If a highly respected and liked Nobel Laureate can say it

Something Hilda Bastian said in a comment on Dorothy Bishop’s post on the media spin of Tim Hunt’s day out.

The differences here do not seem to be so much “what” was said, but whether or not it was meant to be “self-deprecating.” And that is rather beside the point. The statements included some extraordinarily hurtful stereotypes about a gender, and about one gender in the scientific workplace. That sends a message, if a highly respected and liked Nobel Laureate can say it, then there’s something ok with it. The outpouring of both sexist, misogynist, and now racist statements across the comment streams of newspapers and the internet generally, with people clearly thinking they have some kind of common cause with a Nobel Laureate, proves the point of how harmful social sanction for sexist remarks can be. That’s not less so if it’s a joke, and not less so if they are not intended to be malicious. Saying afterwards “hey, just kidding!” doesn’t make it alright.

All of that. This whole phenomenon of people raging about feminist lynch mobs is yet another bit of social sanction for sexist remarks (and sexist diatribes and sexist rants and sexist lectures). I’m not as depressed and disgusted as I might be, because there are a lot of excellent people pushing back against the sexism…but I’m still pretty disgusted by how quick people are to attack feminism while denying obvious sexism.

Those who think attacks on Tim Hunt are wrong, but attacks on journalists doing what journalists are mean to do are fully ok, are being utterly hypocritical. Our societies need scientists and journalists. And we need to be able to debate issues without ad hominem attacks. Tim Hunt is clearly a good and highly respected person – and so are Connie St Louis, Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky. Attempts to denigrate them as people are sickening and the sooner it stops, the better. In particular, the attacks on Connie St Louis, which include a vast amount of racist bile, are colossally offensive. That our society seems unable to stem the misogyny and racism that has been unleashed is the strongest possible argument for why respected people must not themselves add discriminatory remarks to the public discourse.

Exactly so.

City University London has released a statement in support of Connie St Louis:

29th June 2015

A spokesperson for City University London said:

“We have spoken to Connie and are satisfied that her academic qualifications are correct. We will be working with her to update her profile page to include more recent publications and professional activities.”

Connie St Louis, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at City University London, said:

“An article in Saturday’s Daily Mail makes a number of inaccurate and misleading allegations about me, and attempts to discredit me after I reported comments by the Nobel prize-winning scientist, Sir Tim Hunt.

“I reject the accusation that I have ‘hounded’ Sir Tim. The action I took was to draw attention to comments that Sir Tim made during a speech to delegates earlier this month at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul. A number of newspapers and broadcasters around the world, including the Daily Mail, reported the story and quoted me. I consider that by reporting controversial comments by Sir Tim I was simply fulfilling my role as a science journalist.

“Since the story broke, the response to the story has been overwhelmingly positive and has resulted in the excellent #distractinglysexy campaign. However, recently I have been subjected to an increasing number of personal attacks, including receiving a number of abusive e-mails and I have also been attacked on social media. Now my professional reputation is being attacked by a story which draws attention to an out-of-date version of my website profile that I will be updating.

“I should perhaps not be surprised by the treatment I have been receiving for reporting, as a science journalist, Sir Tim’s comments about women scientists. Nevertheless, I am disappointed that the Daily Mail has chosen to publish such an inaccurate and misleading article.”

So there’s that.


  1. PatrickG says

    I am disappointed that in the Daily Mail

    Fixed that for everyone.

    Snark aside, I eagerly await the libel case. I hear they have higher standards about that on the other side of the pond.

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