He starts with Tim Hunt’s day out.
He made a series of sexist comments, saying that the problem with “girls” in science is that they fall in love with the men, the men fall in love with them, and when you confront them they cry. He then went on to suggest labs should be single-sex.
He thought at first it was a very bad joke, but found there’s more to it than that.
Many science journalists were at the lunch and witnessed the whole thing, including Deborah Blum, Ivan Oransky, Charles Seife, and Connie St. Louis. After discussing what they saw and heard, they decided St. Louis should write an article about it on her blog at Scientific American. What’s very important to note here is that both Blumand Oransky have corroborated St. Louis’s report, multiple times. Seife did as well. Blum asked Hunt about his comments, and he confirmed that he thought women were too emotional to work with men in labs.
In other words, it’s clear that even if he framed it as a joke, he was being sincere in his meaning and intent.
As is so often the case with jokes, especially with snotty put-down jokes like this one. The disingenuous claims of shock and disbelief about this strain my credulity until all the bolts pop out. You have to live inside a tree trunk to be unaware of people who use “jokes” as ways to get away with saying shitty things.
Plait goes through the response, #distractinglysexy, the resignations from his honorary position at UCL and the board of the European Research Council and the Biological Science Awards Committee of the Royal Society, and reminds readers that these were all honorary positions and he lost no income by resigning them.
He should know better, shouldn’t he. People keep telling him. He keeps ignoring those people.
Hunt’s comments and the defense of them were bad enough, but the situation has taken an even worse turn.
The execrable Daily Mail has waded into this. On Friday, it published what can only be called a hit piece on Connie St. Louis which, bizarrely, was endorsed by Dawkins.
Bizarrely in some ways, but not in others. Bizarrely if you expect him to have standards, but not bizarrely if you know how intensely he hates feminism at this point.
To say the article is problematic is to severely understate the case. It attacks St. Louis’s credentials; however, she is an award-winning journalist, former President of the Association of British Science Writers and was recently elected to the Board of the World Federation of Science Journalists. The City University London (where she is a Senior Lecturer) has publicly supported her after the Daily Mail article came out. St. Louis points out numerous errors in the article there as well.
Not-so-incidentally, the very basis of the attack appears to be based on nothing as well.
This attack is deeply, deeply ironic, given that the Daily Mail has been known to brazenly plagiarize science journalists specifically, and has been accused of other less-than-savory tactics in journalism. Even when it’s original, the publication’s level of science journalism is appalling.
But at least its heart is in the right place.
Hahahaha totally kidding.
And now another attack piece on St. Louis has been posted on the far-right-wing Breitbart site, saying she has become immune from criticism because she’s black.
Yes, you read that right. And that’s not all. In a sentence so tone deaf I’d swear it’s parody, the author, Milo Yiannopoulis, writes:
St Louis is responsible for the sacking of Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize-winning biochemist who became the target of an online lynch mob after his comments about women in science were taken out of context.
Yes, again, you read that right. You might ignore the obviously incorrect statements in that one sentence (Hunt wasn’t sacked, he was asked to resign from an honorary position; and as we’ve seen his comments were not taken out of context), but it’s much harder to ignore that, in an article attacking a woman because she’s black, Yiannopoulis used the phrase “lynch mob.”
Yiannopoulis, for his part, is a vocal advocate for Gamergate, a movement that claims it’s “actually about ethics in gaming journalism” (a phrase so thin it’s become a standard Internet joke), but which has also been viciously attacking women online. Yiannopoulis appeared on the British 24 hour news channel Sky News to “debate” this topic with Dr. Emily Grossman; while glib, his arguments were unconvincing, and unsurprisingly Grossman has been receiving misogynistic backlash for her appearance (that link also shines a light on more of Yiannopolous’s incorrect statements).
Clearly, this is quite the rabbit hole.
Isn’t it? Isn’t it just? It should have been over three weeks ago, and instead it’s grinding on like the mills of god.
The good news is that at least this important issue is getting airtime, getting discussed. The problem is it’s also getting hijacked, distorted, and drowned out by nonsense. This happens every time institutionalized sexism is discussed.
But discuss it we must. Connie St. Louis has called for systemic change. Science writer Matthew Francis wrote about this in context of the Nobel Prize itself. Science philosopher Janet Stemwedel wants scientists to be more vocal in decrying statements such as Hunt’s. Emily Grossman shows we need to quash sexism so that at the very least women don’t feel unwelcome in STEM fields. Stemwedel has written along those lines, too. Uta Frith, writing at the Royal Society blog, talks about the impact this has and will have on diversity in the science.
That’s the upside: lots of good writing, and lots of people better known.
Thank you Phil Plait.