Someone’s been arguing with me about Tim Hunt on Twitter on and off since yesterday. He started off a little aggressively but it became a conversation after that. He cops to some empathy for Hunt because he cringes at things he said himself ten years ago. Ok, but that’s not a reason not to criticize what Hunt said, or a reason to call that criticism “witch hunts” or “lynch mobs.”
Atticus_of_Amber @Atticus_Amber 13 hours ago
@OpheliaBenson Super successful people often live in a bubble. Their own fault; but they’re often unaware of it until they get a rude shock.
@OpheliaBenson My view is that we should be administering more of these bubble-breaking “rude shocks”, but the shocks should be less lethal.
Well the shock wasn’t actually lethal – Tim Hunt is still alive. He lost three honorary positions – and yes that is a steep price to pay, but at the same time, such positions are based on merit, just as non-honorary ones are. They are awarded for reasons. They’re not a right, and they’re not a permanent unconditional possession. His Nobel prize is a permanent unconditional possession, if I understand it correctly, and that wouldn’t be withdrawn unless he were exposed as a fraud or similar. But the honorary position at UCL and the one at the Royal Society and the one on the European Research Council’s science committee were all merit-based and, clearly, not irrevocable. They were revoked because Hunt was seen as not meeting their criteria in some way. They’re allowed to have criteria. The positions did not come with tenure – they were not tenure-track positions. Academics of all people know the difference between tenure and no-tenure. Hunt didn’t hold those three positions as some sort of permanent right, and he lost them because he publicly expressed contempt for women in his field, women per se, women as women. If he’d expressed contempt for other races, or Jews, or Muslims, I doubt we’d be hearing about lynch mobs.
But the more interesting point is the one about the bubble. What is that bubble exactly? What is that bubble that super successful people live in?
It’s the bubble in which people don’t say anything when you talk sexist or racist shit. That bubble.
That means it’s the bubble in which everyone else who has to live in that bubble – the one where super successful men get to talk sexist and/or racist shit – are left to put up with it, because people don’t want to challenge Mr Sir Professor Important FRS.
That’s a bad bubble. That bubble sucks. It’s a very pleasant bubble for Mr Sir Professor Important FRS, but it sucks for everyone else. It sucks hard for the underlings – the people of the wrong gender and the wrong race and the wrong nationality.
So a shock to that bubble is a good thing. That bubble needs a shock – and not a mild soft gentle shock. Of course the shock should not be literally lethal, but then this shock hasn’t been that, so that’s ok. But should it be forthright, and warm? Yes, it should.