I’M AWARDING MY latest Medal for Most Egregious Self-Righteous Bigotry collectively to University College London, the Royal Society, the European Research Council, City University London, Prof Connie St Louis of the latter institution, and the myriad Twitterbitches and bloggers who have contributed to the hounding of Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Prize winner.
Hunt, having made some utterly innocuous comments at a conference in Seoul, stood accused and convicted of the crime of sexism (for such it now is in the minds of extreme feminists) with the result that he was pressured into resigning honorary positions at UCL, the RS and the ERC.
He had his supporters, though to no effect, in the shape of Professor Cox, Richard Dawkins and Boris Johnson, and a number of Nobel prize winners. Jonathan Dimbleby, the broadcaster, has resigned his honorary position at UCL in protest. UCL, to its lasting discredit, has refused to consider reinstating him.
The person who kicked off the Twitterstorm, Connie St Louis, is Professor of Science Journalism at the City University London. In her article in Scientific American she seems to think that in stirring up the mob against Hunt she was “holding powerful people accountable for their actions”. I’m sure Tim Hunt would be flattered to think that he’s regarded as powerful but he would certainly be smart enough to know that words and actions are not the same thing and to conflate the two deliberately is an act of mendacity.
IT COULD ALSO be seen as an act of biased modern journalism, for Mrs St Louis’s various accounts of the affair are a model for any student wanting to know how to “storify” the non-existent into a media phenomenon in which you yourself get to play the part of a victim, having successfully assassinated a real innocent’s reputation and career. Tim Hunt’s words at this conference are not the same as actions, and in fact there are plenty of women to attest that he’s always been a keen supporter of women in science.
The narrative set up by St Louis and followed by the others is that “sexism” is preventing women from entering science and so something must be done. In this instance, the something that must be done is the hounding of a renowned 73-year-old Nobel prize winner out of a number of honorary positions. Yes, I can see that would get girls in their thousands lining up to do A-Level Biology.
Prof St Louis has come under the media spotlight herself for being, as the late Kenneth Clarke would say, “economical with the actualité” of her own career and qualifications. She describes herself as a “scientist”, though says nothing about any research in which she has been involved. I believe she has a 2:2 in Applied Biology (Applied Bigotry would have been more appropriate). At the time of writing her staff page at City is being updated.
So, after all the preening righteous bloviation of the Twitter hysterics, just what did this mad, bad, old, dinosaur, chauvinistic, sexist, out-of-date man actually say? I give you Wikipedia:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … 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? 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.”
IF YOU’RE SANE and have a common sense frame of mind, this will appear innocuous and hardly worthy of comment. If on the other hand you’re one of the bloviators then you should take a hard look at yourself — because that is all this furore is about. It’s about you, isn’t it? What a good, morally superior person you are because you belong to the right group of people who hold the correct views on everything and don’t need to think for yourself for a single moment.
It’s not about sexism, it’s not about improving the prospects for women in science, it’s not about oppression, it’s not even about the words that Tim Hunt uttered at the conference or the apology he gave (and shouldn’t have). It’s about you. And you don’t care one jot what happens to someone else in real life just as long as you get to be seen as belonging to the right crowd when they’re shouting for blood.
The people who should be most ashamed, however, are those in the institutions: UCL, the Royal Society and the European Research Council. You should have stuck by one of your own, resisted the social media storm and told the mob where they can stuff their bigotry. Instead you caved and offered Sir Tim Hunt as a sacrifice to them. I can only hope the shame of it haunts you the rest of your lives. Don’t expect any sympathy when the mob comes for you.