Quite the rabbit hole

Phil Plait says ALL the things.

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.

At this point the backlash began. Richard Dawkins, who, honestly, should know better by now than to wade into controversies about sexism, defended Hunt against what he termed a “witch hunt.”

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.

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.

That’s the upside: lots of good writing, and lots of people better known.

Thank you Phil Plait.


  1. Donnie says

    …but not bizarrely if you know how intensely he hates feminism at this point.

    In order to give Dawkins a minuscule of charity, I’d say he believes that he does not hate feminism. He just hates any feminism that does not specifically cater to and meets his feminist perspective. A perspective he picked up by following Christian Hoff Sommers and reading Paula Kirby’s The Sisterhood of the Oppressed.

    Of course, we would agree his feminism is worthless as practiced outside the cocoon of privilege that he has crafted for himself.

  2. says

    Oh, sure, he believes he does not hate feminism, but then he believes a lot of daft things of that kind. He believes he engages in good-natured mockery while other people engage in rudeness and vitriol. He believes everything he says is LOGIC while other people talk baffling nonsense. He believes he is crystal clear on Twitter while other people are infuriatingly opaque. You get the idea.

  3. anat says

    About decade ago, when New Atheism was a ‘thing’, Dawkins praised the feminist movement for ‘raising awareness’ and talked about how the atheist movement needs to learn from it.

  4. deepak shetty says

    was endorsed by Dawkins.

    You’d think that Dawkins would be able to recognize an ad-hom when he saw it.

    Thank you Phil Plait.

    Also gives new meaning to “Dont be a Dick!”

  5. iknklast says

    You’d think that Dawkins would be able to recognize an ad-hom when he saw it.

    Ad homs are only ad homs when they are targeted against people you agree with and like. When it is against your opponents, it’s just appropriate information to help consider the argument.

    You just flunked Dawkins Logic 101!

  6. deepak shetty says


    You just flunked Dawkins Logic 101!

    Why are you worried about me flunking , when there are poor oppressed women in Otheristan ?
    Can I get my A now ?

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