For confronting the feminist thought police

Anne Perkins has some pleasingly acid thoughts on Tim Hunt FRS.

Here at last is someone who has come out with it. Women at work are a nuisance.

Hunt chose his moment of public revelation at, of all places, a women’s convention on science and journalism in South Korea. Perhaps he thought they’d be flattered when he told them that the trouble with women in labs was that they fall in love and cry when they’re criticised.

Of course they’d be flattered – he’s a Nobel laureate. He’s talking about them. What could be more flattering?

Note that old device, that get-out-of-jail-free admission of chauvinism.

These are not the words of a victim whose meal was spiked with a mysterious truth drug, they are the proudly admitted perceptions of a scientist. A scientist. Drink that in.

Yet, from his reaction, which was in the familiar non-apology apology of “I am sorry if I have caused offence, I should never have said such a thing in front of journalists”, it appears that he thinks it is he who has been in some way traduced, confounded by that dratted tendency of women not to get the joke. It seems quite likely that he is even now overwhelmed with supportive messages from colleagues for confronting the feminist thought police.

Talking of witch hunts (accompanied by “I promise I’m not making this up”) and The Shirt and locker room exploits and and and.

Even the response of the Royal Society suggests that the great institution doesn’t entirely get it. Science needs everyone regardless of gender, they said as they frantically pedalled away from one of their leading lights. How about, sexism is wrong, full stop?

Yeah. “We have to pander to these silly prejudices women have about being dismissed and belittled, because dammit we need their tiny little fingers, so keep it in mind next time old boy.”

What is both shocking and bewildering about Hunt’s jovial after-dinner remarks is that this is the considered view of someone whose life has been devoted to not taking the world for what it seems to be.

How bizarre that someone so entirely unreflective about his immediate surroundings can win a Nobel prize for original work. How bizarre that when he delivers his Nobel laureate lecture he describes (with a self-deprecation that is the luxury of an unchallenged inner sense of rectitude) the way that breakthroughs in his understanding came from mistakes, like running a centrifuge for too long or attributing unexpected results to contamination, but it never occurs to him to examine his own assumptions about the people with whom he works.

Yes and no. Mostly no, because they’re not really the same kinds of reflection, the same kinds of understanding, the same kinds of examination. But it would be nice if even scientists could learn some minimal social truths.


  1. Numenaster says

    “How about, sexism is wrong, full stop?”

    If they believed that, they could have said so. I don’t think they believe that.

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