Damn, I thought I was going to be able to drop it now but nooooooo, there’s too much new nonsense flying around – all in aid of the important cause of Doing Nothing when a celebrity scientist says sexist things at a science conference because hey he was only joking. Sexist jokes are never in any way any kind of problem at all whatsoever, just as racist jokes are not, just as anti-Semitic jokes are not, just as homophobic jokes are not. Jokes cannot ever be a problem because they are meant to be funny? Can’t you crazy social-justice warrior prude witches get that through your crazy lynch-mob heads?

The Daily Mail does its more unbuttoned version of the Times story, with all caps and exclamation points.

Revealed: ‘Sexist’ Nobel winner went on to praise women scientists in SAME SPEECH, continuing after criticised comments by saying ‘Now seriously…’

The SAME SPEECH I tell you.

And he said “now seriously” which PROVES that he was joking before and if you are joking THAT MEANS YOU’RE NOT BEING SEXIST BECAUSE IT’S A JOKE.

A leaked report on the controversial speech that forced the resignation of Sir Tim Hunt suggests he also praised women scientists.

The Nobel prize-winning scientist was castigated after he said women in laboratories either fell in love with their male colleagues or cried when criticised.

Crucially, it now appears Sir Tim followed his jocular comments with the words ‘Now seriously…’ before heaping praise on women.

“Crucially”? Please. “Jocular” comments can be just as sexist as serious comments. I could tell you about a “jocular” racist remark I heard someone make a few weeks ago, but it would make me want to heave.

Following widespread criticism of his ‘sexist’ comments, he resigned from his honorary position at UCL and positions at the Royal Society and the European Research Council.

But last night a report emerged that added crucial context to his remarks to the conference of female science journalists Seoul, South Korea.

According to The Times, a report of the event by a European Commission official who was at the lunch was suppressed by the commission.

He wrote: ‘This is the transcript of Sir Tim Hunt’s speech, or rather a toast, as precise as I can recall it: ‘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?’

According to the official, Sir Tim immediately said after: ‘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.’

Note that the “transcript” isn’t really a transcript, because the mystery official said it was “as precise as I can recall it.” That applies to the account given by Blum and St Louis and Oransky too, as far as I know, but they at least were pooling three memories and not relying on just one. It’s not self-evident that the “suppressed” transcript trumps the first one.

But that’s a quibble, because in any case the new version doesn’t make the huge difference that people are claiming. That’s especially true since he said afterwards that he was serious about some of it.

The Daily Mail is hopeful about a rebellion:

There are now over 2,000 signatures on an online petition to reinstate him to his post at UCL.

Meanwhile, members of the university’s governing council are mounting a potential rebellion over the university’s handling of the affair – with it now being claimed that talks next month could lead to Sir Tim being reinstated.

Many are said to feel that it over-reacted to the social media furore over his remarks in South Korea more than a fortnight ago.

Claimed by whom? Who are the many? Said by whom?

Who knows. Meanwhile BishopBlog has more details on how the media got a lot of the facts wrong.

My concern is about the number of signatories of Ballentyne’s petition who have got themselves worked up into a state of indignation on the basis of wrong information. There are three themes that run through the comments that many people have posted:

  1. a) They think that Tim Hunt has been sacked from his job
  2. b) They think he is ‘lost to science’
  3. c) They think University College London (UCL) fired him in response to a ‘Twitter mob’.

None of these things is true. (a) Hunt is a retired scientist who was asked to resign from an honorary position.  That’s shaming and unpleasant, but an order of magnitude different from being sacked and losing your source of income. (b) Hunt continues to have an affiliation to the Crick Institute – a flagship research centre that recently opened in Central London. (c) UCL are explicit that their acceptance of his resignation from an honorary position had nothing to do with the reaction on social media.

There are people who insist that UCL is spinning – but I don’t see why they’re so sure that UCL is spinning while Tim Hunt is not. How do they know Tim Hunt is not spinning?

So why do people think these things? Quite simply, this is the interpretation that has been put about in many of the mainstream media. The BBC has been particularly culpable. The Today programme on Radio 4 ran a piece which started by saying Hunt had ‘lost his job’. This was a couple of days after the UCL resignation, when any self-respecting journalist would have known this to be false. Many newspapers fuelled the flames. An interview with Boris Johnson on the BBC website added the fictitious detail that Hunt had been sacked by the Royal Society. He is in fact still a Fellow – he has simply been asked to step down from a Royal Society committee. It is interesting to ask why the media are so keen to promote the notion of Hunt as victim, cruelly dismissed by a politically correct university.

It is interesting, isn’t it. I think it’s basically because so many people just don’t want to have to go to the trouble of ceasing to make contemptuous jokes about women. I think for a lot of people it’s a cherished part of their Traditional Culture.

Some day this story will end. Some day.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … with all caps and exclamation points.

    Far be it from me to support the Daily Fail in anything, but neither by eye nor search function could I find any bang points in the linked story (except for unrelated sidebar material).

  2. David B. says

    Let me tell you the problem I have with the Daily Mail, first they lie to you, then they lie about you, and when you correct them they cry “Crazed Humorless Feminazi Witch Hunt Mob In PC Campaign To End Press Freedom!”

    Now seriously…

  3. iknklast says

    Note that the “transcript” isn’t really a transcript, because the mystery official said it was “as precise as I can recall it.” That applies to the account given by Blum and St Louis and Oransky too, as far as I know, but they at least were pooling three memories and not relying on just one. It’s not self-evident that the “suppressed” transcript trumps the first one.

    Of course, since it is a mystery official, it could be that official is a man. If a man, not a part of a baying mob ever. If a man, possessed of a brain more able to process things rationally without getting all emotional about it (with or without crying). If a man, someone who has no secret agenda to destroy the livelihoods of all prominent male scientists. If a man, someone who is totally objective, and therefore able to report more accurately. If a man, definitely someone who understands much better what women face in science than any woman scientist could.

    There. All we need for it to be self-evident whether this trumps the other or not is to know the gender of the “mystery official”.

    Of course, it could be a woman, and then it is really important, because it is one of those women who are able to view the world objectively without assuming every little thing that happens is sexism.

    I’m exhausted. And, of course, all the above was sarcasm. I am, in fact, part of the baying mob (though I’ve never bayed, I am sitting alone in my living room, so not a mob, and I am not even on Twitter.) I am a woman in science.

  4. luzclara says

    I wonder why some readers cannot grasp that a sexist “joke” is still sexist. Even if it’s not funny at all. It is still offensive.

  5. iknklast says

    luzclara, perhaps for the same reason that the girl scouts in my troop (I was a scout, not a leader) thought they could get away with saying dirty words by saying quote/unquote at the end, even though they weren’t quoting. They thought it was funny, and it put it into the “joke” category, so it was OK because they didn’t really mean it.

    Of course, they really meant it. And later interviews with Hunt suggest he meant it, too. Not a joke, but trying to get away with something by calling it a joke.

    Jokes are often used as an excuse to be obnoxious. But…all they are is obnoxious, not funny at all.

  6. deepak shetty says

    I’m still waiting for a clarification –
    a) That is this a bad joke , and there are no different issues with women than there are with men.
    B) This is a bad joke but has truth in it.

    It seems to me that while a good number of the defenders of the right to tell sexist jokes without consequences are portraying themselves as a) actually are b).

  7. karmacat says

    Of course Tim Hunt is not sexist. I bet he would even let women use his bathroom.

  8. L. A. Julian says

    Has no one at the Times or the Daily Fail ever heard the old expression, “backhanded compliment”? It was coined for just such events as this, where a compliment is accompanied by an insult, turning it into a verbal slap in the face. The whole point of the “compliment” is to provide cover for the sniping contempt, which is also implicit in the term “backhanded” — the victim isn’t even worthy of a full-on slap, let alone a punch, just a mocking smack by their “better” in this metaphor.

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