Women And Education, Part One: The Professor Hunt Affair

This happens all the time to Tim Hunt, and he just hates it...

This happens all the time to Tim Hunt, and he just hates it…

I confess that I initially took little notice of the Tim Hunt episode because I thought it turned out right, and that few would disagree. I think the ethics issues are obvious and unambiguous. Apparently not, as some commentators argue that he was dismissed for “political correctness.”

 Prof. Hunt, who is 72, and this is a major factor in his downfall, is a renowned biochemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001 for his work on cell division.  He was also knighted in 2006. He was addressing an audience  at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea this month, and for some reason was inspired to say this:

“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 criticize them they cry.”

This was, as the professor would have known if he were n0t 72 and unaccustomed to the ways of social media, immediately tweeted around the world, making him the target of scientists, educators, students, feminists and almost everyone else but Rush Limbaugh. Horrified and still clueless, Hunt went on the radio to “clarify,”  saying that his remarks were “intended as a light-hearted, ironic comment.” This is known as the futile “It’s just a joke!” excuse here at Ethics Alarms, but knights don’t read Ethics Alarms.

He said that he stood by the substance of his remarks, but didn’t expect them to be taken as denigration of women:

“I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that …I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field. I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult…It’s terribly important that you can criticize people’s ideas without criticizing them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth. Science is about nothing but getting at the truth and anything that gets in the way of that diminishes, in my experience, the science.”

He meant every word is what this conveys. Then Sir Tim offered a classic #9 on the Apology Scale, ( “Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not”)

“I’m really, really sorry I caused any offense, that’s awful. I certainly didn’t mean that. I just meant to be honest, actually.”

The firestorm over his comments did not subside; just because you are a genius doesn’t mean you are smart enough to come in out of the rain. Pressured  by University College London where he was on the faculty, Hunt resigned. The school said in a statement that U.C.L. was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and “the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality.”

Well, they are right, and Hunt was right to resign. There is no possible way any female student—or research colleague for that matter—should or can believe that he isn’t biased against them as women in ways that would affect his judgment and treatment of them. Hunt’s situation is no different from that of Boston University assistant professor Saida Grundy, who inexplicably still has a job after announcing her condemnation of white males, except that

1. his comments were less mean-spirited than hers,

2. she is a black woman and he is an elderly white male, and

3. she is still employed, presumable because its OK to be biased against white male college students in U.S. colleges.

Of Grundy, I concluded:

“Announced racists and sexists cannot be teachers, because they cannot be trusted to be fair to the students belonging to the groups they have expressed contempt and animus towards. Such attitudes, and the words are merely evidence of those attitudes, are antithetical to a liberal education. Racist African Americans, whether they are academics like Grundy, activists like Al Sharpton, or pundits like Melissa Harris Perry, help embed racism further into the culture, validate it, and invite more of it. The same is true of sexists: Grundy is both.”

Hunt, as far as we know, is only one. One is enough. He’s an untrustworthy professor, and the criticism of his remarks were justified and true.


Source: New York Times



65 thoughts on “Women And Education, Part One: The Professor Hunt Affair

  1. Well, DD, as a 70 myself I am with the old timer.

    How what if he was 40 years old and the important discoveries of his research were still being developed? Gone. No funding. A pharm hires him on then the PC wolves will be at their door.

    • It’s not PC, Rick. It’s lack of professionalism and bias. When was sexism and bias ever fair or respectful? This wasn’t a sexist joke, this was a guy saying women are inferior and a distraction who is paid to teach and work with them.

    • Precisely. I have actually been fired from an feel-good outfit because I insisted they hold to their mission statement and NOT just speak politically correctly. I was told that I “just didn’t get it”.

  2. I feel very bad for Tim Hunt, and out of deep respect for the writings here, will have to rethink my thoughts on the matter. Would there have been any real act of contrition, which would have obviated the need for him to resign? Or was he sunk, no matter what he said or did after making the offending comment.

  3. You know…. I get it. I mean…. I don’t think that the comment was supposed to be sexist…. I think that if Hunt was female he would have said the same thing with the pronouns reversed (and in so doing, probably would have been lauded as a strong black woman.) maybe substituting ‘rage’ for ‘cry’. His point was that a sex segregated lab would cut down on distractions. But I get how he poisoned the well…. It’s not unreasonable to see that as him saying that he didn’t want women in his lab because they were a distraction. I don’t think he mean that, but the cat’s out of the bag.

    That said…. And I realize I’m invoking the Saint’s excuse here…. But this man is a genius. If this had happened 40 years ago, he would have been canned, he would never have discovered the protein for cell division, and instead would have been relegated to flipping burgers or something. Maybe in science, as the exception, a meritocracy is actually more important than hurt feelings. It’s very possible this man’s research will save millions of lives in the long term. Is there some kind of utilitarian math where we let the crazy genius in the lab wearing boxers on his head and shouting racial obscenities at his techs do his thing so we can get a cure for cancer?

    • Whatwhatwhat???

      1. The comment defines sexist…how can you say it wasn’t meant to be sexist? The guy doesn’t know what sexist is, which is inexcusable for an active professional in 2015.

      2. That a black woman wouldn’t have been fired is 1) unfortunate, 2) irrelevant and 3) doesn’t change the fact that any professor who proclaims bias like that and doesn’t even realize anything’s wrong with it is unfit to teach.

      3. How can you say he didnt mean that? He said exactly that, twice.

      4. Being a genius doesn’t cofer the right to teach on a bigot, a sexist, or a self-satisfied boob, which this guy appears to be. He can’t help falling in love with women he teaches and works with? Outrageously unprofessional. Is he 17?

      • 1. The comment was sexist, but I don’t think the intent behind the comment was sexist. What he was trying to suggest was segregating genders because workplace romances were disruptive. There’s nothing inherent about that idea that is sexist…. It’s wrong, it’s discriminatory, but not per se sexist. The reason the comment was sexist is because he’s a man and he gendered it. If he had said for instance “When you’re in a non segregated lab, workplace romances happen, and they often end in tears” we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but he would have basically been saying the same thing.

        2. My point was that the reason he was suggesting segregation wasn’t because women are inherently weaker, it’s because he wanted to do away with workplace romance, and he used women as the example because that was his frame of reference as a man… The part about the black woman was supposed to be humor.

        3. He said exactly what though? Context matters, after his initial comment, he said “Now seriously though” before moving on, making it very clear to the room that he was attempting humor to demonstrate a point, and the second time around he was better at using neutral pronouns except when he referenced his older comment…. “It is true that …I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field. I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult…It’s terribly important that you can criticize people’s ideas without criticizing them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth. Science is about nothing but getting at the truth and anything that gets in the way of that diminishes, in my experience, the science.” This was doubling down on segregation, I don’t even think it’s right to call this an apology. Now I get that context matters, and when you have a situation where people think you’re being sexist, that’s a stupid thing to do,

        4. He taught? News to me. I was under the impression his faculty position at UCL was in the research department.

        5. You didn’t really answer my question… And I’d really like an answer… Is there some kind of utilitarian math that would allow your generation’s best hope at finding a cure for cancer in a lab position, even if he was a raging sexist? That’s not even rhetorical… This could have been the guy.

        • Your problem may be that you don’t think he’s a teacher. I’ve worked around and for three universities, and professors teach. They may not teach a lot, but they teach—that’s what professor as a title signifies. Universities do other things, but they are educational institutions first and foremost.

          1. The problem you allude to is the Werner Von Braun dilemma. Do you hire Nazis to advance science? Well, I regard that as an exception to the rule–it was either do that, or let Russia take over the world. If the best chance of curing cancer is a racist, sexist, fascist sociopathic cannibal, you are obligated, if you use him at all, to use him away from a school and a classroom. He WILL corrupt the system and the culture.

          2. “Now seriously though” is a classic save when something you say and mean bombs. It doesn’t mean he was joking.

          3. The crying thing is per se offensive, bigoted, and misogyny. If he’s making women cry, he’s brutalizing them. I’m not a kid gloves guy, and if I have ever made someone cry in a professional setting, I don’t recall it. Women don’t respond to criticism with tears, unless someone is being abusive. So this was a confession as well.

          4. In business, a male exec that expressed such sentiments would put the employer at risk of future suits for discrimination.

          5. I see little difference between what Hunt said about women in the lab and what Al Campanis said on ABC about blacks as baseball managers. He got fired too.

          • The comment was sexist, but I don’t think the intent behind the comment was sexist.

            Sexists don’t see themselves as sexist, racists don’t intend to be racist. I’m not sure what this statement means. “Women are more unprofessional than men” (that’s what falling in love with co-workers means), “men are distracted by them” (they are sex objects) and they can’t take criticism. But I’m not intending to be sexist!

            No, you just are, Professor.

            • “Women are more unprofessional than men” (that’s what falling in love with co-workers means),

              So was he saying that men were more unprofessional with women when he said that they fall in love with co-workers? Or was he saying the act of falling in love was unprofessional, and that it was a distraction in the workplace? “You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you” Misogyny and Misandry in the same sentence!

              • Humble, there’s no argument here. It was an invidious comparison. If he’d said it 40 years ago, it would have been annoying (though possibly one of those remarks that actually sparked PC feminism), but just expressing what was going on in the mostly male-inhabited labs, as far as guys like that were concerned, in effect, normal rather than sexist. Sort of like T. Jefferson being called racist in his day.

                Now, if Hunt had been attractive to say, gay men, that might have complicated things . . . .

          • I think you’re right…. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt in thinking that while the idea that he was trying to get across wasn’t sexist, the actual words that he said were. I really don’t believe that he meant to say that women were inferior, but I understand that the text of what he said is all that really matters. I think you attribute a level of maliciousness to him that isn’t here. I doubt that his wife, one of Britain’s most senior immunologists, would have married him, or let him raise their daughters if he genuinely thought that women were less capable then men.

            Regardless, I’m doing that lawyery trick where I say “He wasn’t there, but if he was there, he didn’t have a gun, and if you can prove he had a gun, there wasn’t any GSR on his hands” I don’t think that Hunt is a Misogynist, but even if he was, or if it didn’t matter because his comment was, I genuinely believe that his work is too important to deprive him of a lab. The teaching angle… I honestly hadn’t considered it. In a situation like this… It still seems like breaking your nose to spite your face. Is there a situation where the information the racist, sexist cannibal might confer might still justify a teaching position?

            • Maliciousness would require that he understand the import of his words and how women would perceive them. He clearly didn’t, and doesn’t. Many slave-owners, most, I’d guess, weren’t malicious. Their objective was to make money and live comfortably, nit to take away a human being’s freedom. It doesn’t change the fact that the conduct was wrong.

          • “If he’s making women cry, he’s brutalizing them. I’m not a kid gloves guy, and if I have ever made someone cry in a professional setting, I don’t recall it. Women don’t respond to criticism with tears, unless someone is being abusive. So this was a confession as well.”

            That’s flat wrong. At various times in my life I’ve spent time in professional scenes that are dominated by women (medicine, education, service industry, etc.) and while women don’t universally cry in response to criticism, the rate at which they cry relative to men is astronomically higher. And the things I’ve seen them cry about are far from brutal. For comparison I’ve seen hundreds (and thats not hyperbole) of men verbally brutalized with only one or two suffering breaks – one of my favorites: “[screaming]I will fuck start your face on fire[/screaming] [angry intimate whisper] if you take one inch past a 12 inch step mother fucker [/angry intimate whisper]”

            I shouldn’t need to tell you this but there are sex based differences in psychology. And as a general trend over time, the male psychological defense strategy, in reaction to social stressors, favors emotional compartmentalization defaulting to anger whereas the female trend favors non-compartmentalization defaulting to sadness. It’s not difficult to see how these trends in psychology produce different trends in behavior – specifically a lower threshold before crying and a consequent higher rate of crying.

            In short: You do not need to brutalize a women to make her cry. Women cry more than men. And Dr. Hunt’s observation was more poorly worded than sexist.

            • Women cry more often than men. They still don’t cry often, and if they do, they are unfit for the workplace. I don’t know what women you are working with, but in a professional setting, crying is not acceptable behavior—forgiven in special circumstances, sure, but professionals must manage their emotions like everything else. Weeping shows that emotions are in control, whether a man does it or a woman. The equivalent on the male side would be a male flying into a rage.

              • Jack, be careful.

                “The equivalent on the male side would be a male flying into a rage.”

                I find myself falling on the side of ‘he’s not a sexist, he used sexist language’ here.

                Your last sentence is a perfect example of everything you are trying to say his comments were, and if they show him to be sexist, then I see this one showing you to be sexist by the same logic.

                Because crying in the workplace is equally unacceptable for women and men. So is flying into a rage. Why would you associate one behavior with women and the other with men?

                The problem with sexism (compared to racism, for example) is that there ARE substantive differences between men and women, and we have to be able to talk about them without being automatically labelled and made a pariah.


                P.S. …and let me be clear: I am NOT saying I think Jack is a sexist. I am using Jack’s words to illustrate why I don’t think Hunt is a sexist either.

                • What? I said that the equivalent sexist statement would be a male flying into a rage. I didn’t make the statement: I identified it as the equivalent biased statement.

                  You have to work on your gotchas. Here’s another one: if the Prof. was talking about Jews, the equivalent statement would be that they are hard to work with because you know they won’t put in their fair share when you order out for pizza.

                  And yes, if a woman made a ‘joke’ about men always flying into rages, she would deserve all the criticism she got.

                  You just re-enacted the “Jehovah” gag from “Life of Brian.”

                  • A fair rebuttal. Context is important. I saw the comment as your own words and not a quote of someone else, making it the creation of your own mind. I did not interpret the intended voice behind the comment and that is my error.

                    I did have a point though, and one that I think is still valid, that one should be permitted to discuss the differences between men and women, and that one will sometimes have to use language which could be interpreted as sexist to do so. This was a poor illustration of it, however.

                    So, since it wasn’t intended as a GOTCHA from the start, can we hypothetically stipulate that YOU DO BELIEVE that when men lose control of their emotions in the workplace that it takes the form of ‘flying into a rage’?

                    In that scenario, I do not believe those words nor that belief make you a sexist–and I would not want you to be knee-jerk labeled as such by the Internet and lose your livelihood.


                    • I don’t believe that, no. In fact, I think men who do that (or women) are unprofessional and lousy managers. You know that scene in “Speed” where Keanu throws a tantrum on the bus when he finds out his partner has blown up? Bad Keanu.

              • OK, I have to say I am with Professor Hunt on the crying thing and I think you and Red Pill Ethics have misrepresented what is really going on. This female student crying in the professor’s office thing has aggravated me since my undergraduate days. They aren’t crying because they are hurt or upset, they are crying because they want extra points and because they can get them this way. They are crying because it gives them an advantage over the male students. It is just an act and the tears are crocodile tears.

                When I was an undergraduate, there was a very bright girl in our program. She was always in the top 10 students or so on exams (out of 600). If she didn’t have the TOP test score, however, she would go to professor, turn on the water works, and get a few extra points to push her over the edge. Now, if a male student had done that, he would get points deducted from his score. THAT is what is truly sexist.

                When I became a professor, I decided that if a female student started crying in my office over a grade, there would be NO extra points, ever. There would be advice, extra tutoring, extra study assignments (what I would do for a student who wasn’t actively crying) but no extra points. During my first 3 years as a professor, I would have 3-4 female students come in an cry in my office after every test. When this never worked, word spread and it stopped. I haven’t had a female student cry in my office over a test score in over a decade. They do it to other professors, but not to me.

                Students do still cry in my office, but these days they are real tears. They are for when a relative dies, when a career option vanishes, when tragedy truly strikes. Girls really aren’t silly little things who are overwhelmed by their emotions at the slightest obstacle, but some will pretend they are if it gives them an advantage.

                As for the rest of the statement, this isn’t the first elderly, successful researcher I have heard this kind of thing from. You also have to realize that, from their point of view, female grad students are problematic. For this type of professors, students are merely a means to publications. If they care about the success of their students, it is because it reflects well on their own standing in the scientific community. From what I have seen, female grad students leave graduate school at a higher rate than male students before their Ph.D., especially if they have a research advisor like this (and they often do it when they get married). Female students also choose less research-intensive careers (which don’t bring as much status to the professor). So, for a professor like this, female students aren’t nearly as useful as male students and the professors try to find a way to justify that. I think this makes them less misogynistic and more self-centered. It isn’t any less unethical, just a different type of unethical.

                This is excluding the ‘falling in love with them part’. That is either a very frank and inappropriate admission that he has secretly fallen in love with some of his graduate students or an admission that he has crossed a rather serious ethical line. Yes, I know that it has been socially acceptable at some institutions in the distant past, but this guy isn’t THAT old (he would have become a professor in the ’70’s). Even then, it still wasn’t right. Of course, he could just be in the early stages of dementia in which case I may have to withdraw most of my criticisms.

  4. “It’s not unreasonable to see that as him saying that he didn’t want women in his lab because they were a distraction. I don’t think he mean that, but the cat’s out of the bag.”

    You know… I wrote this… And I realized something that has bothered me about Tim Hunt and Matt Taylor… They should never have been on television. I don’t think that Taylor wore shirts like that to work daily, and I don’t think that Hunt tells his female staff to get out of the lab and make him a sammich, I think that these geniuses aren’t public speakers, they’re nervous, awkward and out of their element. This might be a symptom of the gratification culture we’re in…. Where before a scientist might have written a book and been content to be known by his peers…. More and more we’re seeing celebrity scientists (Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson coming immediately to mind) grabbing the spotlight, sometimes despite some very unethical scientific and business practises (Tyson is a well documented plagiariser, for example) and these otherwise good scientists are trying to latch on. They shouldn’t.

    • If you can’t speak publicly, don’t, and if you do, you’re accountable for the results. He’s also a teacher…otherwise, he shouldn’t be at a university. Teachers who regard half his students as silly, emotional, sexy distractions shouldn’t teach. I don’t see how that isn’t obvious. So he’s a genius. Geniuses don’t have to teach, and good teachers don’t have to be geniuses.

      • “Teachers who regard half his students as silly, emotional, sexy distractions shouldn’t teach.”

        See, but he never said that. He never once said that women were less able in any way shape or form…. He said that co-mingling the genders leads to workplace romance leads to unnecessary complications. I’ll even say he’s right up to where he thinks it’s a big enough problem something has to be done about it. Workplace romances happen, and they can end badly… Are we really denying this?

        • He said the “falling in love” was an inevitable trouble. Proper professional discipline would keep this in check, however.

          • You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I’m not defending the content of what he said… It was still stupid. I’m just saying it wasn’t sexist, and I’m suggesting that the good that he did might outweigh the burden of having a socially awkward scientist in a lab. It also might bear saying that Hunt met both his wives professionally… So he’s speaking from experience.

  5. Times change faster than people. And these unsympathetic people who like destroy others had better learn that fact quickly or face the consequences of their own soon to be out dated thinking.

    • He’s working in THESE times, and he either is fit, or he isn’t. His comments suggested he was unfit; his explanation proved it. Nobody destroyed him. Keep up or leave the parade. He destroyed himself.

  6. Tim Hunt was very foolish to say what he thought. Whether he was foolish to think what he did is quite another matter. To my mind he is entitled to his opinion, but not to express it. I have not seen any suggestions from anyone who has worked with him, male or female, that he has been anything other than an excellent teacher and highly supportive of his students. High profile professors have plenty of opportunity to exploit their students, sexually and otherwise, but I very much doubt that Tim Hunt is in this camp.

    • He is entitled to his biases, as long as he manages them properly. Proudly and casually expressing them so they can erode his colleague’s and students’ trust isn’t managing them; indeed, it suggests that he doesn’t see anything wrong with the bias, or worse, doesn’t recognize it as a bias at all.

    • “To my mind he is entitled to his opinion, but not to express it.”

      He’s absolutely entitled to express his opinion. He just isn’t entitled to control the consequences.

      We need to be very careful about how we discuss speech. The absolute right to free speech is under attack. It’s all too easy to get comfortable with saying things along the lines of people not being entitled to express an opinion. The consequences of saying people are not entitled to express opinions is dangerously obvious.

  7. What’s a 72 year old guy doing still on a university faculty full time? Let some younger, more energetic people have have a shot. Consult. Write books. Set up a commercial lab. Hanging around inappropriately is unethical, even if you’re a Nobel winner. Mandatory retirement is a really good policy for all institutions.

  8. Place me firmly in the overreaction camp on Hunt’s vilification. Is there some type of rubric designed to simplify the process? Maybe a 1-10 scale on each word and the implications of each word? Will the other shoe somewhere clearly demonstrate that Hunt has put into practice what he expressed? Has Hunt systematically excluded females? Dr. Hunt also has two daughters – so it would be interesting to hear their perspective on being raised by a troglodyte.

    • You are ignoring the necessity of trust and trustworthiness. Should we trust liars and bigots until they actually harm us? Is that reasonable? Should we even be asked to do it? Hillary Clinton’s dishonesty and duplicitousness hasn’t harmed me yet—should I vote for her? The same applies to bigots. How is this different from Hunt saying “the problem with blacks in the laboratory is that they are always leering at women and rapping obscene lyrics, and when you criticize them they are prone to call you a jive honky and pull a knife….KIDDING!!! Sort of…” Would you want to be taught by someone who said that in public? Would you trust him? Would a responsible university force you to have to make such a choice in your education?

      The resort to pointing out that Hunt has daughters is the equivalent of saying that the fact that Hitlet was kind to animals is germane. People naturally hold strong positive biases toward their children, and that will cancel out biases that they may hold against others who are not their flesh and blood. You can’t really think that proves anything about Hunt’s views of women. Sexists have raised daughters for centuries—some are happy, some are successful, some are miserable and scarred by the experience. Entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

      • Would I wish to be taught by someone who was among the most respected in his field? You bet!

        Again – is there any evidence that Hunt has systematically excluded females? Does every poor attempt at humor forever shame someone? This was not some rant by a Mel Gibson and I am one who is willing to see beyond a silly comment until there is a pattern to prove otherwise. Let’s wait and see what former students and peers have to say.

          • Past behaviors are indicative of future behaviors. I’ll go all Paul Harvey on this and wait for “The rest of the story.” In the past to the present has there been a clear pattern of behavior to demonstrate Hunt was bias towards grades and employment? Until that is shown this is just a dumb azz comment that fell flat. Maybe a Bidenism? Should that be added to usage?

            • Again, and I hate to repeat myself, if you are black and your employer’s exec makes a public statement that ” blacks don’t have the necessities” for certain management jobs, does it matter that so far, you haven’t seen any evidence of bias? Do you want to be evaluated by someone like this, or the organization that employs him? Would you join such an organization? Do you feel the same That’s the Campanis/Nightline scenario. Do you feel black males are obligated to see if B.C.’s Prof. Grundy really considers them the scourge of education?

              • And, again, I hate to repeat myself. This is evidence of bad humor. That is it. As a previous poster stated by his entire comment. And, yes, I expect to see something regarding evidence that Hunt has put into action his words. Until that happens I categorize it as he really needs to get a script writer. If there is more I will provide the tar and you the feathers.

                Evaluations in higher education are an absolute joke. You must certainly fit into a niche especially regarding politics. Been there and seen that.

                Now, Jack, I will take you to task. Grundy is not an Eagle! She is a Terrier and most certainly has established a pattern Her’s is not a one time “oops,” Hunt’s is.

        • I couldn’t agree more Rick. people sometimes tell silly jokes. Often times what seems witty and clever in our head on the spot falls short. That shouldn’t be news.

  9. I’ve been very lucky and mostly have had very supportive teachers and professors (male and female) throughout high school, college, and law school. I did have one notoriously sexist teacher in high school and one in college. The one in high school was so bad that I dropped an AP Calc class, and the one in college was so awful that I switched majors my senior year. The latter actually telephoned me after a final to say that although I received an A, he was sure that I must have cheated. When I learned that I had to take him one more time in another subject, I switched majors.

    The high school teacher referenced above is incredibly smart and probably should be credited with creating dozens of National Merit scholars at my high school. BUT, he also would place check marks on the blackboard (one for each female) on the first day and erase one each time a female dropped his class. It was an awful experience. I don’t know if my college professor should be labeled as a genius, but he certainly was very smart and is well respected in his field. But neither of these men have any place teaching women. Perhaps they should teach at all boys schools though however as they definitely have something to contribute.

  10. Just this in! My spouse – The Lovely Cynthia – is a feminist. She was using Ms. before it became all the rage. Her credentials in the sisterhood are flawless…or are they?

    There is a committee in town that has been active for two years. I will not go into details, but it is designed to promote the local community. A schism has formed and there is now a certain element of nasty surfacing.

    I mentioned this and her comment was “They have too many women (10/1 ratio) and that causes friction and eventually hostility.” Is she a sexist? My assumption is if I said it I would be. Just asking.

    • Clearly Cynthia hasn’t gotten through. Saying that there are too many women in a supposedly balanced body where the ratio is 10-1 is statement of fact without any denigration attached.

      • Eleven person committee.Ten women and one poor soul. From her own experience she feels that is just asking for trouble. Speaking of dumb comments here is one.

        My sister-in-law is a retired educator. She considers the left wing of the Democratic Party conservative. She was up this way from Florida a few weeks ago to go to the airshow. She stops by to tell us (endlessly) all about it. “Well… there were these Asian children in front of me that could not control themselves.” Naturally I jumped in to poke the hornet’s nest. “Hey, Marilyn, you taught in Quincy with all those Asian kids, did you take that prejudice into the classroom?” Man…she goes all red faced. Yes, I did enjoy that. If she said that at a public meeting? Ouch!

  11. I thought – and still think – that the #distractinglysexy campaign was the suitable response. Nothing else.

    Especially in light of the transcript:

    Now, an account by a European Commission official printed in The Times expands on the comments he made during the conference.

    Sir Tim Hunt made the remarks about women in science at a science journalist conference in South Korea. Sir Tim Hunt made the remarks about women in science at a science journalist conference in South Korea. The official quotes Sir Tim as saying: “It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. 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.”


    • I tried DESPERATELY to get the transcript, but I couldn’t find it for the life of me. Nothing breaks up a good narrative like the whole story. Kudos!

    • The more that comes out the more it appears a few reporters with selective quotations and some type of agenda Borked this guy.

      • The fact that, as I learned from my wise commenters, that both his wives were former students leads me to believe that the smoke indicated fire. Remember—he essentially confirmed that he meant everything he said in his “apology.” And I think that, not the original comment itself, is what did him in.

        I didn’t know he had been nominated for the Supreme Court, though—interesting.

        • Borked is now entrenched in our general usage. Systematically destroy a public figure usually via the media. Another proud Ted Kennedy legacy.

        • You keep on using the word students… Even if you consider a job in the research department ‘teaching’ (which might be fair… at a second glance, he commonly guest lectured. He met both his wives in labs he didn’t lead, before he took his faculty position.

          • That’s because it’s the message to the students that counts. Does the school hire and employ and give honors to individuals who have a low opinion of a large category of students? If so, why would any student in that category go there?

    • Thankyou. I agree completely. There is something quite disturbing about the various attacks on Tim Hunt’s character. Delving into the significance or not of his marriages is unsavoury, perhaps even ‘unethical’.

  12. It seems that there is a bit more to Sir Hunt’s story than was originally reported.

    There is some more information about his remarks which most took as misogynist and disrespectful toward women in the sciences. Apparently, within the context of his speech at the conference, his comments were either a terrible, sexist, demeaning joke (therefore, the sanction was appropriate), or an awkward attempt at humor at the beginning of the speech which later concluded with remarks about the important and necessary contributions of women to science (in which case the sanction was wrong, a bending to the PC police and the online fire storm was completely unsupportable). Moreover, the accuser appears to have her own skeletons in her scholarly closet. The Daily Mail has a pretty detailed article investigating the alleged claims and the accuser’s historical reinterpretations. Here is the link:


    Read at your leisure. The comments at the end are amusing, but not very enlightening.


  13. Thanks. This has turned out to be more ‘ethically significant’ than it at first seemed, and in ways far distant from sex and gender. Will those so quick to judge now reconsider and attempt repairs and retractions? I doubt it and even if they do, it won’t be be news worthy. The damage has been done. ‘Sorry’ is still a useful word.

  14. Jack,

    I encountered this article just today and searched for this post of yours in order to tag on with these comments:


    In light of this, it seems to me more likely that the ethics failures in this story were the “journalists” who wrote about the event. The commentary article is relatively long, but that seems to be necessary in these cases where a popular meme is debunked at some level.

    • I read it. As far as I can see, this is just the King’s Pass at work. He’s a great scientist, so what he said shouldn’t be held against him. After a couple of blog posts about the mistreatment of Hunt, I thought someone would find he was misquoted.

      Falling in love with people you work with, especially students, is unprofessional. “They cry” is sexist. His apology was awful. Women have a difficult time being taken seriously in science. His comments undermine them. Who cares if he said, “But seriously”? “Blacks are a problem in the lab, because they’re always stealing test tubes, and they keep rapping all the time when you’re trying to think. But seriously…” That’s an out? The fact that the audience laughed—THAT’s an out? If an audience laughed at a recaist joke, then it’s not racist? This is Rationalization #42. The Hillary Inoculation, or “If he/she doesn’t care, why should anyone else?” and one of the most ridiculous examples. So what if the audience politely laughed because an old genius was embarrassing himself and they didn’t want to make it worse? And if he can’t speak clearer than that, why was he teaching?

      Nope. I’m not swayed at all.

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