The Tim Hunt Debacle
Why Feminists Cleared a Nobel Prizewinner
‘So the tide has really turned, and today — well, there’s a woman, I don’t who she is, Louise Mensch, she’s called, and she’s a Tory MP who came under some cloud, you know, and I don’t quite understand, drugs or something, so she, for some reason has got completely obsessed by this story….’ — Sir Tim Hunt, July 2015
‘And I’m very glad to see Tim Hunt in the audience,’ said Professor Tony Seagal. It was a UCL clinical science lecture, November 10th, and Segal had politely welcomed UCL’s Provost, Michael Arthur, to complete silence. ‘Welcome back to the bosom of UCL, Tim -’
The entire audience broke into warm applause.
‘I have great respect and affection for you,’ Segal added, ‘and as you can see, I’m not alone in that.’
It must have been a wonderful moment for Hunt, 72, winner of the Nobel prize for medicine in 2001 for his work showing how cells divide, and his wife, Professor Mary Collins, a professor of immunology at UCL. It would have been all the sweeter knowing that Arthur had to listen to the approval of his peers, male and female, for Hunt.
Sir Tim Hunt’s colleagues had worked hard to clear his name. And these were serious scientists and feminists who had seen his lack of bias towards women. Alessia Errico was his lab junior for six years; she praised him to the skies. Dame Athene Donald wrote blogs on the false reporting, and the damage the lies in the story did women in science. Maria Leptin tweeted in support of Hunt. So did Oxford Professor Trish Greenhalgh, saying that only ‘those who went on hearsay’ would call him sexist. Female scientists who knew Hunt were angered at the false reports. Professor Hyunsook Lee, of Seoul University, wrote to the Times that Sir Tim had been her mentor for thirty years and would remain so.
And the general public were with Hunt. He starred in the Now show on the BBC; in a negative Telegraph article about him, an online poll of over 70,000 Britons had 86% voting in favour of Sir Tim Hunt.
He was, unexpectedly, one of the most famous and popular scientists in Britain. Before June, the scientific community knew of him; after June, in England, Tim Hunt became a household name and a national treasure. Even the readers of the left-wing Guardian newspaper — which, six months late, corrected their original reporting — complained in such volumes to the paper that its readers’ editor had to publish a shame-faced article of reply.
It was quite some turnaround for the Nobel laureate.
Back in June, acting on the basis of mere tweets, Provost Michael Arthur sanctioned the sacking of Hunt from an unpaid honorary professorship at UCL. It was done via a call to his scientist wife, UCL’s actual employee, before even speaking to Hunt.
It was safe to say that Sir Tim Hunt’s autumn was a lot better than his summer. The Nobel prize winner opened a lab in Turkey for the European Molecular Biology Association (EMBO) whose first female director, Maria Leptin, he helped appoint:
A Romanian University granted Hunt his latest Honorary degree, Doctor Honoris Causa, voted on by the Biology Faculty, some of whose scientists are pictured here:
He also gave their conference a plenary lecture that was packed out with young scientists:
Rather movingly, Tim Hunt ended his lecture with this slide: ‘ABOVE ALL — Don’t Be Scared!’
Inspiring young scientists is Hunt’s first love, his joy, what he is best at, maybe even better than biology. The evidence-based young scientists, male and female, all races, went on the man they saw, not caring about his demonisation.
After I shared photos of this event, I was contacted by an attendee, and I reproduce her message here. It speaks for itself:
I saw that man [Tim Hunt], I followed his interaction with students, I talked with him, even if I’m not a biologist. I can say just that he is a simple person, a positive man (very positive:)), he likes very much joking (that’s why “they” had the opportunity to make him all those bad things, because you can understand whatever you want from a joke- the bad or the good thing of it) and he likes talking to the students. He talked a lot with them, almost all the time he had the opportunity. I can say that you don’t have the impression you are talking to a nobel prize winner, but to a good person:)
Thereafter, Hunt delivered a Plenary Lecture for a cancer institute in the UK, attracting a packed audience and broad praise from scientists of both sexes. He opened it rather bravely: “Be yourself, whereever you are.”
“Brilliant and funny talk from Tim Hunt, but he fails to address the elephant in the room… How long has he worn that jumper for?” asked Dr. Richard Berks.
These public reactions were typical of a quiet, but determined, revolt by scientists over the treatment of their colleague earlier this year. Things had looked bleak indeed for Sir Tim Hunt on June 10th, when he became a scientific pariah, publicly shamed on Twitter as a misogynist.
Twitstorming After the Knight Before
The Times, Buzzfeed, and the Daily Beast, amongst others, had published reports that the Nobel Prizewinner was a gross sexist. And a reporter, Connie St. Louis, had gone on the BBC’s Today Show programme with Sir Tim Hunt — and BBC Breakfast television — to tell the UK more about Hunt’s almost unbelievable transgression.
And it was the UK that mattered, in terms of destroying Tim Hunt’s career and reputation. He was English; he was a Fellow of the Royal Society, where he sat on a small prize committee; he had an Honorary Professorship at UCL, which was about to finish (Hunt had already ended his commitment to them); and he was a member of the European Research Council, or ERC, a politically independent, autonomous body of the European Commission, set up to promote science continent-wide
So the reports of Connie St. Louis stunned the world of science in the UK, and across the world. By the end of the day, Sir Tim Hunt had been forced to resign from UCL and the ERC, and chosen to step down from the Royal Society’s prize committee, of his own accord. The Royal Society had, however, publicly distanced itself from his ‘views’.
And Tim Hunt became the subject of organised Twitter shaming in order to achieve this result.
So what did Connie St. Louis report of Hunt that could have this cataclysmic effect?
Well, she’d tweeted the following on the afternoon of June 8th, after a lunch at the World Conference of Science Journalists:
On BBC radio and television St. Louis described the reaction in the room to an appalled nation:
There was this deathly silence… nobody was laughing. He jumped up, said ‘I’m a chauvinist pig’, then thanked the women for making lunch, because that was their role. Then he goes into these three things that women are a problem about. And the idea you should have segregated labs, in this day and age! Take your cues for the audience… nobody thinks you’re funny. And so after he finished, there was this deathly, deathly silence.
….I didn’t think it was intended as a joke, at all. I’d just like to say that he went on for at least five to seven minutes. You don’t go on like that.
St. Louis repeated her account on BBC TV, very calmly:
Not in the slightest bit humorous. It was a room of about a hundred people? Nobody was laughing. Everybody was stony-faced.
Other words she used to describe the reaction: ‘shocked’ ‘aghast’ ‘head in their hands’.
The Korean female scientists who had hosted us looked shocked and aghast. And afterwards, a lot of my colleagues were together and taking notes, because they couldn’t believe that anybody could be so…sexist.’
Sir Tim Hunt had never spoken to St. Louis. Despite many opportunities, as I shall reveal, she never approached him at WCSJ or asked him for comment. He would later say of her performance on the Today Show:
the original Today program had this woman called Connie St Louis on it, who I don’t know at all, and her account was quite inaccurate and very selective. She said that nobody laughed, and later a tape came to light that said well, they did laugh. It was clear that I was being jokey and ironical.
Hunt’s Toast: Unremarked on at #WCSJ2015
In this piece, I hope to present some data journalism on the true reaction in Seoul — or rather the lack of it.
Data proves the following:
- Tim Hunt actually spoke for 2–3 minutes, not ‘at least 5–7’
- He, and other audience members, were smiling
- Hunt ended his toast with congratulations to women in science, and a wish that nothing would hold them back
- Hunt was mocking himself, using an ironic tone to do so, as he said ‘monsters like me’
- He sat to laughter and applause
- Far from being ‘completely ruined’, lunch proceeded normally, and ended less than five minutes later
Data also proves that if anybody was offended, they weren’t offended enough to say anything about it. There are no negative mentions of Hunt from WCSJ 2015 until Connie St. Louis and Deborah Blum’s “Sexism in Science” session. At this session, Blum, St. Louis, and Charles Seife, a Professor of Journalism at NYU, would all report that ‘Tim Hunt’ entered, stood at the back and was “given a chance to clarify” as he was “questioned about it by journalists who were at the lunch” (Blum, St. Louis and Seife). They reported that, far from answering these public charges of sexism, arrogant ‘Tim Hunt’ stood aloof at the back of the room, his hands behind his head, smiling.
That is because he wasn’t Sir Tim Hunt. (He was probably the journalist Ron Winslow).
Far from showing contempt during a “Sexism in Science” session, Hunt was in another conference room, listening attentively to the lectures of two female scientists, Drs. Laefer and Gabrys, whom he he had accompanied to Seoul to promote. You might call it “Feminism in Science.”
The future hero of #DistractinglySexy followed this with an interview with a female science journalist from Kenya (what a misogynist bastard).
A “World Conference of Science Journalists” didn’t check their facts. Both Sir Tim Hunt and the female scientists he had accompanied to Seoul left the conference completely unaware of any upset.
Is it any wonder that as the facts have slowly come to light, the scientific community has examined the evidence (as scientists do) and restored Tim Hunt’s reputation?
The Backlash to the Backlash
In their recent Medium piece, Dan Waddell and Paula Higgins have asserted that the reporting of St. Louis was broadly accurate. They decry the backlash of scientists, and the general public, against it.
In order to support their conclusion Waddell and Higgins draw on the testimonies of previously unreported eyewitnesses at the lunch, who say they found Sir Tim’s comments offensive. Higgins and Waddell also stress how fast the shocking news of Hunt’s ‘sexism’ spread around WCSJ2015:
As soon as the lunch was over, the conference was abuzz with news of Hunt’s comments. Argentinian journalist Javier Cruz told us:
‘As soon as it happened, the Tim Hunt affair basically hijacked most of the rest of the Conference in terms of dominating the conversation during coffee breaks and bus shuttles to and from the venue.’
But as the RT data shows, these assertions are simply false. As well as the bald, telling graph showing the lack of interest in St. Louis’ breathless account of a sexist Nobel prizewinner wanting to segregate labs, we can show further evidence of bad faith reporting.
Is it wrong to report comments you think are sexist? Certainly not. But it is wrong, and is against basic journalistic ethics, to report them partially, leaving out crucial context deliberately.
It is also wrong to lie in your reporting.
St. Louis, Blum and Oransky knowingly partially reported in the tweet they verified; Blum admitted Hunt praised women in science, but she left this out.
St. Louis, Blum and Oransky knowingly falsely reported in the tweet they all verified; the lunch was not “ruined” and Sir Tim Hunt did not want, or argue for, ‘segregated labs’, which was presented in the tweet as a serious statement. Mary Collins picked Deborah Blum up on this point, among many others, and Blum refused to reply.
Additional specific lies in the tweet and the subsequent reporting were that Hunt spoke to a ‘room full of women scientists’, by Deborah Blum in the Daily Beast:
The real point is that that telling a roomful of female scientists that they aren’t really welcome in a male-run laboratory is the sound of a slamming door
She was repeating this lie to Wired magazine as late as October:
he joked to a room full of female scientists
At least 90% of the room were journalists, not scientists, and they were fully mixed-sex. Blum saw this clearly.
Deborah Blum also lied when she suggested that Hunt seriously argued for sex-segregated labs. She said he “made a case” for it:
you already know the incendiary, sexist comments that followed….Next he made a case that science might work better if we separated researchers into single-sex laboratories.
Hunt did no such thing. He had a total of 2.5 minutes on his feet. Given all we know he said in the brief toast, he couldn’t have fitted in “a case that science might work better” into the time.
She and St. Louis both lied in stating that Tim Hunt was not joking. This might be a mistake had they not both separately let it slip that ‘the hosts’ as Blum erroneously referred to Dr. Paik of KOFWST had asked Hunt not to joke about his love life:
I didn’t think it was intended as a joke, at all. — Connie St. Louis on the Today Show
Therefore, both reporters, while stating Hunt wasn’t joking, knew that he was in advance of their reports. Since Blum means KOFWST by hosts, incidentally, either Dr. Paik or she is lying about this ‘warning’; Paik says she never spoke either to Hunt or Blum, remarkable for a woman who sat between them.
They lied in saying the lunch was ‘ruined’ — it finished normally five minutes after Hunt sat down to applause.
St. Louis lied in saying Hunt sat to deathly silence. She lied in saying he ‘asked the women to make lunch, because that was their role’. She lied in saying ‘very clearly, nobody was smiling — everybody was stony-faced’ and ‘nobody laughed’. All of those are specific lies, rather than mistakes. By contrast, ‘at least five to seven minutes’ could be a mistake.
St. Louis reported unethically that Sir Tim Hunt had ‘thanked the women for making lunch, because that was their role.’ She did this not just once, but again and again. Nor was St. Louis accusation a passing one. She said Hunt did this to emphasise how hatefully sexist he was.
Well, there was a deathly silence, it was — who stands up and says “I hope the women have prepared the lunch”? “I’m a male chauvinist pig”. — Connie St. Louis, the Today Show
Who would stand up and say such a thing? Connie drove home her point with more detail on the television:
He stood up, declared that the women had probably prepared the lunch, ’cause that was their role, and then went into this “I’m a chauvinist”, and then into his three things that girls are a problem about. — Connie St. Louis on BBC TV
And St. Louis repeated this lie about Tim Hunt to the Times:
She also stood by her claim he had thanked the women for lunch.
Now to Sue Nelson, St. Louis admits (December, six months late)
What about saying he’d thanked the women for lunch? St Louis is not alone in believing he said this but is happy to admit she got that wrong if the consensus says otherwise.
Yet St. Louis reported this because she thought Watkins tweet, the only reply she got on June 8th, referred to Tim Hunt. She RTed it. She favourited it. St. Louis got it from his tweet. She didn’t misremember. Because Dr. Paik of KOFWST, who actually made these sexist remarks, didn’t even speak directly before Tim Hunt. There was Deborah Blum in the middle of them!
What a nasty, nasty lie!
St. Louis was adding to the Buzzfeed and Daily Beast reports on that day which had used their misunderstanding of Scott Watkins’ tweets as a headline. They retracted, she didn’t. But by the time they retracted, 48 hours late, 84% of all the RTs of the Daily Beast article had already happened. The damage and false framing was done. Ethical journalism? Out to lunch. Amirite?
Unethical reporting came from Blum and St. Louis in stating that Sir Tim Hunt was in the ‘sexism in science’ session the next day where he had the chance to rebut charges of sexism. Hunt wasn’t there, they didn’t check, and they whispered this — as a fact — to favoured journalist friends like Sue Nelson as late as the end of October. This secret reporting to pals is, you guessed it, yet another journalistic ethics violation:
“He Said What He Said” —So Why Didn’t They Report It?
The oath in the courtroom is ‘I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’
Connie St. Louis, Blum, and Oransky would pass the first clause, and fail the other two. As Mary Collins upbraided Deborah Blum; Blum knew Hunt was being ironic, but didn’t report it; she false reported a serious advocacy of single-sex labs; she left out his praise of women in science.
When Tim Hunt’s persecutors were exposed, firstly by the leaked EC report, then the audio tape of laughter and applause, they retreated into: “He said what he said”. Alas, Deborah Blum, Ivan Oranskly and Connie St. Louis did not report “what Tim Hunt said” — even by their own accounts of the story. They reported, poorly, a fraction of the man’s short, kindly-meant toast, leaving out his praise of women in science, women science journalists, Korean women, and warm congratulations to all the women in attendance.
WCSJ Lunch Organizers Asked Hunt To Give a Welcome Speech That Night
Well, it obviously wasn’t that much of a shock, because the WFSJ and KJSA asked Tim Hunt to do them the favour of another welcoming speech just a few hours later. (So much for Deborah Blum’s “incendiary” comments).
- After the not-ruined lunch, his hosts who were sitting at the same table, requested of Hunt, again, as a favour to them, to deliver a ‘Welcome Speech’ at an evening reception on June 8th. His fellow speaker on that evening stage? Once more, it was Deborah Blum.
- WFSJ journalists and officials who had been at the lunch introduced Tim Hunt, applauded him, and mingled with him — when he’d allegedly “scandalised” them all just hours before.
- Hunt stayed at this party for science journalists for two hours, mingling with them and chatting with them. Connie St. Louis, and her co-reporters Ivan Oransky and Deborah Blum, were all there with Sir Tim, and none of them fact-checked with him, or asked him to clarify. Nor did any other science journalist.
‘He’s Given a Good Account of Himself’
Deborah Blum Praises Tim Hunt, June 9th
After the backlash, Blum and Oransky presented themselves as having given Sir Tim a chance to clarify his remarks. That was untrue.
Blum did not seek comment from Hunt. Instead, Sir Tim spotted his co-panelist, and chose to sit next to her.
If Blum had wanted to take that opportunity to “clarify” — and “clarify” was her own word — she could easily have recorded this conversation — she had a smartphone. But she chose not to; nor did she take journalistic notes. Therefore, this was not an interview, nor a “chance to clarify”.
And Tim Hunt flatly denies Blum’s unrecorded, un-minuted account.
According to a bewildered Hunt, Deborah Blum did not criticise his speech, at their meeting. Instead, she merely said ‘Your remarks created quite a stir.’ When he explained that he was being ironic, and sending up the pain of his own love life in the lab, he said Blum seemed pleased.
Hunt claims that, as they were finishing breakfast, a man approached them and said ‘You’re not talking to him, are you?’ Far from criticising Hunt, Blum allegedly replied ‘He’s given a good account of himself.’
I put Sir Tim’s direct account to Ms. Blum. More importantly, so did Professor Collins. Blum refused to answer either of us.
Dan Waddell has indicated on Twitter that Deborah Blum now claims to have made notes in a notebook later. But Blum was in possession of her smartphone. She could have recorded Tim Hunt at the time, chose not to, deliberately; therefore she has no notes. Waddell excuses Blum on the grounds that she might not have known how to use a smartphone. This is risibly sexist; Blum is a science journalist, on the Board of the WFSJ.
Taking no contemporary recording, then inventing notes after the fact, is yet another violation of basic journalistic ethics.
This is extraordinary stuff for somebody who runs a journalism program, as an admin, at MIT, with the Knight Science Foundation. MIT is a university that has prided itself on both a commitment to science, and academic rigour.
The questions from Professor Collins that Deborah Blum refused to answer are here:
did #timhunt say “ *the* problem with women in labs” at breakfast?
who came up at the end and said “you’re not talking to *him*?” similar. Was this man at lunch day before?
a man who seemed to be a friend of yours came up at end said “are you talking to *him*?” Who was that? Was he at lunch?
Tim says you started “your remarks have caused a stir” or similar. Didn’t realise from your demeanour you were upset/angry [LM — this means Blum did not put charges of sexism to Hunt, so no chance to “clarify” as she stated — Blum did not tell Hunt what he stood accused of]
apparently gave similar explanation to you as always, ie his own emotional failings, single sex labs not serious
when your pal came up you said “he’s given a good account of himself” or similar. Tim thought you had parted on good terms
no one else spoke to him, or in his presence, about lunchtime toast while he was in Korea
Deborah Blum refused to answer any of these questions, presumably as she would have to agree with Sir Tim’s account if she did.
Worst. ‘Science Journalists’. Ever.
A Nobel Laureate ‘Calls for Segregated Labs’ — And No Reports?
But data supports Hunt’s account of the conversation, not Blum’s. For all through June 9th, during the daytime sessions, Deborah Blum did not report on her breakfast encounter. She tweeted, sure, but not about Tim Hunt.
And Deborah Blum was not alone. For the entirety of the next day’s WCSJ sessions, no journalist, present at lunch or not, tweeted or wrote a single word about Hunt’s “shockingly sexist” remarks of the prior day. They’d slept on it, and they were still ignoring it.
One poignant example of the total lack of interest: On June 9th, there was a filmed, House of Commons style debate on the “state of science journalism”. Plenty of those who were at the prior day’s lunch were there, including Charles Seife. Guess what? Sir Tim Hunt’s name never came up once.
If the conference was, as Waddell and Higgins assert, aflame with the news of Hunt’s “sexist remarks”, then it was staffed by the WORST SCIENCE JOURNALISTS EVER, as none of them so much mentioned what was to become one of the biggest science stories of the year.
During June 9th, no less than four WCSJ journalists had formal interviews with Sir Tim Hunt. None of them asked him a word about these allegedly “sexist” and “shocking” remarks.
Ulla Jarvi, from Finland, a witness cited against Hunt by Waddle and Higgins, actually wrote blogs about it which displayed unease. She would not have reported it, she said:
Maybe Finnish journalists are just kinder than our British colleagues.
Jarvi’s blog makes two other important points. First, it concurs with the data we supply here. There was NO reaction in Seoul to Hunt’s short joke that day. The line in Waddell and Higgins that:
As soon as the lunch was over, the conference was abuzz with news of Hunt’s comments.
is demonstrably false.
In yet another piece of dishonest journalism, Waddell and Higgins quote Ulla Jarvi from Finland and link to her blogs without telling their readers what is in those blogs. For Ulla Jarvi, of the European Science Journalists, gives the lie to Deborah Blum’s Daily Beast account. Blum says in that the three journalists decided:
Connie would tweet the event; Ivan and I would retweet her. And that’s what we did.
But according to Ulla Jarvi, that was not true. Jarvi notes that the other journalists, including Deborah Blum, did NOT retweet St. Louis false account and she also reports why that delay happened:
All of my colleagues did not, however, ignore these bad words. An American journalist and communications professor Deborah Blum, a British science journalist Connie St Louis were shocked by the Nobel laureate’s chauvinism and asked whether he was in earnest. Hunt said he was.
Only after this check did reporters start to tweet, or share on social networks Hunt’s thoughts on women in science.
Actually, even this wasn’t true. Until Connie and Deborah mistook Ron Winslow for Tim Hunt on the evening of the 9th, nobody was talking about Tim Hunt.
Deborah Blum told Ulla Jarvi something completely different than her account in the Daily Beast that ‘to keep it simple’ ‘Connie would tweet the account, and Ivan and I would RT her’
I asked later, at the Conference, Deborah Blum why she ended up tweeting about it. Deborah told me she considered ignoring the matter, but when she was checked specifically if Hunt was in earnest, and when he said definitely, no other alternative was left to the reporter.
Tosh from Blum; Hunt never said any such thing. But she delayed in verifying the St. Louis lie; so her account in the Daily Beast is untrue.
Other reporters who would admit the delay were Valeria Roman (of whom more below) and Wolfgang Goede, the President of the European Science Journalists. He wrote a daily account of the conference, published each day, to describe the day before. In this link we see his account of Day Three (the 10th). Goede quite clearly describes the “news” that Hunt was accused of sexism spreading “like wildfire” at the main conference Gala dinner; the same time that Connie St. Louis was broadcasting her breathlessly false account on the BBC Today Show.
This is an official WFSJ record of the conference; and it documents that barely any attendees even knew when Hunt’s joke happened.
The title of a famous German bestseller applies to science journalists. Day 3 of WCSJ 2015 Seoul tried to identify a rare species by the name of _science journalist_. But before, yesterday’s sexism session blew over, delayed in time and brought some unpredicted results.
It was in the evening hours. Young Koreans, highly skillfully and determined, presented taekwondo martial arts. As if 30 Bruce Lees had conquered the stage. But a piece of news spread around like wildfire and almost stole the fighters the show. The nobel laureate who had reasoned at the beginning of the conference about the creativity of science was charged to have brought out at midday’s luncheon sexist remarks. On BBC, a witness described what she had heard. Most renowned scientific institutions distanced themselves from the scientist. Media, blogs and twitter glowed.1
Indeed, the interview that Tim Hunt gave to the Kenyan journalist after he watched Drs. Laefer and Gabrys lecture was printed as if she imagined that he had not yet made the joke at that time — so confused was the account, and the journalist, Joy Muraya, had obviously heard nothing about it when she sat down with Hunt on June 9th:
Before the controversial comments, Hunt had an interview with The Standard
MIT Knight Science’s Ethics Failures
Among all the various false, partial reports, however, one group truly stands out; that led by Deborah Blum, the MIT Knight Science Foundation programme.
MIT is a university that prides itself on its scientific expertise. Sources say Deborah Blum has been warned by MIT over her behaviour on the Tim Hunt story. Many scientists with associations with the university are, sources say, very unhappy.
They are about to become more so.
The false memory of those at the lunch, as detailed in the contradictory recollections of eyewitnesses adduced by Waddell and Higgins (below), is one thing. But the MIT Knight Science programme at WCSJ 2015 colluded together with a range of ethics failures that reflect incredibly badly on both institutions.
These involve plain lying, false and partial reporting by Deborah Blum, the administrator of the program; plain lying by Frederico Kukso, who was part of it; undeclared conflict of interest and lying by an actual MIT Professor, Thomas Levenson; and conflict of interest, partial reporting and failure to correct known lies by Valeria Roman and Cristine Russell of the MIT Knight Science Programme.
There is also a commercial conflict of interest with MIT Knight Science, Undark, their new science magazine, and with the Boston Globe.
Frederick Kukso, @FedKukso, was an MIT Knight Science Fellow who went to the lunch. Dan Waddell and Paula Higgins adduce him as a witness. They say:
Another eyewitness, Federico Kukso, a science journalist from Argentina, told us that those who were listening closely to his comments ‘were in shock’
Asked whether he regarded St Louis’s remarks as tweeted to be accurate he said:
‘Yes. What I don’t understand is the “army of trolls” that keep attacking science journalists like Deborah Blum, or Connie St Louis or Thomas Levenson. I don’t get it.’
But this is an incredible turnaround by Kukso. On the night of the 10th June, he answered a journalist who had tweeted ‘Tim Hunt’s mother has already applied for a retroactive abortion’ by saying:
‘I was at this lunch. It’s all a huge exaggeration.’
The other man replies: ‘I read Connie, but I trust you. Did he say it or not?’ Kukso:
‘Yes, but I was surprised that nobody said anything at the time. Making a big deal out of what was a small, informal joke.’
Replying to a different journalist who tweeted the Guardian article announcing Hunt’s forced resignation from UCL, Kusko said, again:
‘I was at the lunch where he said it. For me, it’s all a total exaggeration.’
The journalist replied it was great publicity for the conference.
‘I don’t think so In two years, we’ll remember the conference for Tim Hunt gate’.
At least it puts the issue of sexism in the lab on the agenda, the woman said. Kukso replied:
‘I’m not saying the words weren’t offensive, but it’s being used for a political agenda. Tell you later.’
I believe people didn’t notice these tweets, because they were in Spanish. When Waddell and Higgins published their piece, citing Kukso as an eyewitness who now told them St. Louis’ remarks as tweeted were accurate — including ‘lunch was completely ruined’ etc — I confronted Kukso:
This translates to ‘All a big exaggeration… but it’s being used politically. Tell you later.’ I had copy-pasted from Kukso’s tweets. He replied: ‘I didn’t say that. Stop lying.’
I responded ‘Oh, I think you said exactly that, sir. Who is this, then?’ And I linked him to his own tweets:
At this point,a Spanish Professor, Federico Prat Villar, who had been following the Tim Hunt story, in a balanced way — he had corrected me over errors, for some example [update: indeed, he has suggested I revise some translations of spanish here, and I mark those with a star ]— jumped in, outraged.
He had read Kukso’s earlier tweets because I asked him to give me a good translation of “Pero….” — I wanted to be quite sure I was getting the meaning of “It’s being used politically, tell you later” correct. Prof. Prat Villar told me that was indeed exactly what Kukso meant:
‘What a disappointment**, mate!’ Prof. Prat Villar said. ‘I’m not your mate,’ replied Kukso, who was busy deleting the tweets I linked him to. When I said I archived them, Kukso stopped deleting. All his deletions are preserved here.
Further, earlier in the debate, Kukso was asked about reports in the Argentine paper ‘LA NACION’ of the lunch. He and MIT Knight Science Fellow Valeria Roman were sources of this report; the author tweeted them for their accounts as Argentine eyewitnesses. The article stated ‘the audience did not laugh*’. When asked why he contributed to this falsehood, proved by the audio, Kukso replied:
‘Not everybody laughed.’
Ohhh-kay. Wooh! That’s cool then! Screw the misreporting! ‘Audience didn’t laugh’ = ‘Not everybody laughed’! Totally the same thing, because universal offence is identical to not everybody getting the joke!
Let’s look at the sequence of events here. Sir Tim Hunt was asked by clearly not-shocked conference hosts, KJSA and WFSJ, to make the evening welcome speech on the day of the lunch, remember? He was introduced by the same man who both invited him to lunch, and sat next to him then— the President of the KJSA. Deborah Blum joined him on that evening stage.
And each and every principal reporter against Hunt — St. Louis, Oransky, Seife, and the Knight Science gang — Kukso, Valeria Roman, Deborah Blum— all of them mingled with Hunt for two hours, but didn’t bring up his toast once. Let’s look at another picture from that party on the night of June 8th:
It’s a little bit ‘Where’s Waldo,’ but you can spot a smiling Sir Tim Hunt by his Hawaiian shirt. And to whom is he chatting? Why, Knight Science MIT’s own Mr. Federico Kukso!
Kukso tweeted that St. Louis’ report was ‘totally exaggerated’, a ‘small informal joke’ being ‘made into a big deal’, and ‘used politically’, three days after the lunch, and two days after Sexism in Science. And yet he would concur in a knowingly false report the same day.
Why? Because his MIT Knight Science colleagues Blum and Valeria Roman were glad that Hunt had been fired. Valeria Roman liked the La Nación reporter’s tweet: “Wow! He quit his job*”. This was now the line to take, and @FedKukso dutifully changed his story.
MIT Knight Science’s Valeria Roman would also be part of the false reporting. Clearly, she told La Nación “Nobody laughed”. She implied the same to Higgins and Waddell; ‘I did not laugh. Other female journalists did not laugh.’
Valeria Roman, Deborah Blum, and Cristine Russell were all on the Knight Science “sexism in science” panel, where “Tim Hunt” was reported to have ignored a direct question, with their new friend, Connie St. Louis. They had an obvious motivation to support her:
MIT Knight Science paid for this session. Deborah Blum organised it. All but one of the women above are MIT Knight Science.
Valeria Roman, Knight Science MIT, would double down on her false reporting. Although her piece of June 24th admitted that Hunt’s joke did not spread through Twitter until a day later — I give her credit for contradicting the lie that talking about it was immediate — she would also tweet that Tim Hunt had said he wanted to “exclude women from science”.
Extraordinary that MIT and the Knight Foundation allow such rubbish to emerge from their funding.
Cristine Russell must have known Ron Winslow was at the back of the sexism in science session later; she organised San Francisco’s bid. She had a duty, under the SPJ Code of Ethics, to blow the whistle on the unethical behaviour of both Deborah Blum and Connie St. Louis, for falsely reporting Hunt was present; but she did not.
Without checking with Sir Tim Hunt, she reported that Hunt was seriously “calling for single sex labs”. Russell was not present at lunch, so was regurgitating Blum and St. Louis, without checks. This, again, is an SPJ Ethics Code violation, in fact two: reporters must check with the subject of their allegation, and reporters must act independently. Russell did not do either:
I had a ringside seat for the running story of Nobel Prize-winner Sir Tim Hunt’s dismissive and offensive offhand remarks about female scientists. Reducing them to romantic distractions in the workplace that wilt in the face of criticism, he stunned an international audience by even calling for “single-sex labs.”
This was false reporting.
From MIT / Knight Science perspective, it matters because Cristine Russell was clearly a co-ordinated attempt to back up Deborah Blum’s false account, made the day before, in her Storify, of how Tim Hunt was ‘given a chance to clarify’ by ‘journalists who were at the lunch’ at Russell’s sexism in science session.
It is also a great illustration of how, as the backlash was underway following Sir Tim Hunt and Professor Collins’ interview of June 13th in the Observer, Deborah Blum and her MIT Knight Science group were collectively insisting Hunt had not been joking. That was the first line of defence. Blum’s 14 June Storify, including the Schroedinger’s Hunt falsehood, was called:
‘Tim Hunt “Jokes” About Women Scientists. Or Not.”
Russell’s 15 June insistence that Hunt had ‘stunned an international audience by calling for segregated labs” was called:
The same day, Blum — with the co-operation of Paik and KOFWST executive, though not, as we shall see, the KOFWST witness who denied Hunt was offensive to the ERC — wrote her Daily Beast piece, subtitled
The line that does not appear in the Korean version of Dr. Paik’s rude demand ‘Must not be portrayed as a private story told as a joke’ and which Deborah Blum exclusively had access to for her Daily Beast piece, further backs this line up. In her Beast piece, Blum refers again to the sexism session implying Hunt was asked by journalists there.
MIT would be implicated still deeper, by Blum’s pulling in of full professor Thomas Levenson and using the MIT Knight Science relationship with the Boston Globe to disseminate anti-Hunt propaganda. There was no declaration of interest by Levenson of his close friendship with Deborah Blum,
I should add what you may have guessed: Deborah is a good friend as well as a professional colleague.
….or of his previously exhibited bias in the story. He tweeted Blum on 14 June:
Even worse, two days before this, on 12 June, Levenson was shown, on Twitter, a video wherein Tim Hunt said he would love equal numbers of “boys and girls” in the lab “it would be rather jolly,” Hunt says. Thomas Levenson acknowledges this:
What is “odd” is a science professor at MIT writing to order against Tim Hunt in the Boston Globe without declaring any of this, and then taking a seat on the advisory board of his “good friend” Deborah Blum’s “Undark” science magazine later in the year.
Publisher, Deborah Blum. Advisory Board, Thomas Levenson. “A new venture from Knight Science MIT”.
Truth. Beauty. Science. Ethics, Not So Much.
Thus, between Deborah Blum, Valeria Roman, Fed Kukso, Cristine Russell and Thomas Leveson, MIT Knight Science are mired waist-high in ethical mud over the Tim Hunt debacle.
So Which Journalistic Ethics Were Violated?
For the layman, which is most of us, it’s hard to know exactly what ‘journalistic ethics’ mean. You and I would think ‘Ask the bloke’ and ‘check your facts’. ‘Ethics’ is a bit woolly.
But the US Society for Print Journalists has a basic ethics code. Kathryn O’ Hara, the photographer of Hunt’s breakfast chat with Blum, took pains to tell me she was not a signatory to this. But with her WFSJ Board hat on, she had recommended all young journalists follow this code.
It’s safe to say the WFSJ has endorsed it. A quick glance shows all that Deborah Blum did wrong, according to the journalists’ ethics code:
Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
But Deborah Blum most definitely did not do this. She stated on 14th June that Tim Hunt was asked about his crimes in ‘Sexism in Science’ as a fact. She didn’t ‘verify information before releasing it’. She told Sue Nelson that this was the case in private — not giving Tim or Mary the chance to correct her — more ethics violations. As Nelson went mad insisting Hunt was definitely, definitely there, that ‘a roomful of eyewitnesses’ had seen him, using hashtag #stopthemadness, Deborah Blum was agreeing with her all the way:
Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story
By her own account, Blum did not provide context when she said St. Louis got it right — later, after the damage was done to Hunt, she admitted he’d praised women in science
– Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
Blum and the rest of MIT did not seek comment from Sir Tim Hunt — because she did not tell him she thought his comment was sexist. Not one WCSJ 2015 attendee asked Hunt about it while he was in Seoul. This is the biggest ethics violation of them all.
Deborah Blum could have recorded Hunt on her smartphone at breakfast but instead invented post-hoc notes afterwards instead, and has not allowed any ally of Hunt’s to examine them, not that they would be worth much. Blum has concealed the sources, her own colleagues, who told her Hunt was at the back of sexism in science
Blum with Undark, Levenson, and Oransky, St. Louis as WFSJ Board members never declared this interest
Blum was repeatedly challeged by Professor Collins over her false reports about Tim Hunt both at breakfast and the ‘sexism in science’ session. In refusing to answer Professor Collins, she committed a journalistic ethics violation:
– Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
Blum admitted on Twitter that she made a false statement about Hunt’s attendance at Sexism in Science; which was also in her Storify and Daily Beast. She said ‘all I know’ but has never corrected, prominently or otherwise, this false reporting in her Storify and Daily Beast articles.
None of the reporters who knew St. Louis’ accounts were false stated this: and Deborah Blum RTed and praised her. None of the ‘roomful of eyewitnesses’ Sue Nelson was citing came forward — including Blum, Seife, and others — and admitted who made that shit up. Remember, Deborah Blum said Hunt was directly asked in the session. Somebody — she won’t say who — told Sue Nelson that “Tim Hunt” had his hands behind his head, smiling, as he refused to answer.
Nelson is British, so she is not bound by the SPJ’s code of ethics. But it is clear she was talking to Deborah Blum and Charles Seife, as well as St. Louis. If either of them told her this, or reported to her that someone said it, or if they knew who told Nelson this lie, they are duty bound to admit their slander, or name the journalist who told Nelson this, reporting their unethical journalistic conduct.
They have not done so.
Story Only Reported Because Charles Seife Felt Snubbed
At 4:30 pm on the 9th, Sir Tim Hunt was introducing Drs. Laefer and Gabrys, two female scientists in receipt of one of the ERC’s most prestigious grants. He stayed throughout their lectures, posed for photographs, then did an interview with a female science journalist from Kenya.
Also at 4:30, Deborah Blum of MIT Knight Science had organised and sponsored a panel on ‘sexism in science’. It featured her MIT colleague Cristine Russell on the panel, along with Connie St. Louis.
Deborah Blum and Charles Seife both raised the topic of Hunt’s “sexist” remarks. They both reported that Tim Hunt entered the sexism in science session and stood at the back, refusing to answer questions about his “sexist” remarks.
“Tim Hunt” had his chance to clear things up — and, Blum reported on June 14th, he blew it!
This tweet began Blum’s storify of 14th of June. It is not, as Sue Nelson has suggested in her recent blog, an “implication”. No, it is a flat out statement. “Journalists who were at the Tim Hunt lunch asked him about his statements, gave him a chance to clarify”. Well, that sounds fair, doesn’t it? And Deborah Blum was speaking of MIT Knight Foundation’s own sexism session. Who could disagree?
Because at least one of the journalists at the lunch, Charles Seife, is also a WFSJ big cheese — he’s a Professor of Journalism at NYU.
That sounds ominous for Sir Tim Hunt, doesn’t it? A Pulitzer prizewinner from MIT and a journalist Professor from NYU?
And “Tim Hunt” refused to answer Professor Charles Seife! Outrageous! This session was sexism in science, he’d walked in, had he nothing to say?
Seife told Sue Nelson:
the person next to me [sic] mentioned Hunt was at the back of the room when Seife asked his question.
But in fact, there was nobody sitting next to Charles Seife. Photographs show that while nobody sat next to Seife, as he claimed to Sue Nelson, Dan Fagin of the WFSJ - a keynote speaker at the conference - was sitting directly behind him. Charitably supposing that perhaps might have Seife meant this, instead, I asked Fagin if he had been the person who said “Tim Hunt is at the back of this room”.
Fagin said no: ‘I wonder what the view is like from your grassy knoll’?
I had to tell him that it was not I, but professor Charles Seife, who had invented this quote. Clearly, Seife also lied about the source of the invented quote.
A week later, Seife claimed to Sue Nelson that the nonexistent “person next to him” had “gotten it secondhand”.
(Seife’s wholescale lack of integrity in this matter was compounded by his certainty about his awful memory on twitter. He didn’t hesitate to accuse Hunt of lying, then had to immediately retract):
(Compare the RTs of the falsehood, 104, to the RTs of its immediate retraction, 3).
“Tim Hunt” then made his fatal mistake. He didn’t just refuse to answer Seife, he snubbed him. “Sir Tim” was reported to have stood there with his hands behind his head, smiling contemptuously as Seife asked the question:
Well, Charles wasn’t having that. He hadn’t re-tweeted St. Louis on June 8, or thought Hunt’s allegedly sexist toast worth talking about. But when he thought his own question was snubbed….
Seife was quick to accuse Hunt and to take offence. He was a man who liked to stand on his dignity. After all, Tim Hunt had dared, at the party on the evening of June the 8th, to say:
a mischievous look in his eyes… the same look that I saw a couple of hours later when he uttered, sotto voce, a comment essentially implying that science journalists were a useless bunch. Again, at a conference of science journalists
How very dare he!! Who on earth would say that science journalists were a useless bunch, who might, for example, report that Ron Winslow was Tim Hunt!
It was only after this tweet— after all, Seife is a Professor of Journalism — that St. Louis’ tweet spread at all. One more look at the graph, this time adding “Sexism in Science” to the TL:
Seife began the buzz. It would continue through simultaneous suppers, too. Deborah Blum, Ivan Oransky and Connie St. Louis were at a sit-down sponsored supper for Korean women scientists (probably WISET, who had a booth). St. Louis addressed the room, doubtless overjoyed that Charles Seife had verified her bullshit. At or just after this dinner, Deborah Blum finally agreed with St. Louis. Late at night, almost 3am on the 10th, Ivan Oransky did too.
Only in October did Deborah Blum finally admit she had falsely reported on June 14th and 15th. But she did not apologise, nor did she retract, or correct, the lie in her Storify and Daily Beast pieces. The SPJ Code of Ethics requires her to do so prominently. Good news, readers of Undark magazine! Surely a a major story in issue one, your publisher prominently correcting her lie!
Back in June, however, there commenced a frenzy of journalistic malpractice that would never pass muster at today’s tabloid papers.
‘Conflict of Interest’ meant nothing whatsoever at the World Federation of Science Journalists. None of the principal reporters ever declared their interests even as WFSJ Board members. (Blum, Oransky, and St. Louis all were). It would look pretty bad for the organisation, after all, if they admitted the newly elected to the Board member, Connie St. Louis was lying.
Further, they rang up friendly reporters who owed them favours, without declaring their interests. (Cat Ferguson of Buzzfeed was Ivan Oransky’s former intern at Retraction Watch).
In March, we asked Retraction Watch readers for some financial support. A number of you contributed and continue to…retractionwatch.com
These reporters ran their stories without the most cursory checks on any facts, or waiting to get a comment from the accused.
A Nobel prizewinner wants segregated labs, and thanks women scientists for making his lunch, as Brandy Zadrozny of the Daily Beast, and Cat Ferguson, both reported?
The non-story no WCSJ attendee had reported was now #DistractinglySexy — the red-hot story that was ‘too good to check’.
The Times did not speak to Hunt (although they more than made good on their first story with their subsequent reporting). St. Louis told Tom Whipple there was ‘nervous laughter’ and hours later — after her keynote speech — told the BBC ‘Nobody laughed… deadly silence’.
Ivan Oransky, too, contradicted his own account within minutes. In the early hours he told his pal Ferguson “I wouldn’t call them quotes” because he hadn’t written them down contemporaneously, but he tweeted “the three of us were shocked, gathered quotes.”
The BBC’s Today show called a totally unsuspecting Hunt on his way to the airport. He saw a PDF of the front page of the Times on his phone (so small) and only glanced at it. Hunt said ‘My words were quite accurately reported’ referring to St. Louis’ direct quotes, but he disputed her reporting in general. On the Today show, St. Louis said Hunt did not intend it as a joke; Hunt said he did. St. Louis said he ‘thanked the women for making the lunch, because that was their role’ ; Hunt said the women speakers before him had done this, and so forth.
Deborah Blum, who verified St. Louis tweet saying “she’s got it right”, would later report in her Storify on June 14 and Daily Beast of June 15 that Hunt had opened his speech with comments on “the importance and value of women in science” and “paid tribute to capable female scientists that he knew”.
Yet she left this out of her “quotes” and of the tweet that she verified, saying St. Louis “got it right”.
By her own admission, this is partial reporting, and left out the most significant exculpatory thing — Hunt had praised women in his toast! Why did not Blum say so? She waited until all Hunt’s jobs and roles had gone before “reporting” this salient fact.
Blum, Oransky and St. Louis would mimic the rest of the eyewitnesses by contradicting each other on every detail of the joke and its subsequent reporting. St. Louis said:
Unbeknown to each other [Ivan Oransky and I] had written down what we had heard Hunt say at the lunch. Our quotes were identical, which meant we could independently verify the story
Oransky denied it:
we hadn’t taken notes — wasn’t that kind of a luncheon
Hunt ..did not.. praise the role of women in science. I wish he had — things would have been so much better.
Hunt began by paying tribute to the capable female scientists that he knew.
The papers were no better. Canada’s National Post:
(Hunt thanked the women journalists for “making lunch” before beginning his remarks.)
The New York Times:
Within minutes, the comments, which were greeted with stony silence and no little anger at the conference, spurred a global backlash.
Sexist Scientist: I Was Being ‘Honest’
The above is the title of Deborah Blum’s Daily Beast piece, and it reflects worldwide coverage of the BBC’s Today Show programme.
I now believe that the producers of the Today show made an honest mistake in understanding Sir Tim’s rambling explanation from the airport. No malice was intended. But they did get one crucial part horribly wrong, and so did the BBC website afterwards.
Tim Hunt said he meant the part about having trouble with girls, referring to his own love life in the lab. The BBC would later report this as Hunt saying “the trouble with girls in the lab” or “women in the lab” — i.e., they made it a general critique of women, by Tim Hunt.
[His Today interview] made it much worse because they transported, “Let me tell you about my troubles with girls” to “THE trouble with girls.”
[Louise Mensch has] now done an analysis of what the Today program said I said and it’s quite clear that they put words in my mouth which I had never uttered and were far from what I meant.
This, regretfully, true. The Today Show’s preview item started like this:
7:15 There are three problems with having women in the laboratory — according to the Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt
There are many hundreds of examples, but the BBC’s websites, World Service, TV and other examples — all state funded by the license fee payer — repeated, again and again, that Hunt had criticised all “women in the laboratory” and “THE trouble with ‘girls in labs’.
And his “I was only trying to be honest, actually” was said to apply to his mythic criticism of women in the laboratory.
Tim Hunt made comments about the “trouble with girls” in science — but said he had “meant to be honest”.
It’s important to say that Tim Hunt and Professor Collins accept the BBC’s admission of mistakes and that they meant well. Hunt, for sure, rambles.
In fact, the BBC admitted in an apology to me:
wording used by [the presenter was] wrongly attribute[d] to Tim Hunt… for that, we are sorry.
The wording referred to, that it was said Tim Hunt had said, was “women in the lab”. He never did, not once. The BBC also said:
It is true that our understanding of Tim Hunt’s remarks in Seoul, and the involvement of some of those who reported them, has evolved considerably in the meantime
I accept that no malice was intended, Hunt himself said he ‘rambled’.
The ‘I was just trying to be honest’ was broadcast as though it applied to Tim Hunt’s views of “women in science”. It did not. As the BBC apology states, the phrase occurred in isolation and was ambiguous to them. I accept this. Their intent, they say, was to get over that Sir Tim had apologized — not to make it seem that he meant about women.
Hunt was, in fact, simply asked by the interviewer if he would consider apologizing, and he replied:
Interviewer: Would you consider apologizing?
Tim Hunt: I mean I’m really really sorry that I caused any offence — that’s awful. I certainly didn’t mean — I just meant to be honest, actually.
There’s nothing there that REMOTELY suggests “I’m being honest that women in science are idiots”.
Six months later, the Guardian have corrected their wrong story of June 10th — their first.
Right after he spoke to the Today show, he got an email for comment from Rebecca Ratcliffe of the Guardian. He was about to get on the plane, so he replied, hours BEFORE the Today show even broadcast:
From: Tim Hunt <>
Date: 10 June 2015 at 03:55:38 EEST
To: Rebecca Ratcliffe <>
Subject: Re: Guardian — World Conference of Science Journalists speech
Thanks for your email — I’m just about to get on the plane home and I doubt if there’s time to call you. I’m very sorry that what I thought were light- hearted ironic remarks were taken so seriously, and I’m very sorry if people took offence. I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather be honest about my own shortcomings.
The Guardian, due to a mistake by its editor, did not print this. However, the entire piece should probably have been pulled. It asserted as facts, things Hunt denied on the record.
More importantly, by the time the Guardian snuck out Hunts “honest about my own shortcomings” the Today show, which had attributed this apology as referring to “women in science”, had broadcast, and Hunt’s assertion that he was being honest about his own shortcomings — not dreadful women — came across as mere spin.
If only journalism were as honest as kindly Tim Hunt.
Academic Failures — No Evidence Base
Ginger Pinholster, via Marcia Nutt of the American Academy of Sciences, without bothering to speak with Tim Hunt, disinvited Sir Tim from a webinar he had kindly agreed to host at the forthcoming Lindau meeting. The American Academy of Science has the dubious distinction, under @gingerpin, of being the first quasi academic institution to dishonour a Nobel scientist without getting his side of the story. Marcia Nutt, at the persuasion of Pinolster, emailed June 9th, June 10th in Seoul. Pinholster tweeted this on behalf of AAAS before Hunt had a chance to reply or speak to Nutt.
The AAAS had, therefore, the dubious distinction of being the first institution to act based on a tweet without contacting Hunt first.
The second was UCL. Based on a campaign by anti-Hunt obsessive, Professor David Colquhoun, who has become a global laughing stock, UCL publicly tweeted about Tim Hunt and demanded he quit before speaking to him.
Colquhoun insisted that Tim Hunt was a misogynist, and that by “trying to be honest” he had meant his views on women.He used this to campaign against Hunt with UCL, the Royal Society, and anywhere that would allow him to comment. In a Facebook thread dedicated to Hunt’s alleged “misogyny”,
David Colquhoun, who described himself as “a friend” (sic) of Professor Collins, Colquhoun adduced that Hunt “tipped a bucket of ice water over his very successful wife.”
Yes, the married scientists had taken the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. What a proper pair of (gendered insults)!
Professor Geraint Rees called Professor Collins — an actual UCL employee who was uninvolved — to demand she pass on the message to her husband that he must resign or be fired. He hadn’t bothered to speak to Hunt. Hunt’s honorary professorship was a role that was finished — he had ended his committment to UCL, and it was due to expire in November. So stripping him of it was mere “vice-signalling” —
She passed the message on as soon as Tim landed, and he saw the email demanding he resign, so he did.
As the facts became known — not all of them, merely that Hunt had been ironic, and joking — Michael Arthur dragged UCL’s reputation into the international mire. UCL was derided in Britain, honorary fellowships were resigned, Ivy League professors like David Collum of Cornell (Chemistry) mocked Rees and Arthur and the fabled Prof. Nassim Taleb, author of ‘Black Swan’, boycotted the institution. Doctoral students resigned their places. UCL was eventually made into a further joke with the revelation that it paid women employees on its Qatar campus less than male ones, and held fund-raising dinners at the men-only Garrick club.
The Royal Society
The Royal Society acted poorly, perhaps, but nothing like as badly. Despite an ill-judged tweet disassociating itself from Hunt’s “reported” views, they did not ask him to resign.
Sir Paul Nurse, who shared the 2001 Nobel with Hunt, rang his friend and suggested he consider stepping down from a minor prize commitee in order to get the by-now slavering media off Hunt’s back. In hindsight, this was not a bad piece of politics. It was wrongly reported that Sir Tim Hunt was “forced to step down” by the Royal Society from his committee; that was not so; he willingly agreed to the plan which was designed to protect his status as an FRS. As crazy as it now seems, a great many of the twitch mob, including St. Louis, were pushing to have Tim Hunt stripped of his FRS.
Nurse was misreported in the Daily Telegraph by the journalist Sarah Knapton. Waddell and Higgins say Knapton ‘stands by her story’ but sadly for her, the Telegraph did not. They altered the misleading headline that suggested Nurse meant that Hunt was right to “resign” from UCL. This had immensely pleased the vicious @David_Colquoun:
Yet surprisingly, when Paul Nurse corrected this a few days later, on BBC Radio, Mr. Colquhoun had nothing to say! Just fancy that!
“It became a complete Twitter and media storm. He should never have been sacked by University College London”. — Sir Paul Nurse on Sir Tim Hunt
The Royal Society’s Fellows became very active in the defence of Sir Tim. Eight Nobel prizewinners and many others wrote letters to the Times, some of which were quite devastating. While, amazingly, David Colquhoun had recently been appointed to the Society’s Diversity Committee, its head, Uta Frith, later apologised to Mary Collins and Tim Hunt. All in all, I would call the Royal Society’s actions a wash.
The ERC: At Last, Scientific Integrity
It was reported — and Sir Tim Hunt even believed, at one point — that the ERC had forced him to resign.
Not so. The independent body, and its members, stood firmly by Sir Tim Hunt throughout.
On June 10th, however, Robert-Jan Smits, the Director General of Research at the European Commission — called Tim Hunt and asked him to resign.
The EC is a body of politicians, not scientists. The ERC was set up to be independent of its interference. They were clear they did not wish Sir Tim Hunt to resign. It was not a decision of ERC scientists, but the EC alone.
‘The guy calls up and says ‘You’ve just got to resign, we can’t have you.’ …It was very peculiar, actually, and they tried to keep it very very hush-hush. You see they tried to suppress accounts…’ — Tim Hunt
This, for Hunt, was the cruelest blow of all. He loved the ERC, had gone to Seoul to promote two women ERC grantees and done so as a favour to the ERC President.
It was presented to Hunt as the decision of the ERC. But this was not so. Through statements and, eventually, documents released under the Freedom of Information EU regulations, I have discovered what happened.
M. Monko, who was there as an observer of the EC (not the ERC), wrote the famous report that said Hunt was joking. However, on June 9th in Europe, June 10th when the story broke, Monko had called Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the ERC, and reported to him verbally. He also emailed him:
…a last minute request. The tweet and the quotes are of course taken out of context. He indeed said joking all this about falling in love and crying, and single-sex labs. But this was neither seriously intended nor was it seriously received. In general his speech was very supportive towards women in science. He said he was sure women played important role in the economic development of Korea. He also said that he hoped there was nothing that baned women from science, including “monsters like me”. His speech was also very well received by the Korean hosts. I spoke to ERC NCP who said she was impressed how good this impromptu speech.
M. Bourguignon, accordingly, put out his statement noting Sir Tim Hunt’s longstanding support for gender balance. Hunt had always voted for the ERC’s Gender Equality Plan and supported it, he told me later.
M. Bourguignon’s assessment of Connie St. Louis’ false account makes amusing reading. (Neither this nor any other document was shared with me by M. Bourguignon or any ERC official, but obtained via an FOI).
Thanks for your very valuable input.
Unfortunately, as long as the direct testimony of people present will not be made available, the
very biased (and self serving) version of Connie Saint Louis will prevail.
I do not see how we can out of this loop. Maybe by letting the stupidity collapse on itself.
Yours most sincerely,
Waddell and Higgins have made much of a Facebook comment by Monko on June 12th, suggesting that he changed his story in the EC report. But he did not; his June 9th email precedes both.
President Bourguignon told me that the Korean scientist host, Dr. Hyong-Ha Kim (he did not, of course, name her) had validated to him face to face the EC report:
‘Without being asked, she 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.’
Higgins and Waddell have attempted to claim that M. Bourguignon, M. Monko, and the ERC are somehow spinning events, because M. Monko was not “an independent EU observer” and Dr. Kim was “a representative of the ERC”.
Both claims are false. M. Monko was acting for the European Commission, which is why his report was, technically, an EC report — for the politicians — and, against the will of the scientists on the ERC, it could be suppressed. Monko was an EC observer — more’s the pity — and thus, the EC were able to muzzle Monko, an eyewitness throughout.
The ERC and indeed the EC have subsequently tried to make amends to Sir Tim. This is great to see. He was warmly welcomed at the recent ERC dinner and Commissioner Carlos Moedas greeted him with kind words too. It is good to see them try to put things right.
The Korean Host, Feminist Scientist Dr. Kim
Waddell and Higgins display some spectacularly sexist and dishonest reporting as they try to rubbish the role of Dr. Hyong-Ha Kim. In this case, their reporting is not simply incompetent, but knowingly dishonest. They say:
It is incorrect to claim Dr Kim was an organiser of the conference or a host.
But Dr. Kim was indeed an organiser of the conference and a host. Her WCSJ 2015 laminate clearly states: “ORGANIZING COMMITTEE”:
Now that might merely have been incompetence: Waddell and Higgins falsely distinguished between the programme and organizing committees, when the one was a sub-set of the other.
But, knowingly dishonestly, they also demean Dr. Kim and her independence. They say:
She is a representative of the ERC.
That is false. Dr. Kim is an NCP (National Contact Point) to the ERC, not a representative of it. The ERC site explains this clearly:
NCPs do not represent the ERC.
Waddell and Higgins did not make a mistake here, they reported dishonestly. For their piece cites the ERC website. They must, therefore, have seen it say “NCPs do not represent the ERC” when they wrote “She is a representative of the ERC”. They saw this:
“National Contact Points (NCPs) are independent organizations of different nature (Ministries, Academies of Science, Research agencies, etc)…NCPs do not represent the ERC”
Dr. Hyong-Ha Kim was indeed a dangerous witness for the false narrative of Connie St. Louis. For not only was she on the Korean Research and Technology Council, she served in the office of the Prime Minister. Further, she was a member of KOFWST and of WISET (the former claimed to have sponsored the lunch). Thus, when Dr. Paik of KOFWST collaborated with Deborah Blum and Connie St. Louis (more later), not only did her “apology demand” not have the right to speak on behalf of “all women scientists in Korea and the world”, Paik didn’t even speak for all members of KOFWST in the room.
Dr. Hyong-Ha Kim was portrayed by Waddell and Higgins as some kind of tame patsy, with the same sexism Tim Hunt’s persecutors would always use to women scientists who took his part.
In fact, she was a feminist and an expert in the issues of Gender in Science. She organized the subsequent Gender Summit 6 in Seoul (with Paik). Her profile on the Gender Summit website gives Dr. Kim’s long-standing feminist credentials:
[Dr. Hyong-Ha Kim] is also interested in the well-being of women scientists, and has held posts such as the General Executive of the Association of Korean Woman Scientists and Engineers from 2010 to 2013. During her consecutive terms, she participated in Organizing Committees for various international conferences and events such as the ‘2011 Asia Women Scientist Leader’s Forum’, and ‘BIEN Women Scientist and Engineer’s World Conference’ in 2009 and 2013.
This expert in both science and gender issues in science was patronised and by Mr. Waddell and Ms. Higgins. Independent of the ERC, Dr. Kim represented Korea to the ERC — not the other way around. Even after the political storm broke, and Robert-Jan Smits so rudely called Sir Tim Hunt without authority, Dr. Kim told M. Bourguignon in Brussels, face-to-face, that Mr. Monko’s report was exactly correct — including the part about the ‘other Koreans present’ she talked to. Wisely, she did not name them.
Dr. Paik of KOFWST Demands Bourguinon name Dr. Kim
Dr. Paik Hee-Young had opened the speeches with a sexist notion — thanking the women for making the lunch, because that was their role.
Watkins told me:
The Korean politician, a woman, did, as I tweeted, start the speeches by “thanking the women for making lunch”. This was translated into English so may, as I said, have been a translation error. However, it did illicit a groan from the people I was sitting with and definitely raised the issue of appropriate language about women.
Paik’s thanks to women for making the lunch was a huge headline in the Brandy Zadrozny Daily Beast and Cat Ferguson (Ivan Oransky) Buzzfeed piece. They corrected the attribution of Paik’s sexism to Tim Hunt. Waddell and Higgins try to minimize the damage. Waddell said “It was cleared up within 24 hours”. But, by that time, almost 84% of the re-tweets of Brandy Zadorzny’s smear had already happened:
So Tim Hunt had to deal with Dr. Paik’s “casual sexism” that “illicit[ed] a groan from the people I was sitting with” and primed the audience to the idea of sexism.
I am not saying Dr. Paik meant to be sexist. Clearly, she did not. But the same generosity given to her for casual sexism is not extended to Tim Hunt.
Women in the science and technology arena are professionals who also solve daily problems concerning the care of their own children and parents.
On KOFWST websites, women grantees are referred to as “eight beautiful scientists”.
Eight beautiful scientists won the KOFWST Future Talent Award.
Can you imagine the fallout if Tim Hunt said anything like that?
When KOFWST member Dr. Kim was in Brussels telling Jean-Pierre Bourguignon she agreed with Monko’s report fully, Sir Tim, the same day, was apologising to the Guardian in fulsome terms.
But three days later, Dr. Paik wrote privately to Tim Hunt demanding an apology in the rudest terms (no mention of any press release, nobody else copied in).
Hunt simply copy-pasted to her the same apology he made to the Guardian. Paik next wrote to him telling him she would issue a press release. She then falsely translated his reply in Korean, so that his words:
‘I fully accept that the sentiments as interpreted have no place in modern science’
read, in the Korean:
‘Furthermore I accept that my statements have no place in modern science’
to make it look as though Hunt admitted to sexism. Paik then, within hours of the press release’s creation [PDF metadata proves] sent it to Connie St. Louis and Deborah Blum, Tim Hunt’s attackers. She also gave Deborah Blum private information with which to attack Tim Hunt:
I have seen the original email to and from Dr. Paik to Sir Tim. Nobody else is copied in, either way. Blum could not have known this the same day the press release was issued with Paik or her allies handing over this information. Of course, Hunt had issued the same, public apology, three days earlier.
Much is made of Sir Tim’s words “I am mortified to have upset my hosts, which was the very last thing I was intending”. KOFWST claim to have sponsored the lunch, but they were not Sir Tim’s “hosts”. British people will habitually apologise if somebody else treads on their foot.
Dr. Hyong-Ha Kim, the KJSA, and the WFSJ, were hosts of the lunch. Dr. Paik confirmed this in an email to which I was copied. She stated that the ‘Programme Committee’ on which Dr. Kim sat organised the lunch. It was the President of the KJSA who asked Sir Tim as a favour to attend and speak.
He was not, however, a “guest” of anyone at lunch. In point of fact, he is better described as a “customer”. The ERC paid to have Tim Hunt attend in order to showcase two female scientists. His fee entitled him to lunch; it wasn’t some kind of favour to Tim Hunt for which he owed the WCSJ gratitude.
To the contrary, as a sponsor, Tim Hunt went above and beyond by agreeing to give a plenary lecture; attend the ‘women in science’ lunch to honor them; and give a welcome address, by WCSJ’s request, that same night.
I asked Dr. Paik a number of questions about the false translation and the rudeness of her apology demand, as well as her collaboration with Connie St. Louis and Deborah Blum.
To my amazement, rather than reply to me, Dr. Paik wrote to the President of the ERC demanding he name the woman scientist who had praised Sir Tim’s toast. She copied me into this email, which threatened to expose Dr. Kim. Dr. Paik is a former government minister in South Korea and she could threaten the career of her KOFWST colleague. To try and shield Dr. Kim’s name from exposure, I dared not previously reveal what Paik had done. I do so now:
Dear Dr. Bourguignon,
Allow me to introduce myself. I am the President of the Korean Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations (KOFWST), which sponsored the lunch on June 8th, 2015 during the 9th WCSJ in Seoul, Korea. In a recent email, Louise Mensch wrote that she had confirmation from “Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President, European Research Council, that he spoke with the Korean professor who did host the lunch, face to face, and she told him that she had enjoyed the speech”, which caused me some concern. KOFWST was the only sponsor of the lunch which was organized by the Organizing Committee of the 9th WCSJ. I am concerned since the sentence, should it be included in a newspaper article, may be misinterpreted to mean that I was the person who had the face to face conversation, while I have not even had an opportunity to meet you. I would like to request you to identify the person and the organization involved if you would speak about your conversation to any journalist.
The final position of KOFWST is that we announced our communication with Sir Tim Hunt on the remarks made at the lunch. KOFWST regarded the remarks unacceptable, demanded an apology, and Sir Tim Hunt sent us a sincere apology. I and KOFWST do not wish to be quoted or referred to in any other way.
I thank you for your cooperation on the matter.
Hee Young Paik, D.Sc.
Professor, Seoul National University
I had to read this email three times to be sure of what I was seeing. Now, of course, I knew I had to try to protect Dr. Kim. I replied:
There is no question of my having suggested to KOFWST or Dr. Paik that she was the conference organizer referred to in the EU report.
… In my view, this letter to M. Bourguignon puts an unacceptable pressure on the ERC to name the conference host of the lunch. While the ERC may choose to name this lady I would hope they would not do so. I know who she is and I do not plan to name her. Dr. Paik has a political position I believe.
Dr. Paik, you have received my questions to you and to KOFWST and I would welcome your direct reply. I shall not confuse you with the woman referred to in the report. I want to be exactly clear that neither M. Bourguignon nor any other person has named this scientist to me but I have identified her through original journalistic research.
Sir Tim has been poorly treated by the WCSJ, his conference hosts. It is quite regrettable that rather than answer a journalist’s questions KOFWST turns to the ERC. I write from New York, where my journalistic freedom of expression is protected by the first amendment. No organization shall prevent me from publishing my journalism. A great wrong has been done to a life-long ally of women in science. I shall continue to report.
Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, to his eternal credit, also replied very coolly:
Dear Professor Paik Hee Young,
I acknowledge receipt of your message.
As you have noticed, my communication on this
blown up affair has been very restrained.
After an initial press release strictly based on facts on June 10,
I limited myself to answering precise questions posed to me
by journalists to which I tried and replied precisely.
My reply to Louise Mensch was along this line
and only said that I had access to several testimonies
and in particular to that of a « Korean woman, who was
present and to whom I could speak later face-to-face and
get explicit confirmation of how the event went. »
As you can read, the request you made to me
does not apply as you and your organisation were
never mentioned by me, nor could be understood as being
the person or the organisation I was referring to.
Yours most sincerely,
After that, in a vain attempt to shield Dr. Kim, I was far kinder to Dr. Paik than she deserved. KOFWST’s recent statement tries to wriggle out of the exposure of Dr. Kim’s name, blaming Dan Waddell and Paula Higgins:
The identity of a Korean woman scientist, who had been referred to anonymously as “a Korean woman who was present” in the relevant ERC report was revealed in a recent article. KOFWST and the President of KOFWST had no part in this matter. Any questions about the source of information that led to the divulging of the woman’s identity must be addressed directly to [Dan Waddell and Paula Higgins].
Sir Tim’s Toast
Natalia Demina, who found the audio that cleared Sir Tim Hunt, as well as photos showing him clearly laughing, represents my position.
There is nothing wrong with reporting words you find offensive. There is everything wrong in leaving out other words that make it clear they were ironic.
Dan Waddell, Paula Higgins, and Sue Nelson have continued to deny the accuracy of M. Monko’s report, filed by email immediately the tweeting started. Nelson lies:
‘There was no ‘now seriously’’
But nobody has denied this, except Charles Seife in a tweet he was immediately forced to retract.
There is a hypocritical argument about the use of the word “transcript”. But Monko’s report says “transcript, as best I can recall”. It is the same as Ivan Oransky, who said to Buzzfeed they created a “post-hoc transcript”. And it is the same as Scott Watkins, who Waddell and Higgins happily cite:
But the simple fact is none of the accounts, including Monko’s, represent an actual transcript. We know this because we have a recording of the end of the speech. It begins
“So, congratulations, everyone….”
Those congratulations appear in no written account of the lunch anywhere. I am challenged as to why I do not include Watkins tweet above. Waddell and Higgins says he was “the first to corroborate”.
He was the first to agree with St. Louis’ partial report, but he did not corroborate it, because audio proves that St. Louis “transcript” is, to put it charitably, flat wrong.
Eyewitness memory is fallible; everybody got things wrong, including Hunt. Waddell and Higgins have unearthed some previously unquoted eyewitnesses: sadly for the anti-Hunt case, they all contradict each other
A quick review shows the essential worthlessness of memory months after a given event:
Scott Watkins: He went on an uncomfortably long time.
Satu Lipponen: Very, very short.
Leigh Dayton: The room fell silent
Natalia Demina: Many people laughed and applauded
Valeria Roman: I did not laugh. Other female journalists did not laugh.
Shiow Chin Tan (female journalist) : I was not offended at all. I laughed, and applaud[ed] as well.
Connie St. Louis: after he finished there was a deathly, deathly silence.
Pere Estupinya: There were the normal applauses
Timothy Dimacali: There was a normal applause, and it couldn’t have been interpreted for anyone else, precisely because it happened as soon as he sat down.
So there we have it. Clear as mud. Waddell and Higgins have tried to argue against a classic straw man — that nobody was offended. Of course some were, and some weren’t.
(What the data shows clearly, however, is that those who were offended, were not offended enough to say a word about it for 36 hours — or to speak to Hunt about it at the party that night, where WFSJ / KJSA asked him to give yet another welcome speech).
A Faux Pas…
I myself — and this is a personal preference — like the description of Timothy James Dimacali. The Filipino journalist was a mild critic of Sir Tim, and objected to the joke, but he also said Hunt was a ‘gentle man’ and it was ‘such a shame’. He felt the remark was stupid and “he deserved to be called out for it” but not anything like the extent that was done. Dimacali called it “a joke gone horribly wrong” and “a faux pas”.
This description, to my mind, is perfect. Of course it was a false step and Sir Tim Hunt berated himself for it — and apologised humbly. Joking about women and men falling in love and crying if criticised was irony, but it could be — and it was — misunderstood.
Hunt was attempting to mock his own love life with scientists in the lab, and brought it, he said, to a “reductio ad absurdum” — “maybe we should make separate labs for boys and girls”?
And then he went on, as we hear on the tape, to praise and congratulate women in science, and wish them well. And Deborah Blum was sure the audio was from the start of his speech (it wasn’t) — so we can believe this hostile witness that Tim Hunt not only finished, but also started with praise of women in science?
In full, then, what happened? Tim Hunt started with praise of women in science:
Hunt began also by paying tribute to the capable female scientists that he knew. — Deborah Blum
He also praised women science journalists:
Then he made a joke, mocking himself, but it came across badly to several present, although others enjoyed it:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” he said to the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea.
“Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.
“Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls?”
But a leaked EU report seen by The Times supports Sir Tim’s claims that his remarks were an “idiotic joke” and not meant to be taken seriously.
A European Commission official who was at the lunch for women journalists and scientists offered a differing transcript from the account compiled by three reporters present.
The official included previously unreported comments that came directly after Sir Tim’s controversial remarks, the Times reported.
He allegedly continued: “Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea.
“And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”
Hunt insists he was being ironic, or sarcastic — trying to mock himself — and that assertion is backed up by his inflexion on the words “monsters like me” in the audio that we do have — Hunt is clearly denying, not asserting, that he is a monster.
The meaning of words is conveyed in the tone of voice as well as the actual words.
Especially not monsters like me — Sir Tim Hunt
Is Hunt saying that he is a monster? Those are the words he uses, after all. But click the quote, above, for the audio. It seems pretty clear his meaning is the opposite — that he is not a monster.
I think it is worth considering the role of the translator earpieces. For many present the words were coming through in translation. The tone of Hunt’s “monsters like me” is clearly ironic. But what if you heard it via a translator? You would not get the tone. Then you might indeed be shocked.
If all of this is reported, does anything happen to Hunt? ‘Don’t make stupid jokes,’ perhaps? We know that several in the audience were not offended, including his woman scientist host, Dr. Kim, of KOFWST, WISET, and the Gender Summits as well as all the other Koreans she spoke to.
We also know some were offended, including Connie St. Louis, Dr. Paik and Dr. Heisook Lee. But nobody has ever claimed otherwise. Clearly, the joke against himself was a faux pas— but equally clearly, Tim Hunt did not intend to give any offence.
So what should “science journalists” do in this situation? How about put the charge of sexism to him while he’s at their science journalism conference?
And what should a well-meaning scientist do, who has inadvertently offended? How about apologise?
…For Which Hunt Apologised in Full
But Hunt’s clumsy joke against himself obviously had offended some, even though nobody told him so throughout his time in Seoul. He was exhausted, in a bad mood, and being tired and cross he quickly thought up his lines — he thought he would mock his own trouble with girls. It was sandwiched between praise of women at the start and at the end — but it could be, and it was, misunderstood.
This is exactly why poor Sir Tim Hunt apologised. BBC cutting (not maliciously) made his apology seem as though it read “I’m sorry I think this about women in science”.
But the transcript reads it as a simple apology, in reply to a question asking if he will apologise:
Interviewer: Would you consider apologizing?
Tim Hunt: I mean I’m really really sorry that I caused any offence — that’s awful. I certainly didn’t mean — I just meant to be honest, actually.
and to the Guardian before the Today Show broadcast:
Thanks for your email — I’m just about to get on the plane home and I doubt if there’s time to call you. I’m very sorry that what I thought were light- hearted ironic remarks were taken so seriously, and I’m very sorry if people took offence. I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather be honest about my own shortcomings.
Poor Sir Tim. This simple ‘I’m sorry, I never meant to demean women but rather be honest about my own shortcomings’ became the “nonapology of the year” in the Washington Post:
Earlier this week at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Tim Hunt laid…www.washingtonpost.com
So, even his straight apology being misreported, poor Sir Tim tried again. In the Observer, published online in the Guardian on June 13th, he had another go:
“I am extremely sorry for the remarks made during the recent Women in Science lunch at the world conference of science journalists in Seoul, Korea. I accept that my attempts at a self-deprecating joke were ill-judged and not in the least bit funny. I am mortified to have upset my hosts, which was the very last thing I intended. I also fully accept that the sentiments as interpreted have no place in modern science and deeply apologise to all those good friends who fear I have undermined their efforts to put these stereotypes behind us.
In my own career I have always tried to treat my colleagues with respect and kindness, whoever they are, and am proud to have developed and mentored the careers of many excellent young scientists who will be tackling tomorrow’s biological problems long after I have left the scene. I would like to ask that people accept my apology as heartfelt and judge me on my record.”
This apology wasn’t much noticed either, or reported. Hunt’s persecutors piled in on his interview with Mary Collins protesting nobody spoke to him or asked him his side of the story.
The next day, Deborah Blum would publish her Storify saying ‘journalists who were at the lunch questioned Tim Hunt about his statements, gave him a chance to clarify’. We now know that was false. It was probably Ron Winslow, and she hadn’t checked. Deborah Blum said she hadnt seen any decent apology or expression of regret. She hadn’t checked that, either. Hunt’s second, even deeper apology, after his first was misreported, had been published the prior day in a national newspaper.
Poor Tim Hunt had no idea he had offended anyone present at WCSJ 2015 as nobody told him he had offended them. To cell division, for which he had won the Nobel Prize, the WCSJ apparently expected him to add bilocation (Schroedinger’s Hunt with his hands behind his head, smiling, according to Deborah Blum, when he was in another room with real female scientists) and, also, mind-reading.
Does it not say everything that Connie St. Louis and Ivan Oransky never spoke to him?
Co-ordinated Online Abuse Received By Tim Hunt
As the RT charts show, the Daily Beast ‘Thanked women for lunch’ tweet received 80% of its RTs before that was corrected.
Tim Hunt would receive far more online abuse than any of the false reporters against him. They also personally trolled him, tweeting out a disgusting comic showing him treading on the neck of an Indian girl to admire his Nobel medal (which he donated to Clare, Cambridge, years before, to inspire young scientists).
This was what was in the “terrific comic” Blum, St. Louis, and Mack were praising:
As Professor Collins said:
The effect of public shaming has been horrendous for our family. Tim called Dim C**t on social media, our daughter broke down, called “sexist” in the real media…. @ScienceNelson reporters on our doorstep, tracked our kid at Uni, contacted past partners, you try it
Distractingly Sexy was a version of the same joke Hunt was making. It was started deliberately by a Guardian journalist. I’ve asked if she knew, before starting it, of Hunt’s humble apology sent to her colleague from the departure lounge, that he only meant to mock himself.
However, certain vicious people in the “SciComm” community tried to use twitter shaming as a deliberate weapon to harm this gentle man who had mis-spoken. They are a crowd who are forever trying to use social media toattack other scientists for perceived sexism.
Dr. Elizabeth Pollitzer claimed on Elsevier and in an EC (not ERC) funded magazine that Twitter shaming was a good weapon for forcing resignations:
There is a saying that ‘to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. Offence is taken where none was intended and where the record of support for gender equality was strong. Hence, twitter mobs before basic checks.
Here is a perfect tweet to illustrate this. It features Deborah Blum, Ivan Oransky and Connie St. Louis. And it dates from not this summer, but 2014.
Sexism Towards Professor Mary Collins
There is real, intended, sexism in the Tim Hunt story, but it does not come from Tim Hunt. His wife, Professor Mary Collins, is a distinguished professor of immunology at UCL. She joked about her new epithet ‘distinguished’ but it is the only appropriate one. There are 139 papers on her pubmed. To put it charitably, this is signficantly more than @Docfreeride and co.
Sue Nelson was one of the worst trolls against Mary Collins. She accused her of ‘having an affair’, of ‘bizarre behaviour’. Sue Nelson is the one who falsely reported, as a fact, that Tim Hunt ignored questions at the sexism in science session.
When Collins asked her to retract, she mocked Collins. I have listed a part of Sue Nelson’s abuse here. ‘All day long Mary Collins has fed the trolls #classy’ Nelson tweeted. ‘No wonder you’ve been warned re trolling,’ she added. When Collins was forced off Twitter, Nelson gloated. Dan Waddell also mocked Professor Collins’ entirely correct insistence that Tim Hunt was not at the sexism in science session, calling her a conspiracy theorist:
Sue Nelson was joined in her sexist abuse by Paula Higgins, who agreed with Nelson that Professor Collins was not “classy” because she wasn’t acting like a “Lady” married to a “knight of the realm”.
Say WHAT now?
Paula Higgins retweeted this.
Mary Collins (who doesn’t use her title; she could call herself ‘Professor Lady Hunt’, but never has) — was disgusted:
Paula Higgins would go on to suggest Professor Collins had protection from “Her Majesty the Queen”, diminishing the attacks on her family:
But Sue Nelson and Paula Higgins were not the only sexist abusers of Collins. She received a deluge of it:
Fulli and others repeatedly suggested that Hunt advanced the career of his brilliant wife, rather than her own science:
Collins was accused, on anti-Hunt blogs, despite her huge PubMed record, of ‘fucking her way to the top’
I cannot help but wonder if Professor Mary Collins for whom I’m supposed to be crying now would have reached such academic heights if she hadn’t fucked the professor as an undergraduate,
This is feminism?
Not in my name.
Sir Tim Hunt’s Side of the Story
Hunt recounted his side of the story in two completely un-noticed interviews: one on YouTube and one with an Hungarian journalist. Being tired and cross, he said, he quickly thought up his lines — he thought he would mock his own trouble with girls…
He was overtired and overworked, having come to WCSJ as a favour to the ERC. His lecture in the morning didn’t work — the clicker was battling with Blum’s. He went to the lunch as a favour to the hosts, the KJSA, who asked him. Three women [it was two — memory sucks] had gone before him, so being tired and cross he misspoke. Hunt is laughing, exhausted, as he tells the awful story of what happened to him. The full transcript is here. Hunt had been asked to speak to women scientists and engineers, with whom he has an affinity, but they weren’t — when he got to the room it was mixed-sex journalists instead. The fifteen minute video has to be watched — slide from 1:43 — because it is a perfect example of how written words and tone of voice, demeanor, change the meaning. The transcript reads, at one point:
‘So, I said, to begin with, ‘You may notice there’s something different between me, and the previous three speakers’. And you might think that I’m a male chauvinist sexist pig…’
Well, that looks pretty bad — until you watch the video. Hunt is laughing, waving his hands around at the complete idiocy of the notion. If you want to see Sir Tim Hunt negate an idea with irony, watch the video. He cackles with laughter at the insane idea that ‘you might think I’m a male chauvinist sexist pig’. It is the precise opposite of that idea, that Hunt is conveying. He rambles, rather sweetly. He admits the stupidity of being easily misunderstood (for which he apologised at once on June 10th from the airport).
And I was just thinking, there are single-sex schools, and there are monasteries and nunneries, but this is silly, you know… [laughs]
Then I said “Oh, but seriously…”, and went off on another jag about how much I admired Korea and how women had made an important contribution to that, and that women should carry on and ignore ‘sexist monsters’ like me, and just go for it. I thought nothing more of it. Nobody afterwards came up and said anything to me.
The following day I had several interviews, and nobody mentioned it. The first I knew of it was in the departure lounge going back to England the following day, when the Today programme got in touch with me. I can’t remember whether they called me or, somehow, emailed me or something. I had no idea that this storm was brewing, so I very foolishly agreed to say some words to the guy, who… at that time, it was 1:30 in the morning in England. That made it much worse, because they transformed ‘Let me tell you about MY troubles with girls” to “THE trouble with girls”.
I couldn’t understand it when everyone, everybody reacted so badly, because I hadn’t denigrated girls at all. I’d just had some trouble, and I wanted to explain that.
Hunt also speaks about your humble servant, in the quote at the top of the piece. When we finally met (see declaration of interest below) he and Mary were afraid I would be cross with this. Not a bit of it. Hunt is clearly praising my work. Damn skippy I am obsessed with the story. He’s a great man, an ally of women, and a good, decent man. And I don’t jump down people’s throats because they get stuff a bit wrong (I told him why I really left parliament). He also mused, as he set out the delicious supper which, by the way, he cooked, that there weren’t enough dinner places for ‘boys and girls’ as we were, essentially, all girls.
To the Hungarian journalist Hunt says the same thing.
Tim Hunt: Well, I was trying to make a joke, I mean [laughs], I was trying to, it was a very ill-advised joke, I must say…
I was bewildered by the response, because as you probably realise, I mean, I’ve actually — I had no intention whatsoever of belittling women, I mean, I wouldn’t have said it if I’d — you know — why, you’d be completely mad. I mean, there I was in front of an audience of women, why would you deliberately insult them? I wasn’t, I was trying to sort of make a joke against me, not against them.
Interviewer: Right [inaudible], from the recordings, that’s clear.
Tim Hunt: Yeah, and you know, I was really talking about painful situations that occurred to me in the lab and once when I fell in love with somebody, and once when somebody fell in love with me — and in both cases it was unrequited — right? And um, you know that was hard — but we solved it in the end, actually, of course — you know, and life goes on and I think no lasting damage was done in either case — but it was very, very painful…
Tim Hunt: And I suppose, you know, out of that pain comes the, comes the joke — I mean I guess I was a little bit nervous — and er, this is sort of what came into my head. But I mean, you know, I’ve always had a mixed lab, I never… the idea that you should have separate labs —
Tim Hunt: — for separate sexes is absolutely ridiculous! [Laughs] And I sort of intended — you know I sort of — actually it sort of came to me almost as a, sort of, logical outcome of what I was saying, and it was so manifestly clear that this was a reductio ad absurdum — so how anybody could have taken what I said seriously I just don’t know — but people did, and that’s — that was the extraordinary thing — I mean, I think the… Another thing is, you know, gosh, how… Whatever I — you know, I clearly touched a very, very sensitive nerve, completely by accident. I mean, it wasn’t really me touching it, it was the journalist who reacted [to] it — you know and er, I would say that her account was not wholly…
Tim Hunt: Truthful
A Feminist Writes
I’m very sorry this happened to you, Sir Tim Hunt. I thank you for always helping women and young people in science. I’m sorry this happened to Professor Collins, and to your ex-wife, and your daughters. I’m sorry for the 250,000 negative tweets you were sent, the threats of violence, the hateful comics, and the lies that lost you posts where you worked so hard to do good. It has been one of the great honours of my life to shake your hand. The testimony of your female colleagues in science, and of male colleagues who saw your work for equality, will stand forever as the repulsion — for once — of a twitch-mob who, this time, didn’t get their way.
And that’s the story of how, and why, feminists, in science and outside science, male feminists and female feminists, worked to clear Sir Tim Hunt.
Note on Authorship: This article is my own work. Research was done by HuntCentral as a collaboration on Slack.
The opinions therein are all my own, and the language is my own. It is, however, a collaborative effort between me and a dedicated group of researchers as far as the data goes: @Shubclimate, James Mershon @Nutria54, Leopard, @DebbieKennett, two anonymous female scientists, @ticobas, and two anonymous male scientists. We have worked on Slack as Hunt Central.
Recently, Dan Waddell has tweeted obscene jokes collected by the psychologist Dr. Richard Jowsey, Dr. Jowsey says as part of his research, directly at me, because Dr. Jowsey supports Sir Tim Hunt (#teamhunt was my nickname for all the supporters I saw). He has also emailed Sir Tim. Firstly, that is misogynist. Secondly, while I appreciated #teamhunt support, I need to be clearer that there was, specifically, a small team of volunteer data researchers on Hunt Central, to whom the collaborative work here is credited. In her recent article, Sue Nelson, without foundation, accused Sir Tim Hunt and Professor Mary Collins of “collaborating” with me. That is, again, absolute nonsense. I stated I was working on a collaborative piece, and Nelson tried to pretend that this collaboration was with Sir Tim and Professor Collins.
That is utter tosh. I would never presume to speak for either of these distinguished scientists, so much more intelligent, so much calmer and so much more good-natured than I. Where I attribute sentiments to either, or state information as from either Sir Tim, or Professor Collins, it is taken from their public statements or from answers they have given me.
Neither has ever asked me to write, or say, anything.
Neither is responsible for any errors I make, or tweets I may write. Sir Tim Hunt has had his shoulders heaped with the false sexism of others; he does not need to be further burdened by an accusation that he or Professor Collins are “collaborating” with me.
Corrections: In past articles, I thought that Sir Tim Hunt’s joke about his love life referred to meeting his wife, but it referred to two other scientists. The essence of the joke is identical, though — it is about his love life.
I also wrongly reported that Jean-Pierre Bourguignon spoke to the EC Observer on the day of the speech (I misunderstood his phrase ‘shortly after’). It was the next day. Nothing happened on the day of the 2.5 minute toast, because, as this story has shown, nobody reported it then.
** I wrote ‘lie’ because I foolishly mistranslated the Spanish. The word meant ‘disappointment’. Prof Prat Villar corrected me.
Declaration of Interest: Sir Tim was quite right , I am emotionally invested in the story (I hate bullying of old people). I am a feminist, and regard the false attack on our ally Sir Tim as incredibly damaging to the feminist movement. I have motivation to work to clear Hunt. I have a financial interest, in that this investigative journalism has reflected well on my career.
I have met Sir Tim Hunt and Professor Collins once; they invited me to dinner after, we all thought, the story had died down. By that time, all my Unfashionista blogs on this story had already been published. I had never had the honour to meet Sir Tim or Professor Collins before that night. I also declare that I have received a material gift from Sir Tim Hunt. Whilst its monetary value may be low, its emotional value is, I will admit, pretty high.