They warned of a chilling effect on academics’ freedom to speak their minds

More from the “can’t somebody make those women shut up?” campaign, via the ever-reactionary Telegraph.

Eight Nobel prizewinners have come to the defence of Sir Tim Hunt, the scientist at the centre of a sexism row following his comments on the “trouble with girls” in laboratories.

They warned of a chilling effect on academics’ freedom to speak their minds after Sir Tim was forced to resign his honorary post at University College London amid pressure from social media users.

UCL has said that social media users had nothing to do with it. The Telegraph doesn’t exactly say they did – “amid” is a very handy word for that purpose – but it certainly means the reader to get that impression.

And then, this “freedom to speak their minds” shit. Nobody needs academics to feel free to say things like “we don’t want any Pakis in our labs” or “black people can’t do science anyway” or “girls are a nuisance in our labs.”

Nobody needs academics to feel free to give bad comedy routines at professional conferences and nobody needs them to feel free to disparage and belittle groups of people who are below them on the stupid antiquated retrograde Great Chain of Being hierarchy that we need to get rid of. Academics have responsibilities as well as freedoms, and one of their major responsibilities is equal treatment. Academics who feel they desperately need freedom to “speak their minds” about the inferiority of Other races or genders or classes or ethnicities or orientations are doing academitude wrong. Universities are not there to be gentlemen’s clubs.

Sir Andre Geim, of the University of Manchester who shared the Nobel prize for physics in 2010 said that Sir Tim had been “crucified” by ideological fanatics , and castigated UCL for “ousting” him.

No he wasn’t. There was no cross. No torture, no execution, no stigmata, no death. And it’s not ideological fanaticism to object to a senior male scientist telling a group of women scientists at a professional event that he thinks “girls” are a problem in the lab.

Sir Andre told The Times: “The saddest part is probably the reaction by the UCL top brass who forced Tim to resign. So much for the freedom of expression by the very people who should be guardians of academic freedom.”

Bollocks. What if Tim actually had said all that dreck about “Pakis”? Would the eight Nobel laureates be defending him then? I can’t know the answer to a conditional, but I suspect they wouldn’t – because the not-okness would be too glaring even for them to miss. But when it’s just “girls”? That’s different. Why is it different? I guess it’s because women just don’t matter, plus if they get too comfortable in the labs maybe they won’t make the Nobel laureates’ dinner any more.

Jack Szostak, of Harvard University, a Nobel prizewinning medical biologist, said that it was “frightening to see how one stupid comment can ignite a global firestorm of criticism”.

Well dry yourself off, Dr Szostak, and deal with it. Put your big boy pants on. Stop crying every time someone criticizes you. If you really need to make stupid comments about women and other underlings, just save them for social occasions. Don’t barf them out in talks at professional conferences. That’s really not asking all that much.

The other Nobel laureates who criticised the college’s treatment of Sir Tim included the medical academic Randy Schekman, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Sir Anthony Leggett, professor of physics at the University of Illinois.

Avram Hershko, an Israeli scientist who won the 2004 Nobel prize in chemistry, said he thought Sir Tim was “very unfairly treated.”

All the women discouraged and turned away by remarks of the kind Sir Tim made? Oh they don’t matter – they’re just peasants, and girl-peasants at that.

In conclusion – no, we are not going to shut up.

H/t Jennifer Phillips


  1. Jean says

    It’s funny how all this is a free speech issue but it seems to only go one way. The ones who pointed out that what Hunt said was not acceptable don’t have the same rights to express their opinion? And is this “outrage” to the “outrage” also not becoming a mob reaction since it’s coming from all directions?

    And it’s good for all of these men to confirm that there is actually a very real issue in STEM and that they are all completely oblivious to it. That makes the reaction to Hunt’s “jokes” even more relevant. Unfortunately, the same people are still oblivious to the fact.

  2. johnthedrunkard says

    The ‘chilling effect’ of just acknowledging the crushing ‘chill’ that Hunt’s blathering demonstrated?

    Hunt MIGHT be a warm fuzzy excellent fellow. But his comments are spectacularly offensive and deserve a ‘pitchforks and torches’ response. And that is what they got. This really doesn’t come close to a personalized ‘witch-hunty’ thing.

    Calling out Bad Statements and Bad Ideas is the core of ‘free speech.’ Not whining about not having a safe platform for resentful, stupid, prattling.

  3. marcus says

    johnthedrunkard @^
    “Calling out Bad Statements and Bad Ideas is the core of ‘free speech’.” QFT.
    And interestingly enough, ‘science’ as well.

  4. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Avram Hershko, an Israeli scientist who won the 2004 Nobel prize in chemistry, said he thought Sir Tim was “very unfairly treated.”

    And would he feel the same way if the remark was made that Jews should be assigned separate labs? Because real scientists can’t work with the filthy sneaky Jew-bastards you know.

  5. Matt G says

    A “chilling effect on academic freedom”? Hyperbole much, guys? Your self-pitying comments constitute deep academic thoughts? Get over yourselves.

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