Maybe this will persuade the ragers to shut up at last: Paul Nurse says what Tim Hunt said was not acceptable. Sarah Knapton, science editor at the Telegraph, reports.
Sir Paul Nurse, a joint-Nobel Prize winner and friend of Sir Tim, told the Telegraph the embattled professor’s “chauvinist” comments had “damaged science”.
He added that since Sir Tim stood down last month, Sir Paul has been sent hundreds of vicious letters. Some argue that the Royal Society has not gone far enough in its condemnation of the Noble Laureate, while others criticise the 350-year-old institution for not backing the beleaguered scientist.
“Some have threatened to do things to my body parts,” said Sir Paul, in a weary tone. “The discussion has become totally polarised with extreme views on both sides. I have had hundreds of letters. I had five just this morning. It doesn’t seem to be going away.”
Louise Mensch, for one, is determined not to let it go away.
Sir Paul has stayed largely silent about the matter until now. He is a close friend of Sir Tim and they shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in recognition of their work on the cell cycle which hugely advanced cancer research. He describes him as ‘a lovely man’ who he has known since 1993.
See I’ve never thought he wasn’t a lovely man. It seemed pretty clear that he is one – lots of people said so, including lots of the people who deplored his clumsy “jokes” in Seoul. Lovely men can screw up. Sexism and casual contempt for women are entrenched and pervasive, at the same time as they’re considered not ok by people who give a damn. This means that it’s pathetically easy to be both lovely and sexist.
So Paul Nurse read about Hunt’s comments with a heavy heart.
Sir Paul, 66, said the affair had been hugely damaging for science and the Royal Society.
“Tim is a lovely man and I have known him a long time,” he said. “But there is no question about it, he did say some stupid things which cannot be supported and they had to be condemned. He said he was a chauvinist and that is not acceptable.
“It is sad because since I started working as a researcher in the late 1960s there have been really significant improvements and this kind of thing tends to set things back.
“The Royal Society can come across as old fashioned because you stay a member until you die so it can seem that we’re 30 years behind the times. But half of the Council are now women and we have a lot of initiatives to improve diversity. We have a Diversity Committee and allow mothers or fathers to work half time. Most other companies don’t do that.
“So it’s frustrating when things like this happen which make the Society seem out of touch.”
I wonder if Richard Dawkins will call Paul Nurse a witch hunter.
On June 11 Sir Tim stepped down from his role on the Biological Science Awards Committee and the Royal Society issued a strong condemnation of his comments saying they had ‘no place in science.’ The statement also acknowledged that gender discrimination was still holding back too many talented scientists.
Then it went further, announcing last week that it will replace portraits and busts of some of Britain’s most renowned male scientists at its London headquarters with artworks depicting leading women.
However the furore shows no signs of diminishing, mainly because so many eminent scientists have now backed Sir Tim.
And because Louise Mensch tweets about it nonstop (literally), and she has a column in the Sun.
“The hate mail that I get is divided into those who don’t think we have done enough and we should be more extreme in our censorship of Tim, and those who think we have treated him badly,” added Sir Paul.
“These are the extremes and it is sad that this is what the discussion has become. I have had physical threats. People feel very strongly on both sides. But I think it is right that Sir Tim resigned.
“He did a really stupid thing and then went on the Today programme and made the whole thing worse. I don’t hold with people who say it has shone a light on the issue. It would have been better if it hadn’t happened. It hasn’t been good for science or the Royal Society.”
Or for women in STEM or for women generally. It’s been bad for all four.
Sir Paul, who was knighted in 1999, became President of the Royal Society in November 2010, succeeding Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal.
In addition to the Nobel Prize he has received a Royal Medal, the Copley Medal, the French Legion d’Honneur and in 2013 became the winner of the Albert Einstein World Award of Science. He holds honorary degrees at the University of Kent, Warwick and Worcester and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Sir Paul, who is from Wembley, the son of a part-time cleaner and mechanic at Heinz, claimed his interest in science emerged on his long walks to school in north west London.
Not a child of privilege then, not a product of posh prep schools and posh public schools. I wonder if that’s one reason he gets the point.