Tuesday, June 16, 2015

At What Price Stupid?

Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt gave a speech last week (Tuesday) at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea where he said the following regarding the problem with women in science: 

"You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry."

In the following week in response to these comments, Tim Hunt lost the following: 
  • His position with the European Research Council science committee
  • His role at the Royal Society
  • His honorary post at University College London

In short, he is, in the words of the great Albert Einstein, "well and truly fucked".  

Well, too damn bad for him, right? Only a sexist pig would make a such a comment, especially in light of the struggles women have gone through to be accepted in the scientific community. So fuck him and the theoretical horse he rode in on! Am I right? 


  • There are no reports of Tim Hunt treating women poorly.
  • There are no reports of Tim Hunt discriminating against women.
  • There have been no indications of sexist behavior.
  • Women have described interactions with Tim Hunt as positive. 
  • Tim Hunt has been described as being supportive of women in the sciences. 

So what's the deal here? How do we reconcile the man described above with the man who made the reprehensible remarks at the science conference?

Simple: he's a man and men say stupid things. 

I should know. I'm a man (probably) and I've said a lot of stupid things (definitely). 

That's not to say there shouldn't be consequences for saying stupid things. But what is the right punishment that would fit the crime? 

I think when you're part of a group that seems to constantly be under siege, as women constantly are, there's a sense of not letting any transgression pass. Any insult to dignity or equality or decency or justice could lead to worse ills and all must be stopped. The result is the full fury of righteous indignation gets brought down on the rapists and the misogynists and the sexists and the harassers but also gets brought down in equal measure on people who say or do that one stupid thing. 

But in this time of instant internet karma, the full court press against all wrongs, big and small, results in a lot of 
collateral damage to people's reputations and livelihoods. So the cries went out that Tim Hunt's words were an affront to all women and he must face the ultimate penalties for his ill considered comments. 

But while people were piling on demanding Tim Hunt's head and other body parts, there were women on social media meting the appropriate retaliation in line with Hunt's words: humor. 

women launched India's mission to Mars just to make sure no men escape their charms. 

"Sorry I'm late. I was busy with grant meetings and trying not to cry or fall in love. What did I miss." - Lady Scientist

I did an entire Liver Transplant without crying or falling in love.

I fell in love with the microcentrifuge... typical woman in the lab.

From my perspective (admittedly my middle age white heterosexual male perspective), this seems to be the right response to Tim Hunt's remarks: mockery. He said a stupid thing; let's make fun of that. 

But did Tim Hunt's life and career warrant be totally shattered?

Everybody, be good to one another. 

And don't say anything stupid. Ever! 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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