While we’re on the subject of Famous Pale Male Scientists Defending Other Famous Pale Male Scientists From Witchy Baying Feminists, there’s also Brian Cox.
The scientist and broadcaster Prof Brian Cox has said it was wrong the way a Nobel laureate scientist was “hounded out” of his university post over controversial comments he made about women working in laboratories.
Cox said the remarks by Sir Tim Hunt had been “very ill-advised” but that the response – which saw him give up positions at University College London (UCL) and the Royal Society – had been disproportionate.
Disproportionate to what?
UCL and the Royal Society want to attract women to science. They don’t want to repel women from science. They don’t want to alienate women already in science. So why is it disproportionate for them to dump a Famous Pale Male Scientist who goes to a conference in a foreign country and gives a talk in which he talks about women as if they were pets or small children?
Here’s what the Royal Society said:
Sir Tim Hunt has today contacted the Royal Society to offer his resignation from the Society’s Biological Sciences Awards Committee. The Society has accepted that resignation.
It was an awards committee. Is it “disproportional” that they allowed him to resign from that? Is it “disproportional” if they nudged him to resign?
Think about it. He’s on the committee, and he made those dismissive remarks about women…so how trustworthy does the committee appear? Not very. Maybe it would pass over women who should get awards, or maybe it would give awards to women who shouldn’t get them. It’s the wrong sort of committee for Sir Tim Hunt to be on.
I don’t see the disproportion.
The rest of what the RS said:
Sir Tim Hunt’s recent comments relating to women in science have no place in science. The Royal Society believes that too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender discrimination and the Society is committed to helping to put this right.
Sir Tim Hunt has made exceptional contributions to science in terms of his own research on the cell cycle and its implications for our understanding of cancer which led to the award of the Nobel Prize. Over the years he has also supported the careers of many young researchers, often travelling tirelessly to support young people all over the world. It is the great respect that he has earned for his work that has made his recent comments so disappointing, comments he now recognises were unacceptable.
He hasn’t been sent to the North Pole, he’s simply resigned from a committee.
Back to Brian Cox.
Cox acknowledged that while there was a serious issue about the “perceived air of sexism” that deterred some women from pursuing careers in science, he said that he did not believe Hunt should have been treated in the way that he was.
Cox said Hunt was “good person and a great scientist” and that as a man in his 70s, it was perhaps not surprising that Hunt was “slightly unreconstructed”.
That’s not the issue. The point isn’t to punish him, it’s to make UCL and the RS not hostile to women in that particular way. That’s a sensible and reasonable goal. It’s a more important goal than protecting the feelings of Sir Tim Hunt in the wake of his dismissive remarks. I don’t think Brian Cox should be putting Hunt’s feelings ahead of efforts to remove obstacles to women in science.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One programme: “You can make the argument that senior figures in science have to be first of all aware that there is a central problem of women progressing up to the highest levels of science and secondly, therefore, have to be mindful of that and careful of their language.
“On the other side of course, there is the wider problem of trial by social media. People do make ill-advised comments from time to time so is it appropriate to hound someone out of their position at a university or indeed is it appropriate for the university to react in the way UCL in this case did and ask someone to resign or threaten to sack them?”
If it had been a spontaneous remark at the pub, no. But it wasn’t. It was a prepared talk at a professional conference. It’s extraordinary the way defenders of Hunt keep minimizing it. It’s extraordinary that Cox apparently can’t see the problem with Hunt’s saying essentially that women are a big pain in the ass in the lab and should be shunted off into their own labs by themselves. At a professional conference.
“To have a Nobel prize winner – and by all accounts a great scientist and a good person – being hounded out of a position at UCL after all those years of good work and science, I think that’s wrong and disproportionate – with the caveats I mentioned.”
Cox acknowledged that there were problems in getting young women to take up careers in science and engineering, and said there were “big problems” that needed to be addressed when it came to career progression for women.
“There is a problem in science and engineering and the problem is that we don’t have enough women going into certain areas, particularly engineering,” he said.
And blah blah blah blah, but having said that – Tim Hunt should still have those positions from which to make dismissive remarks about women at professional conferences.