputation he built up over many years. The very reasonable call for “due process” has been stated as a call for a “disciplinary committee”. Again, this is disingenuous. Taking some time to establish facts requires little more than common sense and common decency. It has been said that the great tide of public support for Professor Hunt is just evidence of what a huge problem overcoming sexism in science is. Perhaps, on the contrary, it is simply support for a person who appears to have been stitched up.
I do not think it is necessary to pick over the minute details. The fundamental issue is this: Professor Hunt was forced to resign, or sacked as widely understood, by UCL, in a phone call to his wife, on the basis of a single, now known to be flawed, report of what he said at an impromptu toast, fanned by a twitter mob, led, unfortunately, by UCL academics. If there is any “spin” involved, it is by UCL attempting to characterise the situation as other than what it is. The Provost’s polemic appears to entrench UCL in an untenable position.
I should add that I do not support a call for further resignations. It is exactly the same ugly process that Professor Hunt endured, and I object to it on the same grounds. However, I do support criticism of UCL’s behaviour towards Professor Mary Collins. It is inexcusable and requires remedy.
UCL has sent out the message that it will uncritically complete the public shaming of a member of its own staff and abandon them to the hordes. Every national newspaper has carried articles excoriating UCL. I remain embarrassed that my university has substituted its famed liberalism for intolerance, and that academics of other institutions are now actively refusing to give talks at UCL. It may not be in the Council’s power to do much about this mess, but the only course of action that could salvage UCL’s reputation would be to offer to reinstate Professor Hunt, and take measures to ensure that there will be no such similar reaction to a twitter storm in future.
‘Sir Tim’s joke’ might well enter the language as shorthand for ‘a sort of rorschach test to establish which gang you’re in’. That would be a pity. For it strikes me that the joke points at a rather obvious but much more important truth: science labs are the site not just of objective research (and yes perhaps, of structural sexism), but also of human emotions that are common to us all, men and women — love, hurt feelings, that kind of thing. Indeed, as the whole episode has also vividly illustrated to this outsider at least, there will be plenty of other emotions there too (envy, narcissism, pride, obstinacy etc ), about which it is much less easy to feel jovial. This aspect of the science workplace is unavoidable and it must inevitably throw up obstacles in the path of women trying to succeed in science, just as it has always done in the past for men. The short audio clip we have is of Sir Tim’s vehement encouragement (‘I hope, I really, really hope’) to women not to let such human problems ( ‘a monster like me’) stand in their way.
It’s not an abstract thing and it hasn’t anything to do with gender. It’s just life. If Sir Tim’s recent experiences don’t tell us that, I don’t know what else will.
There are many who would have us believe that the interpretation of this story is entirely subjective, and that everybody’s opinion is of equal validity. This appears to now be the main argument used by Hunt’s detractors. Anybody expressing support of Tim Hunt, or disapproval of of Deborah Blum, is only doing so because of their personal interpretation of an entirely subjective matter, or because they were misogynists, or because they are just part of Louise Mensch’s flock.
However, evidence started coming to light, due a lot to the efforts of Louise Mensch, to show Tim Hunt’s remarks were self-depreciating and not derogatory towards women. At which point Tim Hunt’s detractors had to switch tactics – the story they had so verbosely championed was beginning to unravel.
At which point, an audio recording turned up. It’s hard to argue that an electronic recording device has a subjective view, or that what it records is tainted by the circuit board’s misogyny. It was clearly people applauding Tim Hunt’s speech, in direct contradiction to the tweets of Connie St Louis.
Once it had been demonstrated that Connie St Louis’ reporting of a deathly silence was a false report, the Tim Hunt detractors then had to argue that people have different memories, different understandings of humour, even a different understanding of culture, or silence, in fact, anything that would allow Connie St Louis’ false report to still somehow be interpreted as true. Pontius Pilate would have been proud.
There were photos of the event also. Photos that showed smiling people. So of course these too had to be questioned. The Tim Hunt detractors started sounding like 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
Which means of course that we all now have a good knowledge of what really occurred, backed up by witnesses, photos, and an audio recording.
Understandably, once the Connie St Louis story fell to pieces completely, the detractors again had to change tactics. Suddenly, poor Tim has suffered enough, everybody should move on, indeed, some of those calling for Tim Hunt’s destruction became almost became sympathetic towards Tim and his treatment, as if by showing sympathy they could distance themselves from their own behaviour.
As for David Colquhoun, I notice that he comes on here to bleat about the harsh treatment he has received via social media. Although not condoning such behaviour, it is of course ironic, it is the same treatment that he so happily assisted be applied to Tim Hunt. David Colquhoun is also the one who has been shown to have tweeted a derogatory remark about female success. In fact, when comparing track records, many would view David Colquhoun as the sexist, and not Tim Hunt.
Furthermore, David Colquhoun and David Price of UCL were quite publicly mocking of Louise Mensch, it was a little joke between them that Louise Mensch was not to be taken seriously. One cannot help wonder if they would have been so mocking if it was a male journalist that was doing the digging for truth.
Unfortunately we also have Twitter and blogs where the Hunt detractors are still desperately pushing their thoroughly discredited self-serving revisionism, and their constant arguments are distracting from what started it all.
NB I have removed a few words from this to comply with what I believe are appropriate standards, as I indicated I might in a previous comment – although I have not spammed the entire piece as it raises real issues. Athene
Since UCL wants us to guess about why Sir Tim was forced to resign and Prof. Colquhoun wasn’t, I offer this from UCL’s HR webpage, dated December 2014. Make of it what you will . On the face of things, and as Dame Athene so ably reminds us, we have very little else, it would seem that UCL did not follow its own internal procedures. We have an ancient tradition in England of confronting the accused with charges and of allowing a response, about which we are justly proud. Duty of care and due process are sort of vaguely reflected in this at times terrifying at times laudable HR directive, or whatever you want to call it. One may ask what happened to Statute 18, which at UCL was instituted to prevent among other things arbitrary and capricious dismissal of academics after tenure protection was abolished. But let’s leave that for another day. I’m an authority on the history of English universities, and can speak with some sense of tradition here: Any dean who allows his/her faculty member (professor, student, honorary or employed) to be dismissed and humiliated without a fair hearing has no claim on the title of professor and needs to be removed from all positions of academic leadership. Doing such a thing in response to pressure from outside the university is a further scandal. Allowing such humiliation to escalate and continue, especially by other members of the university under that dean’s control smacks of motives too ugly even to name. And as for Provost Arthur’s invocation of the ‘vision thing’, words fail even me.
For some reason my link did not copy: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/hr/docs/dignity-at-work.php
Faye, Tim Hunt was an honorary professor at UCL. He does not have a paid position and according to the UCL page on honorary appointments “UCL reserves the right to withdraw honorary status from an individual at any time”.
It would seem that Hunt resigned under some pressure though there are conflicting accounts and we do not have access to the primary sources to inform our judgement.
I have an honorary position at UCL as a very humble Honorary Research Associate. That’s why I became interested in this affair. I now often have to give talks but on my own account and not necessarily as a representative of UCL. I also had to overcome a fear of public speaking to do those talks. I’ve sometimes made flippant off-the-cuff remarks. I remember joking once in a Q&A session about men not being able to multi-task as well as women. What happened to Tim Hunt could just as easily happen to me if all it takes is for one person to take offence at something you say, even if no offence was intended, and then broadcast misinformation about you on Twitter.
The only training I’ve had from UCL was a short health and safety session. I had to do this to get my card to allow entry to the building and to get an ID so that I could use the IT services. I’ve had no media training from UCL (I paid for two courses with the Society of Authors out of my own pocket) and I’ve received no guidance on what I can and can’t say in public. I only discovered the UCL Dignity at Work statement quite recently after this affair broke in the press.
I don’t receive any money from UCL but I’ve devoted many weeks of my time working on collaborative projects. The main benefit for me is access to the UCL online resources which gives me free access to all the academic papers which were previously locked away behind paywalls.
If there are rules then everyone, whether paid or unpaid, should be made aware of those rules. You can’t inflict rules on people post hoc. Everyone also deserves the right to a fair hearing and there should always be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. For a first offence surely forgiveness would be a kind and appropriate response?
Debbie, I’m aware of Sir Tim’s former status at UCL. It is, as nearly as I can determine, exactly the same as Prof. Colquhoun’s present status. And this is what I still fail to understand. Or at least I pretend to fail to understand. To put it crudely, what DC sadly is in need of is adult supervision. Where is such an adult to be found? Is that not his dean’s job? This is serious business though, and we’re on the same side here. Your anxieties are well expressed and important. From what I can determine through UCL’s websites, any of its members (gainfully employed or honorary) can be dismissed, financially and professionally ruined, and vilified on pretexts most academics would find unacceptable. I also am unable to find clarification as to how complaints from those outside UCL are handled, especially the unspeakably-creepy ‘bringing UCL into disrepute with a funder’, or words to that effect. Academic integrity, like freedom itself, can be taken from us before we even realize it’s going. Sad times.
David Colquhoun is an honorary fellow of UCL:
The difference is that his story has not been reported in the mass media so there is no perceived shame to UCL. I think the kneejerk reaction to events in Korea was a simple PR exercise on behalf of UCL. The PR process is summarised well in this blog post:
I don’t think it helps to call for resignations. I’d just like to see everyone treated fairly and kindly.
I don’t know what the complaints process is for non-UCL people. If you have concerns about anything I would suggest you write to the Provost Professor Michael Arthur. You’ll find his contact details in the open UCL staff directory:
You could perhaps also write a letter to The Times.
I was at that Luncheon and still can’t understand how it was possible to write “deadly silence” or “stony faces” when many people laughed and applauded to Tim Hunt. And the reaction of participants of WCSJ2015 (who attended the Luncheon or didn’t) was very-very different, no unanimity at all.
Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky were at the Luncheon and could correct many mistakes made by Connie St Louis in her famous Twit and interviews. But they didn’t! Deborah even added her own, the end of Hunt’s toast turned to be in the beginning and the beginning in the end and she didn’t give a serious reason why she did it and why she didn’t write about a serious part of Hunt’s speech. To my mind three of them violated the main values of science journalism – to check facts before publishing and if you made a mistake (everybody can make a mistake) correct it as soon as you know that you made a mistake.
I am sure that if Connie St Louis described the entire situation – the whole speech of Tim Hunt during that Luncheon (it was only 3 min long), the reaction of audience – correctly and Debora Blum and Ivan Oransky didn’t support her many inaccuracies, nothing would happen with Tim Hunt. In antiHunt posts (like of Dan Waddell and others) I see a clear attempt to divert the attention of readers from those violations of journalist ethics. Connie SL, DB and IO could say “Sorry, we made a mistake because of jet lag” and so on, but they behaved and behave in the way that they did nothing wrong.
And there are still a lot of blind-spots left from the Luncheon. I am sure that those journalists who are interested in truth can help to make them visible. Several photos were published (mine and of Timothy James Dimacali). On my photos you can see a Korean photographer who made a lot of photos, where are they? Why aren’t they published? I asked organizers to provide any records or photos made during the Luncheon, they answered that nobody made them. I can guess that those professional photos are not published because people would see smiles and applauses to Tim Hunt. I think that the concealing important information is also a violation of journalist ethics.
Another blind-spot: on a photo of the Luncheon you can see a lady who sat close to Tim Hunt and was making photos of him. Where are they? Dear colleagues, let us find those people and those photos and publish them.
I wrote to many colleagues who were at the WCSJ2015 and asked them about the Luncheon, unfortunately no new photos or records or a fragments of Tim Hunt’s speech yet.
I think that it would be very important for the World conference of science journalists, for young colleagues, to consider how the Tim Hunt’s case was presented by Connie St Louis, Debora Blum and Ivan Oransky in an ethical committee. All journalists who attended the Luncheon or all those who has smth important to add will be able to provide their evidences and a panel of independent and respected colleagues will make a judgment if there was any violation of sci journalism principles. I think that it was and I don’t understand those who because of friendship or corporatism support the main heroes of Tim Hunt’s twit mobbing.
can you publish the reply you received that said nobody took photos, the reply from the organizers?
I think that’s pretty vital evidence.
Because we know it is not true, and we know they published photos. Some few are now up on the website.
Here, are the points that I believe are important in this case.
1. Was Sir Tim Hunt “employed” by UCL?
I believe that there were contractual relationships and, even if there was no formal employment, the court (in case it happens) will, as this is usually done in such cases, impose contractual relationships.
2. Did Tim Hunt resign?
I am sure that, whatever he said, was said under impermissible pressure and it cannot be taken as an expression of his free will, therefore – invalid ab initio.
3. Did UCL acted in good faith?
I am sure it did not. There was clearly used a technique of an ambush. Tim Hunt, apparently, (through his wife, an employee of UCL) was given a verbal misrepresentation of his (supposedly changed after his speech) position, purported to mislead him in making his unduly forced decision. The court (in case it happens), I believe, shall answer the question whether these UCL actions actually constituted fraud, and whether the resignation was obtained by fraud.
4. Using the term “sexism”.
In one case the word can refer to an act of discrimination, an illegal act. In another case it can refer to an opinion, observation, simply noting a difference between the two sexes, often expressed in a speech or writing, but never taking away anyone’s rights – a perfectly legal exercise. The term has a potential of being used to mislead and deceive. The UCL administration was dealing with “sexism” in its second meaning, but used the term in a context implying discrimination of women or a real harm.
5. Sir Tim Hunt was clearly within his rights guaranteed by the law protecting freedom of speech. Removing Tim Hunt, I believe, constituted an illegal act. UCL had no right to use a discussion, social observations or critique, expressed by its individual employees (let alone, by people under contract) as a cause for firing them.
6. In addition, traditionally and noted presently in their institutional rules, educational institutions have much broader tolerance in the area of free expression, but the UCL has perverted and falsified its goals as an educational and scientific institution, which of course is not only my own opinion. The administration of UCL simply scandalised the institution.
7. Refusal to reinstate Tim Hunt after it was demonstrated that the allegations of “sexism” relied on falsified facts, actually puts an end to any claims of the administration that it acted in good faith. It has been claimed (letter of M. Arthur) that the only reason for terminating the contract was the alleged “sexism” of Sir Tim Hunt. But if so, it is incomprehensible why there is no apology, compensation and reinstatement now.
8. And that gives rise to another question: Was the “sexism” just a pretext, and the whole affair was an organised expulsion of a person, actually done for a different reason and with the intention to cause maximal harm and humiliation? Could it be personal hatred, envy, or removal of a competitor, or something else? All we know at present is that it was organised by a group of people, inside and outside UCL. And we can conclude that this affair now appears to have nothing to do with the emancipation of women: if it were so, Tim Hunt would be reinstated.
What would you say if a man were fired for having a black skin, followed by a finding that his skin was perfectly white, and followed by refusal to reinstate him? It would be useless to debate the colour of skin of this man, right? Similarly, the debate of whether “sexism” was present in Tim Hunt speech or not, is useless. It is completely immaterial and irrelevant to this case.
Twitter is the worst thing to happen to science blogging. I also regretfully must conclude that science journalists should not be referred to as science bloggers. My recommendation to all scientist bloggers is to surrender the venues of social media to the non-scientists who claim “science” as their raison d’etre. Close your twitter account and facebook page. Find a good rss reader, and get back to the business of blogging about science.
I do not have a twitter account, and what I have found on twitter during the Tim Hunt investigation is enough to convince me never to have one. UCL, the Royal Society, and similar organisations, need very much to make their members aware how potenially damaging and easily accessible twitter posts are. My only regret is that Dorothy Bishop realised this so early, because her posts were just about the only entertainment on offer. The one about most women falling in love with Tim Hunt was (I hope) not sexist, but a joke.
Athene – as you know Mr Hunt was, in his words, ‘forced’ to stand down from the ERC Science Committee (though the ERC press office told me it was not forced: ‘On 11 June Sir Tim Hunt resigned from his position as member of the ERC Scientific Council, and his resignation was accepted’.)
It does not say who took that decision, but somebody, somewhere thought his behaviour was less than impeccable, whether it was the ERC or ‘the European Commission’ as M. Bourguignon told me. I don’t think there was a conspiracy. But to absolve him from responsibility for his actions you have to believe all these people, all these organisations, all lined up against him based on nothing.
And it’s not surprising that Gamergate trolls, right wing pundits, anti-‘SJW’ types have all lined up behind Mr Hunt when juicy targets like feminists, the EU, and the BBC are involved, is it?
Thanks for the debate.
Dan, Hunt’s strongest supporters are feminists. Haven’t you noticed? They are not all geriatric grandfathers like me.
I am left, pro-EU, pro-BBC (used to work there, as a matter of fact), have played 3 video games in my entire life and yet am still capable of understanding self-deprecating humor, understanding that humor and truth are not mutually exclusive and can see evidence for what it is, not who it came from.
And yes, the evidence at this point is absolutely compelling that these institutions lined up against him based on nothing. Nothing substantial that is.
this “though the ERC press office told me it was not forced:”
does not follow from this
“On 11 June Sir Tim Hunt resigned from his position as member of the ERC Scientific Council, and his resignation was accepted”
They told you he resigned. they did not tell you it was not forced. Furthermore I believe that you have been told – I certainly was, on the record, by the President of the ERC, that the EU, not the ERC, made that decision. The ERC itself did not want Sir Tim to resign, but who serves on the ERC is not the call of the members of the ERC.
This is one very good illustration why I (unlike all the ERC supporters on this august board) remain a Eurosceptic 🙂
“Sir Tim”, not “Mr. Hunt.” He was knighted because, you see, he won a Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 2001.
Just trying to decide whether I’m a Gamergate troll, right wing pundit, or anti-SJW type. Nope. Left-leaning feminist, who resents the notion that conservatives like Louise Mensch can’t be feminists as well. You don’t get to say who’s called a feminist, Dan. Let’s welcome conservative women into all aspects of human endeavour. That’s what being liberal is all about.
Faye, as a feminist (at least in the classical, equality-of-the-sexes definition) whose political views are all over the left-right spectrum defending on the issue, I much appreciate your position.
Thanks Cathy. There’s so much that feminists can agree on in this and other matters. Nothing good can be accomplished by cultivating hatred, or by dividing well-intentioned people with fake ideology. Men should have nothing to fear from strong, successful women. We have work to do in demonstrating that. Too bad we have to, as it wastes valuable time and effort.
There seem to be some men defending the selective reporting of CSL et al who have become interested in this whole farrago on the basis that they would be defending women from attacks by disgusting, violent misogynists, and would therefore be able to feel superior to pretty much everyone else involved.
You get the impression that they are very upset that things haven’t turned out that way, and that they are having to defend their rickety arguments against rational, coherent attack. A certain amount of cognitive dissonance seems to be setting in.
The most disturbing aspect of this debacle is that this type of online harassment and bullying, this internet mob-shaming vigilantism, seems to be on the increase. The particular clique of “science writers” who instigated and inflamed this particular flashmob shaming-and-shunning of Sir Tim have done this before, most notably in 2013 to another much-admired gentleman of science, Bora Zivkovic, on equally specious charges. In Bora’s case, he was accused of sexual harassment, based on an informal conversation over coffee with a sex-obsessed playwright, plus some carefully de-contextualised excerpts snipped from his private email conversations with two erstwhile female friends. The social media campaign to assassinate his character and reputation was swift, furious, and vicious. There was no weighing up of evidence, nor giving the victim any chance to explain or rebut his accusers. He lost his job, most of his friends, and was depressed to the point of feeling suicidal. The undeserved punishment he suffered at the hands of this internet gang was horrific, much like the humiliation, heartbreak and desolation felt by Sir Tim. The instigators of such social media lynch mobs are heartless sociopaths, with no empathy nor compassion whatsoever for the frightful emotional, social and financial toll on the victim and their family. We now know exactly who these people are, and they will be forever under a watchful surveillance. This poisonous malignancy in the internet’s noosphere must be supervised, or excised.
I was previously only vaguely aware of the Bora Zivkovic case but from what I can gather there are many parallels. It would appear that Zivkovic has Asperger’s syndrome which puts his behaviour and the accusations of “harassment” in an entirely different light:
It is interesting to note that the same three journalists who instigated the accusations against Tim Hunt were involved in the Bora case as well. See for example this article in The Guardian:
See also this blog post from Amy Alkon:
It seems as though the cause of fighting presumed “sexism in science” has turned into a fanatical religion where the end justifies the means regardless of the consequences and regardless of the truth.
As a German, a complete outsider and with absolutely no personal interests in the story I express my thanks to Louise Mensch, Athena and others in their relentless fact checking in this case. I was made aware of the whole story by my spurious interests in twitter battles as examples of mankinds worst possible oral behaviour, given the “right” circumstances, and was exposed to the full story by a blogger and journalist of Germanys most influential newspaper FAZ, writing under the pseudonym Don Alphonso.
Without even fully understanding the amount of vested interests, academic feuds or political culture wars unfolding around the event, my suspiscion was sparked by the origin of the “Tim Hunt is sexist” as reported in the German press: I was asked to believe Tim Hunt honestly and seriously asked for gender separation in labs because of female inferiority. And that he sincerely regarded women in scientific workplaces to be not up to their tasks. I did not believe it then and whatever spin the story is now given it is the result of the work from Louise et al. that this is known to everybody really interested.
It is furthermore clear, sweeping all the dust of a political battle aside, that the first tweets/reportings about what Tim Hunt said where misleading, out of context, deliberately shortened and would seem to have been an open lie regarding the initial reaction of his audience.
I really don´t need any more to conclude that the attack against him was dishonest to boot. Everything after – the interests at stake etc. – are merely the fallout of the defense against this simple truth, as the allies of the attackers try to cloud this original apparent lie motivated by which political interests ever.
I have slightly edited this comment in two places to comply with what I believe are acceptable standards. Athene
Debbie has suggested I address my concerns about UCL policies to Provost Arthur or to the Times. Alas, as I seem to recall, far more august figures than I have failed to get his attention via this route, so I decided to approach the ‘man of action’ in this train wreck, Dean Geraint Rees, who claims on Twitter to investigate complaints from outsiders like me. Results follow. Ordinarily I would do this on Twitter myself so everybody could see it and pile on, but my catalogue of offense is too long. So I’ll run it by all of you and solicit suggestions:
Dear Dean Rees,
I understand from Twitter that Sir Tim Hunt is no longer a member of your faculty because he made some offensive remarks to a couple hundred people in South Korea before lunch. No agreement has emerged about what those remarks were, but your boss, Provost Arthur, said they were ‘sexist’, and that’s enough for me. The University Council agrees with him, adding further luster to this particular form of UCL justice. With that in mind, I would like for the following people to be summarily dismissed without the opportunity to respond, which would just waste time. Please ring up their partners and give them the news if they are unavailable.
1. David Colquhoun. Where do I begin? Tweets and blogs to ten thousand and more about stuff like how powerful women only rise to the top by assuming the worst characteristics of men. I mean, come on. How does that fit with UCL’s vision thingie? And it offends me.
2. That guy who was interviewed in the mass-market press about having UCL fundraisers at a men only club. Forget his name. Anyway, he said he loved women and the more the merrier, or something. Maybe he was misquoted, but it doesn’t matter since it’s bad publicity and makes me offended.
3. Dorothy Bishop. I know she doesn’t work there, but she should be sacked too for putting stuff on the internet about how women fall in love with Tim Hunt. Maybe you could Tweet to Jesus (the college) Oxford or the Wellcome Trust and say you’re offended too. She may be on soft money, so it won’t be difficult to ruin her. At least you should make sure she isn’t on any UCL committees and that nobody collaborates with her on grants. It’s only fair, since I’m so offended by her.
In closing, I am confident that UCL’s unique sense of justice and fair play will win out here, that all my offense will be erased by these dismissals, and that women like me will get jobs.
Not from Tunbridge Wells,
This is a very good note. But I would add a final sentence to state that: “now lets be serious, we are not realy asking for this, but hope that in the future any similar incident potentially damaging to an academic is treated in a more professional manner”. You are welcome to ignore this advice because I appreciate how bitter many of you feel. The damage this as done to feminism is only mitigated by the number of feminists fighting for Hunt. For you I remove my hat. Not so for the others.
Second thoughts. It is not very good, but brilliant.
Thanks Chris. If this helps concentrate minds at UCL into contemplation of the magnitude of the injustice they have perpetrated on their members and prevents them from continuing to do so, then my job is done. Sir Tim deserves an apology, and the public deserves to know what happened and how UCL intends to prevent it from ever happening again. I am not being ironic when I say, however, that the culture of utter blamelessness that permits so much of corporate behaviour when managed by third-rate bureaucrats almost guarantees we’ll never hear from them. Because we don’t fund higher education adequately, universities must sell their values to outside funders. And when you dance with the devil, he calls the tune. Which particular devil was calling this tune I cannot say. My only advice to all the members of the UCL community who remain silent during this Dance of Death is: You’re Next. Not funny. Sorry.
Faye, it is a fantastic piece. Ignore my suggestion of a possible addition. I was concerned about being seen to remove people from post. That would make us no better than the other camp, but this is not the case. It is clearly said in jest, absolutely funny, and laughing at them is the best way forward. UCL clearly have a major managerial issue. Remarkable when you see they are opening a new management centre. There will be a lot of laughs when your note goes viral, and more than few looks of embarrassment at UCL.
Irony is often misunderstood, which is why I wanted this to appear before an audience aware of context. Hashtags don’t hurt either. Nobody need be dismissed for making remarks out of turn, or even for managerial blunders. They are warned, they apologize, and it doesn’t happen again. That’s if normal protocol is followed, which doesn’t seem to be in force at UCL. We must believe in the moral value of education, or we all perish. But a closed bureaucracy capable of egregious acts of unrepentant scientific vandalism is very difficult to educate. What leading scholar can risk working at UCL now if they have another choice? The exodus has been going on for some time. It only can get worse.
I’m a science journalist with over 25 years’ experience working with scientists for radio, print and TV, including 8 years as a BBC science correspondent. I have acted as a mentor to several women journalists on a private basis, as well as publically through WISE for female engineers who want to engage with the media. Not surprisingly I’m dismayed that this affair has brought disrepute to the profession of science journalism, science and the BBC. The continuing furore also seems to be at the expense of a cause that many of us support – helping women overcome everyday sexism and promoting women in science.
As an admirer of Athene’s work, I found this latest blog disconcerting to say the least. Not the search for the truth – we all want that – but its collaboration with Louise Mensch.
Mensch is not a trained or qualified journalist. She is paid by a right wing tabloid newspaper to write an opinionated column. A professional contrarian – something she is obviously very good at. She is also a former Conservative MP, with a partisan viewpoint on this issue, who tweeted: “My theory is they think Hunt is conservative, and thus, deserves all he gets.”
Her blogs on the Tim Hunt affair, despite some impressive groundwork, are exactly that. Blogs. These extended opinion columns rarely give an objective, journalistic from-both-sides viewpoint. When recently defending accusations of online abuse against the teenager Abby Tomlinson, for example, the Huffington Post reported that Mensch still managed to call the 17 year old ‘disgraceful’, ‘distasteful’ and ‘hysterical’ in a 4000+ word blog post. Again, not journalism.
More worryingly, when astronomer Brooke Simmons from the University of Oxford engaged with Mensch on Twitter a few days ago about the ethics of science journalism, Simmons discovered Mensch’s response had introduced the hashtag #gamergate (sic).
Briefly for those not familiar with this issue, Gamergate began when an ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn accused her in a blog of trading sex for positive reviews. It developed from an argument about video journalism ethics into a nasty anti-feminist backlash after attracting men into the debate who threatened violence, rape and death against women who spoke out. Two female game developers had to flee their homes.
Understandably Simmons was unhappy with the Gamergate mention. She replied to Mensch: “Please do not tag me in any tweets with that hashtag.” And “I really hope you didn’t just intentionally try to call a group of people known for rape and death threats to target me.”
Mensch’s response was: “I will target you into anything I please particularly when you raise the point yourself.” She then included the following hashtags in the same Tweet: #GamerGate #EthicsInScienceJournalism.
She has used these hashtags with others too and several women who are discussing the issue of sexism online, including myself, are now being insulted or trolled on Twitter by people whose profile includes #GamerGate.
Interestingly, supporters of Gamergate’s ethics argument call anyone arguing against them “social justice warriors” – a dismissive term aimed at liberal thinkers and left wingers – and a hashtag that has also been used within the Tim Hunt discussion. As someone who is pro-feminism and anti-sexism who has also spoken out against the unacceptable racism directed at Connie St Louis, that must make me a social justice warrior too. I don’t see that as a negative.
Is Hunt a sexist? The evidence suggests absolutely not. Joke or not, were his words an unintentional example of casual sexism? To me and many others, unfortunately yes. Unfortunately because this has had such a negative impact on not just Hunt’s reputation, but those of St Louis, the Pulitzer prize winning Deborah Blum, Ivan Oranksy, Charles Seife and others. It has also resulted in many women, including myself, becoming the target of abuse purely for having an opinion, trying to discuss the issue in a reasonable manner online or correcting misleading ‘facts’.
Yesterday, after I tweeted being confused by this blog post and its association with Mensch, Athene and I had a short civilised Twitter conversation where we agreed to differ. Last night I received the following unsolicited email from a female scientist. She wants to remain anonymous but gave permission for me to quote her words.
She wrote: “I just wanted to say that the silent majority of women who think Tim Hunt’s comments weren’t appropriate – but are too afraid to take to Twitter now because of Louise Mensch’s obliging pack of MRA [Men Run Amok] hounds – were cheering your discussion with Athene Donald today.
I am in a very large secret group that now discusses things entirely offline. She [Athene] must not have realised – at least I very much hope she did not realise – what consequences supporting Louise Mensch can have for anyone with a differing voice who does not want to wake up to a timeline full of rape and death threats.”
Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But perhaps on this issue, the discussion would have been far more productive if it had been kept between scientists and science journalists – leaving tabloid columnists to what they do best.
With respect to the claim that fear is silencing a “majority of women who think Tim Hunt’s comments weren’t appropriate,” I must ask if that “majority” is the same mob that was so vocal in their rush to label Hunt a sexist? Or are we talking about a new mob?
I’d also like to ask in all sincerity, what exactly do you say to the women who were in the audience and found Hunt’s remarks funny and deserving of their applause? As a white man who was not there, I am obliged to not second guess those women any more than I would a woman who decided to have an abortion, or to put her career on hold to have children, or elect to not get married… Are you not of this same mind?
Sue, Athene has already said that she has received a message stating that she “should be executed” for her stance on this issue. She does not need you to point out to her that taking a position on this issue will lead to people receiving appalling abuse; she certainly does not need you to imply that only those attacking Tim Hunt have received such abuse, as she knows from personal experience that that is not true.
If you believe that a speech given by Tim Hunt in praise of women in science contained a sentence or two that were unintentionally sexist, as you state, then your behaviour is puzzling. You cannot surely then believe that the reporting of that speech by some of the conference organisers was accurate or fair, or that the punishment he has received was merited. Yet you have devoted considerable energy to supporting those who mis-represented his speech, and attempting to smear those who have defended him – even though by your own account you disagree with the former, and accept the position of the latter.
Louise Mensch is a journalist, however unhappy that makes you. Her account is biased, but so are all those that I have read; and it provides a lot of useful information. While not abusive, her attacks on her opponents have been more forthright than those of many of those attacking her – but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The snide, patronising tone taken by many of them seems to me to be just as unpleasant, if not more so.
It is terrible that many people receive disgusting abuse online for stating their honestly held opinions. It is not a problem that can be solved by pretending that all of the abuse comes from one quarter.
Dear Mrs. Nelson,
just 2 points:
1) Had the professional journalists done a better Job, Menschs blog would have essentially been useless, as all the facts would have been on the table. They weren´t, obviously. And unfortunately.
2) Fallacy by association is widely regarded as a smear tactics itself, if I am not mistaken? Whatever other people do, as long as somebody is not asking them to act in a certain way, their actions belong to them?
“But perhaps on this issue, the discussion would have been far more productive if it had been kept between scientists and science journalists”
For the most part, it was kept between scientists and science journalists. Alas, the result was partial and false reporting, and pre-judgment based on tweets, with serious and negative consequences to Sir Tim Hunt; and to the many young scientists around the world, of both sexes and of all races, whom he was inspiring.
I blogged about that here:
All the evidence therein is cited. It stands apart from its author. Ad argumentem, not ad hominem.
Personally, I will tend, with a few exceptions, to look at arguments in a discussion and not the people who make them.
My only collaborator is the journalist Natalia Demina, my co-author on our op-ed in the Times. I do not know the protagonists in this circle and came to matters cold. I do not know Professor Dame Athene. I didn’t know she was on the ERC, I didn’t even know she had a knighthood, and finally I thought vaguely she was at Oxford when in fact she is the Master of Churchill, Cambridge. I registered her as ‘woman scientist who blogs’ when Prof. Colquhoun referred to her prior blog as ‘a bit Cambridge-ish.’
If I collaborate with somebody I will say so.
Meanwhile, I prefer to stick to the facts. A great wrong was done to Sir Tim Hunt by deliberately false and partial reporting, and by an overly-swift acceptance of that reporting.
As somebody on twitter said dryly to me recently, this was:
“Policy-based evidence making.”
I look forward to seeing Sir Tim lecture some time. I am determined that I shall go to hear him speak. He’s evidently a very inspiring man. In the course of my journalistic research, I put together a little Storify of tweets about Sir Tim *before* the WCSJ in Seoul, to see how he was perceived before the storm. I think it is a useful resource.
When the dust finally settles on this story, we also need to check ourselves on ageism. I am very sad that ‘old man’ or even ‘old white man’ is now used as an insult. We will all become old. I am middle-aged, though I feel like I’m 17 still. If I am doing as much good in the world for young people at 72 as Sir Tim, I shall feel satisfied with my life. What was Sir Tim Hunt doing in Seoul? He was promoting the work of two female ERC grantees, upon whom not one of the “science journalists” present saw fit to report. What was Sir Tim doing at the invitation-only lunch to support women scientists? He was the guest of honour; he chose to attend; he was supporting women scientists. That, in fact, was what he was doing at that moment.
People might have wondered why such an alleged dinosaur with such alleged disdain for women scientists was being the guest of honour at a lunch for women scientists, in a trip he undertook to support women working in the scientific field.
My non “science journalist” approach was to start with the basics, such as ‘how likely does that sound?’ and ‘was that true?’.
Thank you Sir Tim for your support for women; scientists and otherwise.
Just read Athene’s comment below, and re-read my own above, and I think it’s unnecessarily combative, and a bit snide. Sorry about that. I am genuinely puzzled by the positions taken by a number of people, including Sue, and I expressed that in the wrong way.
Ms. Nelson, how does your correspondent claim to know what the majority of women scientists think?
Athene has asked not to debate the particulars of #GamerGate, and I want to respect that request, but OTOH, I feel it’s extremely unfair to Louise Mensch (whom I do not know personally and with whom I think I had precisely one interaction on Twitter prior to this affair) to suggest that she was inviting rape and death threats toward women simply by using that hashtag. So I will simply say (and Dr. Donald, I sincerely hope I’m not crossing the line here) that to my knowledge none of the threats Ms. Nelson mentions were ever confirmed to be linked to anyone posting the hashtag, and even a journalist highly critical of GamerGate has acknowledged that some of its posters have helped track down harassers.
Online harassment is a very real problem. But I also think it’s a very real problem that amorphous or exaggerated claims of harassment and threats are used to tarnish or shut down legitimate discussion.
I don’t know why Ms. Mensch used the #GamerGate tag. I’m not saying that she should have used it. But to portray her as an instigator of online harassment simply on that basis is exceedingly unfair, unless you have evidence that anyone has been harassed because of her use of the tag.
Has there been some nastiness toward critics of Tim Hunt? Sure, and it’s deplorable. But let’s not forget that Tim Hunt was subjected to extraordinarily vicious commentary, and his leading critics participated in some of it. See, for instance the link in my other post to a Twitter exchange in which someone brings up the fact that Dr. Hunt’s wife is a prominent scientist, another person responds, “I hope she has a strong left hook,” and Deborah Blum follows with “I wish I’d said that.”
If a joke about “girls in the lab” is inappropriate, what about a joke celebrating assault and battery on a 72-year-old man? By some people’s criteria, this kind of thing would probably qualify as an “online threat” toward TH. One that, moreover, implicates Dr. Mary Collins in a rather inappropriate way (to put it mildly). So I think that for Tim Hunt’s detractors to portray themselves as innocent victims of Internet meanies is a bit rich, to say the least.
Dr. Donald, I also wanted to add that I really appreciate the platform for discussion you’ve provided here and your even-handed approach.
Sue, you need to realise that this issue started because of very poor and dishonest journalism. Not by unqualified or untrained journalists, but by professional journalists associated with academic institutions who should know better. Dame Professor Athene Donald quoted an example at the start of this blog where she was misquoted by the Observer. I am not sure exactly how she felt, but I had similar experience over fifty years ago that left me feeling hurt and violated. Sorry to tell you, but most men are not macho, hard arsed, and able to shrug this sort of thing off. Now imagine what Tim Hunt must be feeling. He was savaged by trained, professional journalists. If Louise Mensch is untrained and professional, then please forgive me, in particular, for thanking her for sorting out the mess your lot have caused.
Sue I apologise to both you and Prof Donald. We have been requested to avoid
pointing fingers to people. My last sentence should read “the mess trained and professional journalists have caused”, rather than the mess your lot have caused. Just a little too late for a tired old man to be stringing words together.
There are two issues here. Opinion is divided on whether or not Sir Tim’s comments were inappropriate. Many people changed their minds when what Sir Tim really said was known but there were others who still thought that he shouldn’t have said what he did. However, Sir Tim has duly apologised, and unless I’m mistaken no one is expecting anything else from him at this point.
Incidentally I don’t think anyone can claim to speak for the “silent majority” of women. We are individuals with varying opinions on feminism, politics and many other matters. It is surely just this sort of stereotyping and lumping all women together as a single entity that we are trying to avoid.
The second issue which has not yet been addressed is the allegation that Sir Tim is a sexist and a chauvinist pig who advocates that people should work in single sex labs. The early narrative presented to us was that these remarks were made in all seriousness and that Sir Tim pretended post hoc that it was a joke to save his skin. However, the evidence now available from the full “transcript” and the partial recording seems to be overwhelming that this allegation is unsubstantiated.
If allegations are made that are untrue and that cause offence then it is a matter of common courtesy and basic human decency for the accusers to make an apology. Apologies can go a long way to healing any damage that has been done and setting the record straight. Faye shared on Twitter this United Nations guide on the power of apologies which I think is very apt in this situation:
In my view it it the lack of an apology to Sir Tim from all the parties involved (individuals, organisations and newspapers) that is causing all the problems. I believe everyone was acting with the best of intentions, but it’s clear that mistakes have been made all round, and until everyone acknowledges those mistakes and apologises, I don’t think this affair will ever end. The question is how do we make this happen? Or do you not agree that apologies are required?
Goodness, does this comment really imply what it seems to imply? That there is some sort of guilt by association in being seen to support a cause espoused by Louise Mensch?
“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the support Louise Mensch party?”
As someone who has no preconceived opinions about Louise Mensch (I’m not from the UK), or her politics (mine probably sits somewhere to the left of hers), I have judged her purely on her unflagging efforts to achieve a just outcome for Sir Tim Hunt.
Meanwhile Dame Athene herself (like her namesake) has been nothing other than a fair-minded advocate for the maintenance of scientific and journalistic standards–as this blog post’s heading states: “The Importance of Evidence”.
Increasingly, the media, the Internet, and even academia seem marked by a weird kind of tribalism (in inverse proportion to the world’s increasing globalisation–there’s probably a neat little equation in there somewhere!).
These self-policing “little worlds” seem to me as narrow and parochial as that of a Gaskell or Trollop novel, with power of censure being held by “the right kind of people”, by “our kind of people”.
For those of us who live in the real world–where children die of cancer, precious lives are lost to terrible diseases, and people like Tim Hunt are heroes (and yes, I speak from experience)–the whole debacle, the whirlwind of contumely focussed upon Sir Tim, was an exercise in the pursuit of “truthiness” (mediated by the “right kind of people”), at the expense of the truth itself.
It was also, of course, ruthlessly pursued at the expense of the man himself, someone who not only seems a decent and kindly person, but who is also a first rate scientist and an actual supporter of women in science (rather than an empty suit mouthing rhetoric).
The pursed-lipped comments about “tabloid journalism” would ring a little less hollow if the media coverage in relation to Tim Hunt had involved any appreciable “real journalism”.
Oh for the halcyon days when journalists did extensive background checks, interviewed multiple sources, and strove to present information with some measure of impartiality…i.e. before Twitter gave people the opportunity to make fools of themselves in 140 characters or less…
I would agree, I think Sue could have saved herself a lot of effort by simply writing ‘Louise Mensh is a Tory and should therefore be ignored.’
That’s certainly how I interpreted her contribution.
Sue, your comment adds nothing to the debate but does serve to prove beyond any doubt that you are unable to engage logically in the debate because of your inherent prejudice towards Louise Mensch.
That someone’s opinion, journalism or research should be discounted purely on the basis of their political history suggests a certain lack of maturity.
I will ignore much of what you write and comment on just one aspect of it. I am a left-wing socialist with every reason to oppose much (I thought all) of what Louise Mensch says and stands for. I have tackled Louise directly over matters with which we disagree and, just before this affair broke I had good reason to call her for repeating bullying that happened during the election campaign. She is the last person that I was likely to agree with. If she gave me a present I would examine it with great care for fear of booby traps. Nevertheless in this present matter I have seen no reason to oppose what she has said (and I have double-checked) except for an occasional foray into a tabloid style of presentation. If you are opposing what Louise Mensch is saying because Louise Mensch is saying it then, in this case at least, you are wrong.
I have just noticed that UCL is to open a new school of management. We should wish them well.
Perhaps we could design UCL’s new school of management a #distractinglyironic curriculum!
Let me assure you that science comes only from independent spirit. Those who try to fit into political mainstream do it because they are incapable of producing independent work. Men scientists know this, but women are of course new to this business, and they are easily manipulated. They are told that they can win as a united crowd, which of course is a lie. Sure, as a crowd, they can win politically, but never as scientists.
There are some new trends that seem to be invented for women scientists, but, I think, are very harmful to science and in particular – to women in science. There is so-called “evidence based medicine” which is practically a data collection business aggravated [sic] by statistics. It takes enormous time and resources, it doesn’t take original thinking, and, being, so to speak, a serial science, doesn’t give sufficiently original results. Then, there are games, such as Evo-Devo. Then, there is a trend to define herself as “I am a female scientist”. Does it say “I am a scientist distinguished by being a female” or “I am a female distinguished by being a scientist”?
Science opened a wide door to women, but I think that women should enter it one by one only, each with her own science and no irrelevant attributes. There exist mass delusions, but no such thing as mass science.
I feel it is time I correct some misconceptions, particularly by way of reply to Sue Nelson’s long and thoughtful recent comment.
Firstly, I am (as I did on my last post on this subject) allowing comments through almost without moderation, with the exception of where I fear there is the danger of libel. I probably will not be sufficiently aware of the law, nevertheless, because I am a physicist not used to straying into these waters. I am pleased Sue admires my work but I am, nevertheless, an amateur blogger and am slightly surprised that she chooses that way to dismiss Louise Mensch’s work. However, perhaps more importantly, there is no way I am ‘collaborating’ with Louise with whom I have had no contact prior to this episode. I am merely using the ‘groundwork’ she has done, that almost no one else seems to have attempted, in collating information and timelines (Debbie Kennett has done some of this too, also not a journalist). If the mainstream journalists had done this work far earlier I believe the damage done to many people would have been much less and the whole affair could have been quickly allowed to subside.
However, just as many of the comments on both sides published here – let alone things I have seen over Twitter – strike me as wrong-headed, unpleasant or much worse, I have chosen not to step in as arbiter. The comments on the last post were often personally directed at me and fairly vicious, certainly hurtful, but to censor them would have struck me as improper. I do not condone anyone who sets out to attack others and I have, here and elsewhere, called for the fingerpointing to stop. That hasn’t happened in the comments or over Twitter but it isn’t because that’s what I want. I think it was Debbie above who talked about ‘compassion’ and I’m all in favour of that.
I am aware of #Gamergate in outline, and again I do not think it should be brought in here. It cannot help the situation. But I cannot stop others doing so, regrettably. So let me ask again, one and all – Louise, Dan, whoever – please stop the fingerpointing and raising the stakes yet higher for all concerned.
My point in writing this post was to demonstrate, what so many seem still not to get, that things are rarely what they seem; that evidence could have been found much earlier, but that too many people – scientists and journalists – did not seek it out. I feel Tim was consequently unjustly treated and people chose to mete out a punishment completely disproportionate to some admittedly stupid remarks; irony never works well abroad, it is a peculiarly British trait, and jokes can go horribly wrong. (I feel Sophie Hannah’s comment illustrates brilliantly how jokes can be misconstrued.) He has admitted they were stupid but that still doesn’t add up to a sexist, let alone misogynist man. I want the record to be set straight on that. But that is no reason for others to be attacked. It won’t make us get any closer to the truth.
So, can we please stick to the essential issues here and not just introduce more bile into this febrile situation.
Quick question to anyone who knows.
Kathryn O’Hara, who took the photo of Deborah Blum in conversation with Tim Hunt the day after the luncheon (and has been cited as confirming Ms. Blum’s account of that conversation), has been identified as a “photographer.”
Is this the same Kathryn O’Hara? If it is, she’s a rather prominent figure in the World Federation of Science Journalists, and it’s a bit odd that she’s remained silent while allowing others to report her words.
Interesting point. Peripheral to the current debate, but one we need to look at later if not exhausted by the whole business. There are major issues about the behaviour of the steering committee at that conference. The whole reason for Tim Hunt being there, and the presentations he was there to support not being reported by journalists, is only part of the sorry mess.
Yes, but isn’t THIS odd?
By ALL accounts there are at least 70 more witnesses out there who could tell us what they believe really happened.
Journalists (members of WCSJ)
Scientists (members of KOFWST)
Other Guest Speakers
The translators and the PA operator could easily have their own audio recordings.
Our experience of this affair seems only to be through publicly available English language media with a very limited dramatis personæ.
I think it is the same as the ERC: they had neeting notes, but tried to suppress them to avod embarrassment. You can bet that CST has a recording. Lets hope one comes out.
It is important to distinguish, as several people have failed to do, between the ERC and the European Commission and the EU more generally. The report you refer to was produced by an ERC attendee at the meeting, but is an EU report and is lodged in their database as an official report. However, all members of the Scientific Council have seen it but, as indicated in my original piece, we have been asked to treat it confidentially. That is not at all the same thing as the ERC trying to suppress the report, let’s be clear on that.
Point taken. Many thanks.
Prof Dame Athene,
As there is some suggestion the ERC has “distanced itself from the report” is it fair to say that this is not the case, and that it is an official report, but is not one that is being released.
Louise, that was what I meant my previous reply to indicate. The ERC’s Scientific Council has, as far as I can tell, no ability to release the report but that is not equivalent to trying to distance themselves from what it reports.
I am leaving this comment anonymously, for reasons that should be obvious after reading the below.
“I am aware of #Gamergate in outline, and again I do not think it should be brought in here. ”
Unfortunately it’s not that simple, Athene. You cannot promote certain Twitter users and not invoke the well-known consequences of doing so. I am one of the many women who were mentioned in one of those Tweets and was then trolled mercilessly into submission. I have not tweeted about it since, nor left any public comments; I have been asked to comment by the press and have refused. Not because I don’t have a reasonable opinion (which can be summarised simply as, “Hunt’s jokes, though not meant to intentionally denigrate, were not helpful to women in science, and were therefore not appropriate, full stop”), but because, in all honesty, it’s just not worth the sexist and violent aggro that will inevitably follow. From the quote in Sue’s comment, above, I guess I’m not the only one. If you’re happy with that outcome, then by all means keep invoking that channel. It’s a powerful weapon, to be sure, the power to silence most dissent through fear – which makes the debate feel completely one-sided. But that’s a hollow victory. Do you really want to be one of the people indirectly inciting this rain of abuse onto your colleagues and friends? Because like it or not, every time you retweet this person’s tweets with the victims mentioned in them, that is what is happening, and in your own small way you are enabling it. Just because others are doing the dirty work doesn’t lessen your responsibility for propagating that signal.
But it’s acceptable to let the “rain of abuse” that Tim Hunt received to stand uncorrected?
Let’s keep the focus where it should remain–a wrong was done to a decent man and needs redress.
I think Debbie is correct, apologies are called for, the record needs correcting.
Dame Athene has been a spokesperson for precisely this sort of fair-play.
This essentially boils down to: Don´t engage in any kind of debate where some unpleasant People might join the train, otherwise you are guilty for what these people might do. This is first in effect just another form of silencing, second again fallacy by association and third the end of any kind of free society. Conservatives in Germany have used this Argument 50 years ago, there it was phrased: Vote Social Democrats and invoke the 5th column of Moscow.
No, nobody has any responsibility regarding actions of other People just by engaging in any kind of dicussion in a civilized, educated and measured manner. And nobody “incites” anything by that kind of Engagement.
It’s an odd form of argument that seems to have become more prominent with the rise of social media. Something may or may not be true but frankly it’s irrelevant because you agree with a lot of people who have been horrible to me therefore your opinion should be discounted.
I’m not going to name any names, but as far as I can tell there was exactly ONE woman who was mentioned by Louise Mention tweets with the #GamerGate hashtag (after she mocked Ms. Mensch with a GamerGate allusion to “ethics in science journalism”), and she later said that she received no threats.
Yet Anon here is invoking completely unsubstantiated claims of harassment to assert that critics of Tim Hunt are being silenced (which is really not what I’m seeing on Twitter…) and to insinuate that Dr. Hunt’s defenders (including Dame Athene) are responsible for harassment.
Sorry (and again, I’m very mindful of Dame Athene’s request to avoid being confrontational), but this strikes me as very manipulative.
Oops — that should be “mentioned by Louise Mensch in tweets.”
I’m nervous to join this discussion but here goes………
I think I might be one of Sue’s silent majority but I also have sympathy for Tim Hunt. How come? I’m a female scientist who has experienced sexism from lab supervisors: As a PhD student I came out crying after a bullying session from the Head of Department to be reassured by the other students ‘don’t worry he’s made us all cry at some point’; I’ve been to an informal interview for a post-doc job and been quizzed on my family planning; I was appointed as a lecturer and found out via a chat in the pub six months later that I was being paid less than the 3 men appointed at the same time even though I was older and had more experience. So my reaction to all of this has a background and history, and the gut reaction is ‘there goes another sexist professor’. But here’s the thing, a lot of people (I guess I mean men) say one thing and mean another – they claim to back equality but their actions say the opposite and in real life they have a bias, bizarrely it seems that Tim Hunt does the opposite, he’s says he’s sexist but in real life he is not – I base this on reports from women he has championed and supported.
So I’m split here, I admire both Athene and David Colquhoun and can see where both are coming from. For me, I have split my thoughts of this into two – Tim Hunt’s ‘joke’ reminds me of some of the worst sexism I have experienced as a scientist, and I support everyone who fights back against what for many of us is a recent or present experience, but I have also decided Tim’s not one of the bad guys and didn’t deserve to be the fall guy for other people’s failings.
Thanks for being honest about this. I am shocked by what you have described, but in the light of Tim Hunt’s treatment at UCL am more than happy to believe that the administrative procedures meant to prevent your experiences are either not being enforced, or are not in place. I would also thank you for being honest about crying, possibly the only person who has been honest about this since Tim Hunt’s speech. I cannot understand why under emotional or stressful condions boys drink, girls cry, or some do both. I am not qualfied to do so because my degree certificates either say chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, or mathematics, which is of no help here. But I do know that successful organisations (I worked for one) are aware of these problems, and realise that in a competitive environment having to employ the best people they can get means having to ensure those people have the support they need, such as mentoring or other means of support. We never had any metrics for our success in this where I worked other than most girls who cried during their placement year came back and also recommend that girls about to begin their placement year should join us. We were successful with the boys as well. What worries me is that this was an oil refinery, and you are describing a university, and this says it all.
Regarding your other problems I am concerned about the salary differential you described, informal job interviews, issues of contraception, and what appears to be total lack of concern for your well being. You clearly have a case on salary because you can quote a clear comparison. Informal job interviews are a major problem because there is no one there from a personnel function to ensure fair play. I can understand universities being more casual, but when you are asked about contraception this is out of order. For humanity’s sake I only hope that person has had the snip. What you have described is shocking. What is more I can believe you seeing how one university has bungled its treatent of Tim Hunt. You have been very open, very honest, and more importantly here you have not blamed Tim Hunt for your problems. And for this I respect you.
Perhaps someone reading this blogg can get back to you. I am afraid the best advice I can give to a girl is to study Chemical Engineering, which is not appropriate.
Carrie, I really appreciate your thoughtful post and your willingness to share your negative experiences. I don’t think there are many people here who would insist that sexism in science doesn’t happen. (Although I would say that while your second and third examples seem to be clear cases of sexism, the supervisor in the first one may have been an equal-opportunity bully.)
That said, do you really believe, even with the latest reports, that Tim Hunt “said he was a sexist”? It seems pretty clear to me that he was making a self-deprecating joke mainly at his own expense, even if it arguably came out as having demeaning overtones toward women. When he was being serious, he said in a 2011 lecture (I believe) that there should be no difference in how one treats men and women in the lab.
Re: “Tim’s not one of the bad guys and didn’t deserve to be the fall guy for other people’s failings.”
You’ve hit the nail on the head. We can all agree that institutionalised discrimination must be confronted and eliminated, whether it’s sexism, racism, whatever-ism. However, to destroy Sir Tim’s honour and reputation by making him into a “sacrificial lamb” on the altar of “social justice” is an abomination.
Edited for appropriate content; Athene
Well, I would describe this affair as The Most Inhuman Affair Ever Perpetrated by People Whose Job Was to Set the Examples of Humanity.
Now, this is what I would expect should have happened a couple of days after Sir Tim Hunt returned to London. The dialogue between UCL President and Sir Tim Hunt, after greetings:
UCLP: Do you know about the twitter?
STH: Yes, but there are some rather prominent figures on the twitter, I heard.
UCLP: Should I issue a statement?
STH: As you like.
UCLP: So, what would you think of this:
UCL is being known as the best university for the advancement of women in science. Our people, and, in particular, Sir Tim Hunt worked for years to achieve the best in this endeavour. We do not hesitate to openly discuss our experience. A few days ago, we participated in the Conference… blah… blah.., where, unfortunately, a joke made by STH in his address was cruelly misinterpreted by some in the audience. He is profusely apologising for making such joke at the time when political passions sometimes overcome the common sense. Myself and the university, of course, will continue to uphold our civilised tradition of allowing free speech as well as the tradition of allowing any intelligent protest, political or otherwise, on our campus.
Just to clarify a couple of things in my comment above:
The PhD students were definitely of the opinon that the Head of Department targetted the female students with his bullying, he made a couple of the younger female lecturers cry too, maybe the boys drank instead as Chris says.
In my post-doc chat the actual question was ‘so what are your plans about having a family then?’, so literally family planning not contraception!
The salary differential comes about because I had one year off to have my 1st child, (a break in working not maternity leave). The university’s policy was to appoint on one spinal point above previous salary so I had lost the spinal points for that year not working – but the university had a mechanism to allow for this which they chose not to reveal to me and my (male) line manager never pointed it out as a option.
Cathy -perhaps I should have said that Tim Hunt admitted to being chauvanist not sexist.
Don’t forget, Sir Tim also said he was a “monster”, are we to take that as read?
No, I think not. One should read with an understanding of nuance, of context, of rhetorical devices such as (in this case) hyperbole (he’s not a monster!).
Or perhaps people don’t. I have wondered very much throughout this whole process at the education given in schools and universities in the use of language.
In the ancient world, of course, an education was incomplete without an understanding of rhetoric (which meant something quite different then to what the word now more often connotes). One had to both know and be able to demonstrate an ability to express ideas powerfully and persuasively–so that one could use these skills oneself, and appreciate them in others.
From the start, when I read of Sir Tim’s speech, even before further details became clear, something seemed improbable about the reportage (unless the speaker had been roaring drunk, which was not alleged), precisely because it seemed such a caricature of a sexist statement, e.g. “girls cry” etc.
That’s because, as it turns out, the reportage WAS a caricature. Sir Tim’s speech was merely a coat hanger on which were hung stereotypes which the man himself would, I think, abhor.
As someone interested in the subtleties of language I have been fascinated by Sir Tim’s case, and horrified by the outcome for Sir Tim and for his whole family.
That’s the other thing, of course, there has been such a terrifying unconcern by so many who leapt to condemnation of Sir Tim, at the wider harm caused. It was like a scene from the Cultural Revolution–which is why so many of those commenting here or in other places in support of Sir Tim (and science!) are not prepared to let this incident be shoved down the memory hole (thank you, Orwell). It represents a social fracturing, a level of dissociation from awareness of harm, which is disturbing.
One of the deepest ironies in this whole situation is that it seems that those who express apparent “acute sensitivity” to the actually well-intended words of Sir Tim, are most likely to be either completely oblivious to or uncaring about the absolutely directional harm of their own.
Meanwhile, it is the very real damage done to young researchers such as yourself that needs to be addressed, Carrie, not the “imagined terrors” of Sir Tim’s supposed “sexist joke”.
I am impressed that you have maintained objectivity in Sir Tim’s case, despite obvious pressures not to do so. Science will be the better for having people like you in it.
Carrie, just glad you have found the confidence to speak your mind. The situation sounds awful, and I hope something can be done to help out. You are clearly not the only one in your department suffering. It should not be happening in a British University.
Carrie, such questions are (unfortunately) commonplace from prospective employers, though it is none of their business. It is not sexual harassment, only unfair business practices. Women losing promotions and productive research time is common too, and a problem. Setting up child support near research workplaces would be the obvious first step.
Hunt did not admit to being a chauvinist, he was being ironic.
Carrie, I am still deeply disturbed by this. On this web we are duscussing the way Tim Hunt was badly treated. The issue you have raised is a concern to both sides of our argument over Tim Hunt. I honestly hope that someone can help you over your problem. It doesn’t matter which side helps you, as long as someone does, because this is something we can all agree about. Your treatment is not acceptable: not in a university, not in commerce, not in government, not anywhere in a civilised country.
Thanks for your support everyone, it means a lot. It was 2 British Unis, one Russell group, one post-92 and two of the three people responsible are still in post, although approaching retirement. However we now have a new Head of Dept and are applying for an Athena Swan award; I’m part of the team writing the application so I am able to draft policy documents to ensure the same things don’t happen to anyone else. I know Athena Swan can seem like box ticking but my experience is it really makes a difference.
Carrie, I wish you all the best with the Athena Swan award. Although upsetting, your contribution was a valuable contribution to this debate. It is such a shame that so much effort has been wasted destroying Tim Hunt, when there are academics like the ones you have confronted, who are much more obvious and deserving targets. Best wishes with your academic career.
The only effective solution to this disgraceful vigilantism must be legal. The entire matter of Sir Tim’s humiliation and loss of reputation based on “selective reporting” should be brought before a Court of Law, to address criminal issues of libel, slander, and malicious defamation of character.
From the Introduction to “Reframing Libel” (2011):
“In my time years in the BBC I had spent many hours debating and interpreting words with lawyers. I knew all too well that sometimes it’s a very fine balance that of truth telling and avoiding libel.”
One aspect I forgot to mention in my post was is the use of ‘Gamergate’ acolytes to attack those questioning Hunt. It shares some similarities to that issue: it’s not about seeking truth, but harrassing and bullying,
Ah, virtue signalling and demonstrating one’s tribal bone fides.
It’s similar to Gamergate in that the bullying has been done by social justice warriors like yourself.
Gamergate is a useful shibboleth in seeing on which side of the totalitarian impulse someone sits. Those that attack Gamergate seem firmly on the side of thought control.
Is it possible to get this matter into a PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY ?
Universities have independence in academic matters (sci. and edu.), but not in matters where they are required by the State law to treat employees in certain way (discrimination, etc.) and required to adhere to a certain procedure. In all cases, they loose independence if they acted not in good faith, showed pre-judgement, etc. For instance, a teacher who told student, before examination, that he cannot pass the test and then failed him, was found in breach of something (don’t remember what) by the court. There is a special action in court, judicial review, if I remember correcty.
The problem is that, for instance in Canada, don’t know about Britain, it’s impossible to find a lawyer to go against influential corporation. Some will take the case and betray the client. That I say on the basis of my own experience. For instance, I spoke to a lawyer who wanted the case and said that she will sue my university for negligence. I said: “There is no suing an educational institution for negligence”. Her face became red as boiled lobster. Indeed, you have to show bad faith or absence of good faith, if not a fraud, at least. I say all this because one needs to be very careful.
Now, the law suit might be not the best way for some reasons. That’s why I am asking about parliamentary inquiry. I do not have a slightest idea how it works. But probably, this is the correct way in the case with UCL. No doubt, this is much more than a personal complaint. It should be a concern for a nation, and everybody up there knows this, and that’s why there is such silence there. It’s a big, big thing, and the evidence is practically already there.
Now, I believe, there should be no reference in the application to the social media, twitter. There is already an admission from administration that twitter played no role in their decision, and that’s good – they have to explain there actions, and you cannot prove twitter anyway. Other legal ponts must be studied carefully. Of course, it should not be “against women”, and it actually is not – I pointed it out in my other comments. There should simply be a doubt about what actually was the reason for terminating the contract. That UCL rule says “can be terminated at any time” does not mean “terminated for any reason”! And the reason they stated is completely illegitimate as a reason for firing. An emphasis should be put on the way they obtained Tim Hunt resignation. That’s basically all.
The attacks on my character are unfounded. They are ad hominem, which is a sign that the posters cannot dispute, ad argumentem, my journalism. But in order not to sidetrack I shall respond on Twitter.
I gather that comments are to close here soon so I want to make one last substantive point.
There has indeed been discrimination in the Tim Hunt affair, but not by Sir Tim. There has been racism, and sexism, and ageism. Mostly, there has been a truly sorry unwillingness to look at evidence outside of a political framework
“Policy-based evidence making”
For example: Professor David Colquhoun (still a sitting member of the Royal Society’s Diversity Committee) comes on this blog and says to its author, Professor Dame Athene:
“I’ve now seen several summaries of the evidence. They are all heavily influenced by the political views of the writer (including, no doubt, my own). For example, I’m astonished that you don’t seem to have mentioned at all Hunt’s 2014 interview in Lab Times.”
From the blog to which he is replying, Professor Dame Athene wrote:
“The problem is not the absolute numbers of female physicists or male vets, it is the number that get turned away for sexist or cultural reasons. Tim’s previous remarks (I give them here in full, not just the limited couple of sentences usually quoted) were:
“I’m not sure there is really a problem, actually. People just look at the statistics. I dare, myself, think there is any discrimination, either for or against men or women. I think people are really good at selecting good scientists but I must admit the inequalities in the outcomes, especially at the higher end, are quite staggering. And I have no idea what the reasons are. One should start asking why women being under-represented in senior positions is such a big problem. Is this actually a bad thing? It is not immediately obvious for me… is this bad for women? Or bad for science? Or bad for society? I don’t know, it clearly upsets people a lot.”
I interpret these as consonant with the idea that there isn’t a problem if there aren’t as many female scientific leaders as male if that is how it turns out when everyone is treated equally.”
Now, look at the – shall I say, diplomatically – *emphatic* language used by Professor Colquhoun.
“I am ASTONISHED that you do not seem to mention…” (emphasis mine). He is citing her lack of quotation “For example…..” as an exemplar of her political bias. And yet Prof Dame Athene has cited those comments in full. They are pulled out in the text of her blog, in quotation marks.
Another poster above has said ‘Sir Tim admitted he was a chauvinist’ when audio now proves that Sir Tim negated the idea he was a chauvinist with irony and tone of voice just as he was negating the idea he was a ‘monster’.
After all that has emerged showing he is not a chauvinist, and was being sarcastic and mocking the idea, a poster here still alleges Sir Tim Hunt stated he was chauvinist. He did not do so.
A blog has been written with a scholarly veneer
Widely cited by detractors of Sir Tim, it alleges as many of his detractors do that only senior scientists defended him. It literally ignores, in a racist, sexist way, those of his juniors who defended him; Professor Hyunsook Lee whom has mentored for the last 15 years; Alessia Erico, who was a junior in his lab for several years, who wrote a prominent early column in Nature
Dr. Erico cites his great science as well as ‘women in science’ support. She cites his specific support over her maternity leave!
“He always supported my work, even when my research project took a different direction from the lab’s main expertise. For example, he arranged for me to visit a lab in Japan to learn a specific protocol that proved fundamental to my research. His passion for discoveries had no boundaries. It is important to remember that although we need role models and champions for women in science, we also need truly inspirational figures for science.
When my European grant ended, it was exclusively thanks to Tim that I got the extra funding guaranteeing me a good amount of time to continue my project after my maternity leave. At the time, we had several chats about my future. I had doubts about a career as a group leader, but Tim said I was good at science and technically very skilful, giving me the encouragement that I needed.”
So here we see Sir Tim:
Supporting her projects
Encouraging her to lead
supporting her on maternity leave
Nor did it end when she ceased to be his junior. Rather than steal her limelight Sir Tim told her to take the stage on her own experiment. His example led “other senior scientists” to get the hell OFF the stage and put the spotlight where it belonged on the junior researchers. The article saying ‘Where are the junior academic voices’ ignored hers and others completely. Anyone looking for others can find them. Prof Donald’s last blog, in the comments, some said ‘None of his juniors vouch for him.’ One immediately posted. She was then ignored. Others have posted comments in the Guardian.
I want to let Alessia Erico, Dr. Erico, Sir Tim Hunt’s junior, have the last word on this blog from me. Stop ignoring her. Stop ignoring women with direct experience of Sir Tim because you do not like their defense of him. It is, how shall I put this, *sexist* to do so.
A year after that first consortium conference, and wearing a different jumper, Tim and I again headed for the annual meeting. This time, I had a different kind of shock. Tim suggested that I should be the speaker, not him, because it was my research. Well, it was quite stressful. The members of that consortium included some of the most important cell-cycle scientists in Europe, but it was a great opportunity, and not only for me. Tim’s action led to other group leaders leaving the stage to their postdoctoral fellows. Some were men and some were women. I doubt Tim cared which; all he saw were promising young scientists.”
When Sir Tim Hunt gets back from his holidays I hope to see him restored to honours (UCL can whistle for it) and back on the road encouraging scientists of both sexes and all races. As he has done HIS ENTIRE LIFE.
Louise, perhaps you are getting too close to destroying their arguments completely. You have my respect.
This saga has the makings of a movie. I can imagine the last scene, with the finale of Rachmaninov’s second symphony playing loudly, and a just audible representative of UCL standing in front of a bank of media cameras, saying “We are sorry, we got it wrong”. Audience in tears. Credits role. End of story.
Fat chance, apparently.
I am going to close comments now and I would like to thank everyone who has engaged in this robust but largely, though not exclusively, civilised way. I am not closing comments because I’m trying to cut off debate, feel the post has been hijacked by any particular community or that I can’t take the heat, but because after my last Tim Hunt post, with its many (rather less well-tempered) comments the whole Occam’s Typewriter site crashed due to exceeding our bandwidth. I don’t want that to happen again; I want this debate to remain publicly visible.
I think people have clearly been wounded on both sides, and that’s not counting the main protagonists. I would guess that Tim has been far more than wounded and I for one sincerely hope he can heal and bounce back. But smearing one side or the other, by association or direct attack, isn’t going to get us anywhere. Why I think this affair has so badly damaged women in science overall is because it has driven a wedge between people who all have the same ultimate goal. Perhaps one should look at the historical parallel of suffragettes versus suffragists – a division that can only have slowed the attainment of votes for women which both sides were agitating for. We must do better. We must come together as soon as possible and continue to address the kinds of injustice that Carrie’s comment exemplifies.
Views remain polarised but I feel there has been too little attention paid to:
• Why did journalists not seek out the facts more rigorously right at the beginning, instead of information dribbling out over weeks as one person or another dug down?
• What should we all, collectively, be doing to ensure accounts we read can be trusted without feeling there have been distortions, excisions or insertions into text?
• How can social media be used more responsibly?
• And, most importantly of all in this context, how can we improve the situation for women in science?
I personally think Carrie nailed things when she said ‘…Tim’s not one of the bad guys and didn’t deserve to be the fall guy for other people’s failings.’ That expresses in a nutshell what I took far longer to say in the original post. Let us seek out those smooth-talkers who can talk the talk but do absolutely the opposite in their daily work, although their actions manage to sit beneath the radar. We know there are many of them out there.
My call for #just1action4WIS has been completely overlooked in most of what has been written here. I refer you once again to my list of actions that I feel we could all adopt and push forward on. I urge you to think about what you personally can do to advance this, which at bottom is what is needed to improve the working world for everyone, men and women alike.
And now, listening as it were to Rachmaninov’s 2nd symphony as recommended by Teresa , I shall step back and close the comments.