Why the dust has not yet settled on Tim Hunt’s remarks

The World Conference of Science Journalists kicked off in Seoul on  08 June, amidst an outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus in Seoul. The science journalists were, of course, thrilled to have a story awaiting them on their arrival.  The irony, for a journalist from Sierra Leone that battled an Ebola outbreak, is that he would have gone home to Sierra Leone to be quarantined there for coming from an MERS-affected country.

But the MERS virus was soon overshadowed by a Homo sapien — a Nobel Laureate to boot. Tim Hunt remarked, in response to a query by a Korean woman scientist at a luncheon , that he preferred single sex labs — the reason being that guys fall love with girls,  girls fall in love with  guys, girls cry when criticised!!. Needless to say, Hunt landed in a soup over his lunch remarks. His defence that he was jesting had few women takers, for whom gender discrimination in the labs — sometimes subtle and sometimes overt —  is no laughing matter.  Rather, the remarks went viral on Twitter, and also threw up several serious commentaries on women in science. A report in the Guardian summed it well as an explosive combination of science, sexism and social media

Closer home in India, Indian women scientists are yet to break the glass ceiling — none of the leading mega science institutions have ever had a women head, and no national research institute, barring the National Brain Research Centre’s whose founding director was Vijaylakshmi Ravindranath, has had a woman director. The number of women scientists in science academies is woefully low. As several women scientists repeatedly told me, ‘the old boys’ club’ culture prevails. I did a brief report on the tough journey for Indian women scientists for Nature back then:

The latest article to address the issue in India is in India Today, by Gayatri Jayaraman: The Secret Sexism of Indian Science. Good read.


One thought on “Why the dust has not yet settled on Tim Hunt’s remarks

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  1. Should a university resemble a 100% politically correct Hollywood show with the producers regarding scientists as their actors, adjusting the numbers of sexes and minorities and dictating when they should cry and laugh and what they should say?

    The removal of Sir Tim Hunt is the second case of political persecution of a Nobel laureate, the first was that of James Watson. In both cases, their alleged “crime” was purely political, and it was framed in political slogans, “racism” and “sexism”.

    The public debate around the decision of UCL to remove Tim Hunt is missing the point. (Were his words a joke or not? Was there enough “sexism” in his words? Did twitter remove Tim Hunt?) Let’s now get serious and ask: Was the removal of Tim Hunt legal? I believe it was completely illegal. And the law does exist here, it is first – the law against discrimination and second – the law protecting freedom of speech.

    Discrimination is an act of using irrelevant considerations (such as sex, colour of skin, etc.) in a decision/judgement made by an official against an individual. Discrimination is taken as an act denying an individual his or her human right(s). Such act is illegal, and the discrimination must be proved. There is no claim and no evidence that Sir Tim Hunt has committed such act. His speech did not represent any decision, and, being a joke or not being a joke, did not, and was not even capable of damaging/changing the standing of any women before the law or denying their human rights.

    Then, what is the accusation against him? The official explanation is the letter of Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost, “Provost’s View: Women in Science”, see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/staff/staff-news/0615/26062015-provosts-view-women-in-science

    This is a remarkable document. In it, Michael Arthur 1) did not refer to any law whatsoever, 2) refused, in his own words, to “…repeat or re-analyse who said what…”, i. e. refused to present the evidence, 3) justified the removal of Sir Tim Hunt solely on his (determined by the administration) “sexism”. The text seems to be written by a political agitator in the smashing style of Leon Trotsky, totally disrespectful of the law and civilized academic tradition. He calls the removal of Tim Hunt an “episode”.

    In sharp contrast with discrimination which, in a particular decision, is depriving individuals of their human rights, “sexism” in a speech is incapable of doing this. The accusation of “sexism” here is no more than a political opinion, a label which cannot be used to punish anyone. Therefore, the removal of Tim Hunt was an illegal act, patently – a political persecution. Moreover, it was an act of discrimination and a denial of the basic human right – freedom of speech.

    Looking closer at this “episode”, I believe it was designed not even so much against Tim Hunt, but with the purpose of establishing a precedent for persecution of any political dissent. Tim Hunt was chosen as one who loved his university and would not start a legal fight. He was chosen as a top scientist to show that no one is immune to political persecution, and that interests of science are the last item on the administration agenda.

    As a Provost, Michael Arthur failed to uphold the law and academic freedom. As a President, he failed to act impartially and, actually, fuelled the “gender war”. In his letter, he claims to have acted on behalf of women, but the women appeared on the side of their former teacher, actually proving that Michael Arthur’s claim of acting on their behalf is a false claim. UCL urgently needs the new Provost and the new President.

    Finally, it is important to understand that an employee does not sell his whole self to his employer. A woman cannot be obliged to sleep with her boss. Why, may I ask, a university includes political and social agenda in its rules for the employees? The scope of this agenda must be severely restricted to respect basic human rights of all its employees. A public university cannot be run as a political party or a Hollywood show.

    I had posted a few comments on the matter at http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/2015/06/15/what-next-after-tim-hunt-just1action4wis/
    My web page: http://www.universitytorontofraud.com
    My email is probably hacked.

    Please, send this message to other blogs. My computer is under attack, it’s impossible to post on most wordpress.


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