Saving Tim Hunt

Photo taken from WCSJ 2015 website:

‘I don’t think the comments were appropriate. . . I do believe that Sir Tim probably did intend to joke and he doesn’t appear to be a terrible or sexist person. However, I think he missed the mark by quite a long way. He was in a position of power and showed poor judgement.’

‘The room went silent and I confess I hissed in a wry manner. I was sitting beside a male academic from Britain who said something to the effect of, “I never thought I’d hear anything like that again.’

‘I found Hunt’s comments to be badly judged remarks from someone who grew up professionally in an old-fashioned, hierarchical, male-dominated world. The fact that he claims it was a joke suggests he’s completely out of touch with the 21st century.’

‘My recollection is slightly different in details from Connie St. Louis’ version, but the essence is the same. I remember it as “the problem with girls in the lab” rather than “my problem with girls.” (I didn’t have any idea about his personal history until after the story broke, and I didn’t get any impression that he was referring to a specific experience.) I remember it as a numbered list: 1) The girls fall in love with the boys, 2) you fall in love with them, and 3) they cry when you criticize them.

My recollection is that the end of the speech was basically more thank-you noises, and he thanked the hosts for listening to a monster like him. There was a small smattering of polite applause. But many people sat stonily and didn’t applaud — I, for one, took the affirmative decision not to applaud.’

‘I did not applaud him. He surprised me.’

‘Other female journalists did not applaud him.’

‘Yes. She is free to write about his speech. It was sexist.’

‘I was embarrassed,’ she said. ‘I thought afterwards: ‘Again, an old fellow tries to be funny, but makes everyone feel ashamed.’

‘Hah (short laugh) in a polite way. That is the reaction we polite ladies usually have when facing chauvinistic jokes.’

‘My personal opinion is,that the worst thing in these kind(s) of cases has happened. Sir (Tim) Hunt didn’t apologise. Instead, he started to blame female journalists. Very, very unwise. He said those words in South Korea, in a country where female scientists have an extremely difficult situation in universities. He was in an excellent place and position to give real advice as to how the situation of female scientists could improve in Korean society but did not do so. What a pity!’

‘It was a lunch: people were hungry. Besides, the translation didn’t work very well. Many people in the room didn’t listen to what he had said. And the ones who did were in shock.’

‘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.’

‘Yes, I was at the lunch. However, I must confess I did not pay much attention to Tim Hunt’s comments, as I was chatting with my neighbour…’

‘I sat on the outer ring of tables to chat with my long time colleague from the US. There was cheery but not too loud noise. We politely stopped for a while. I saw Tim Hunt and he gave a very, very short talk. I heard the word “girls” and him explaining his experiences about girls, but not much else. I thought, I would not use the word “girls” in this kind of setting, especially coming from a key-note speaker (sic) and someone training future researchers.

‘From the ethical point of view: if I had been working and listened carefully, I may have tweeted what Tim Hunt said. If he joked or not is not the issue: his position as a mentor and trainer and his expertise on this issue would have weighed a lot.’

‘I got angry. I can’t understand how this Nobel laureate could say that in a lunch organized by a women science organization!!’

‘I was completely baffled because I could not believe a top scientist would say that IN 2015, IN a Science Journalism Conference, IN a lunch sponsored by the KOFWST. But he did. I would guess my reaction then, and also now, would be of sheer disappointment, being a scientist myself.

‘I would like to believe the comments were a joke, but honestly, in my opinion, they weren’t. Renata (Sanchez) and I did discuss it afterwards and agreed that although it was meant to be a joke (I want to believe), it was bad taste to say it in that lunch specifically.’

‘At that very occasion his comments were really inappropriate, not funny at all and made us feel embarrassed sitting there.’

Dear Sir Tim Hunt,

We, the members of the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations (KOFWST), the sponsoring organization of the WCSJ luncheon on June 8, 2015, have decided to request your official acknowledgement and apology for the remarks made at the luncheon. Attached, please find, our call for apology. We hope to get your response within 24 hours [emboldened in original]. Your prompt and sincere apology is the least we can ask for any future collaboration with Korean scientists.

Yours sincerely,

Hee Young Paik, President

‘As women scientists we were deeply shocked and saddened by these remarks, but we are comforted by the widespread angered response from international social and news media: we are not alone in seeing these comments as sexist and damaging to science. . . . Although Dr. Hunt is a senior and highly accomplished scientist in his field who has closely collaborated with Korean scientists in the past, his comments have caused great concern and regret in Korea. They show that old prejudices are still well embedded in science cultures. On behalf of Korean female scientists, and all Koreans, we wish to express our great disappointment that these remarks were made at the event hosted by KOFWST.’

‘I am extremely sorry for the remarks made during the recent “Women in science” lunch at the WCSJ 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 apologize to all those good friends who fear I have undermined their efforts to put these stereotypes behind us.’

‘I can confirm I was at the lunch with some members of KOFWST. Our letter to Sir Tim Hunt was based on discussions among KOFWST members, some of whom were also at the lunch, who shared the opinion that the sufferings of women scientists should not be the subject of jokes in any context. We therefore requested that Tim Hunt acknowledge his mistakes and make an apology, which he immediately did following our communication.’

‘By making these comments, Sir Tim Hunt has overlooked the talents of girls and women in science, but also the fact that sex and gender bias in research is costly and harmful. Sir Hunt’s speech shows that some eminent scientists like him have never been exposed to issues on gender diversity or gendered innovations at all. These discussions should reach all scientists, if not, we risk losing female science talents, and risk having imperfect research outcomes that do not consider both genders.’

‘I remembered, more or less, what Tim Hunt said. He started with saying he was a male chauvinist pig, and then went into the whole “Here’s my problem with girls….” including the bit about falling in love in the lab and girls then crying if they are criticised, as well as the bit about separating the genders in the lab, which Connie St Louis from City University originally posted.’

‘I thought that Ms St Louis was literally accurate in her quotes of Sir Tim, but she certainly failed to include his subsequent comments that provide a different context to what she reported him as saying. That, I felt, was wrong, and definitely contributed to the controversy.’

‘Tim Hunt indeed made sexist comments, but in an humorist tone. He was clearly inappropriate and sexist in a very old-fashion way.’

‘As I keep telling people, he said it in a very lighthearted manner with no outward hint of malice, condescension, or derision. I’m not defending him, mind you; what he said was wrong and definitely deserved to be called out (our emphasis). But it was, more than anything else, a joke gone horribly wrong.

‘Most of this tweet is true but Connie exaggerates, the lunch was not “utterly ruined”… I think the content was fairly accurate but the tone of her tweet too aggressive to describe what went on.’

‘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.’

‘On June 9, we became aware, initially via Twitter, of his remarks at the World Conference of Science Journalists. An e-mail was sent the same day to Dr. Hunt, withdrawing the invitation. The reason given to him was that his remarks would distract from the purpose of the event, which was to encourage early-career scientists and engineers to persevere. Science and its publisher AAAS have a lengthy history of support for women in science. Dr. Hunt responded on June 10 to say that he understood.’

‘Shortly after the lunch, multiple journalists who had been in the room told me about Tim Hunt’s statements. They spoke to me independently, each of them using the same language in quoting Hunt’ she said. ‘The journalists who recounted his statements to me are some of the most careful, reliable, precise, experienced reporters in all of science writing. They didn’t make it up or exaggerate or misrepresent what happened.’

‘There was no mention of his meeting his wife in the lab. He did say much the same thing to Deb as he did in this [BBC] interview except for the “really really sorry” part. I did get the impression he stood by what he had said.

‘Was he speaking from his own experience or for a more general view of women in the lab? I would say it was both, one informing the other. But he did not say anything about his wife period…not that he was referring to her, or anything at all about this experience so I can only assume he was speaking about women or “girls” in general. He did talk about men not taking it personally when you are critical of their research results, whereas women cried and that was upsetting.

‘Deb asked him about men crying and he didn’t have a response to that.’

‘I also got the impression that he was speaking from personal experience that had left an impact on him, although as an acquaintance observed, that does not mean he should have assumed it applied in general.’

The photograph shows Mońko (furthest left), Dr Kim (middle right), and the side of Ivan Oransky’s head (bottom right)

‘Frankly I was amazed how willing Paul was to talk about it, and how vocal he was in his censure of Hunt.’

‘Two days (her tweets announcing her discovery of the audio had been posted three days before, not two) ago I looked through my audio Sony files and there were several little files. I began listening them to decide if I should delete them or not. One contained my own counting “1, 2, 3, 4…”, I checked my smartphone recording perhaps. The other file was a surprise to me, I heard Hunt’s voice, laugh and a word “a monster”. I wrote a Twit that I found a file with the beginning. I immediately sent the file to Louse, as I trust her, and to Tim Hunt, as it seemed important for him.’

‘I had no idea that this would blow up the way it did. I’m a long-time fairly geeky science writer — at a reception recently I spent some time explaining to a fellow journalist the different molecular bonds of potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide — and my assumption was that Hunt’s remarks would be discussed in the community of science writers and scientists but wouldn’t be so interesting to anyone else.

‘So in hindsight, I wouldn’t be so naive about the potential of a story like this to go viral.

‘I’d still report the story because that’s the job of a science journalist, not only to report on scientific research but on the culture and politics of science. And Hunt’s remarks, of course, are representative of the balance-of-power realities that we still find in the culture and politics of science.’



Writer, novelist, cricket player and layabout. Also father of three. Has decided to sleep when he's dead.

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