Tim Hunt was chastised by his hosts at the Korean meeting of the World Conference of Science Journalists, and he replied with a slightly better apology.
The federation asked for an apology. And got one almost immediately. Hunt wrote that he regretted his “stupid and ill-judged remarks.” He added: “I am mortified to have upset my hosts, which was the very last thing I intended. I also fully accept that the sentiments as interpreted have no place in modern science and deeply apologize to all those good friends who fear I have undermined their efforts to put these stereotypes behind us.”
He’s not quite there yet. Those qualifiers are an ugly blot: “as interpreted”. Meaning, “I didn’t really say what you think I said,” which is part of his evasive strategy — his excuse has flip-flopped between he really meant it, and he was just joking.
Hunt is not very interesting anymore. What you ought to read, though, is Deborah Blum’s comments on the issue.
I do have sympathy for anyone caught in the leading edge of a media storm. But if we are ever to effect change, sometimes we need the winds to howl, to blow us out of our comfort zones. Because the real point here isn’t about individuals, isn’t about Tim Hunt or me.
The real point is our failure, so far, to make science a truly inclusive profession. The real point is that that telling a roomful of female scientists that they aren’t really welcome in a male-run laboratory is the sound of a slamming door. The real point is that to pry that door open means change. And change is hard, uncomfortable, and necessary.
When we do make a noise, stand up for what’s right, have an open conversation about gender balance in science—even if that conversation is conducted as a virtual shouting match—we remind each other of the essential importance of equality. And we move, all of us, in a direction that matters.
I will repeat something I said before, and have never heard a satisfactory answer to…actually, no one has given me an answer, period.
If you’re one of those people who called this a “witch hunt”, an “Inquisition”, a “lynching” — what would you have people do differently when an esteemed senior scientist gets up to a lectern and says something sexist, or racist, or simply idiotic?
You are, apparently, unhappy that people commented on it on Twitter, or wrote blog posts about it, or wrote op-eds decrying it. You seem to be distressed that others are even talking about it negatively. Be specific: what do you propose that a person hearing a Nobelist announcing that women should be segregated from men in the lab should do?
Bonus points if you manage to find a rationalization for that, and you’re also on record deploring the habit of Muslims demanding segregated seating for men and women at public lectures.