I’m embarrassed for them. You’d expect that with the importance of evidence and logic, they’d understand the words they use and the reasoning behind them. In the case of Tim Hunt, we’ve now had frenetic attempts at vindication based on:

  • He is claimed to have said, “Now seriously…” after his sexist remarks, proving that he was only joking. Even if we accept that dubious addition, it means nothing. Sexist remarks are often thrown about as jokes; they’re still just as damaging, still perpetuate stereotypes, and the excuse is still absurdly common. It also doesn’t address what critics say: no one claims Hunt got up to seriously propound on his master plan to oppress women.

  • The latest is the most pathetic. After hours of build-up, with the claim that she had proof that Tim Hunt was only joking (again, that he was light-hearted in his stereotyping of women means nothing), Louise Mensch published a photo from the event in question that included a woman in the audience sort of smiling. We don’t know when in the talk it was snapped, we don’t know what the woman was thinking (did you know people often smile in situations of mild stress?), but it’s proof of an irrelevancy.

Do I even need to mention that these oft-cited proofs were published in the Daily Mail and the Sun?

Do I need to point out that it is completely unsurprising that older scientists (myself included) are human beings who will carry biases, and that the standard of proof that they are paragons of virtue ought to require much higher requirements than two words possibly misquoted or a photo of an audience member’s reactions?

Do I need to state that in an interview after the talk, Hunt openly admitted that he meant those remarks? Somehow people are putting more emphasis on the out-of-context interpretation of dubiously sourced phrases than his plain statement of intent.

My position is that Hunt is not a monster or a horrible human being, but simply someone with such an exalted status that he came to believe that his trivial and often wrong opinions about women were as robust as his ideas about cyclin-dependent kinases, and he got caught out expressing them inappropriately. We all need that kind of reality check, and people in particularly privileged positions need them most of all.


  1. jacksprocket says

    It’s in Hunt’s court now. He ought to have the decency and integrity to syand up and tell everyone that his supporters are wrong, they shouldn’t be supporting him, that his half- arsed non- apology was as stupid a mistake as the original remarks, that the pursuit of science is not gender- bounded, and that he’s learned from the experience to question his generational silly assumptions.

    Holding my breath?

  2. oolon says

    Do they ever mention that Hunt “apologised” for his comments, and went right ahead and re-iterated that he fully meant what he said? If his speech was a joke, then why did he repeat the sexism and say he meant it in his “apology” ffs… Mind boggling the level of denialism required to excuse him.

    The evidence of his own words are right there… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33077107

    On his remarks about women crying, he said: “It’s terribly important that you can criticise people’s ideas without criticising them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth.
    “Science is about nothing but getting at the truth and anything that gets in the way of that diminishes, in my experience, the science.”


    “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls,” he said. “It is true that people – I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.

    OK so the last part is his personal experience, but seriously, that is a reason to segregate women? Because he found it distracting a few times … Or I hope it was just a few times anyway!

  3. HappyNat says

    So a photo of a woman smiling at some point during the event means there is no way anything sexist could have been said at this event. So if we can find a picture of Hunt smiling at any point after the event that means the he hasn’t been under a “vicious left wing(or was it Maoist?) PC witch hunt”, right?

  4. Kevin Anthoney says

    I smiled reading the #distractinglysexy hashtag. Is that enough evidence it’s not a witch hunt?

  5. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Funny how all those alleged skeptics seemed to have learned nothing from sexual harassment training. It’s not what Hunt meant that is important, but rather how the women and feminists perceive what he said. And there was a correct perception that what he said was demeaning to women, as they perceived it that way, and was therefore a form of sexual harassment, joke or not. All else is irrelevant.

    There is no reason to defend Hunt’s remarks, unless you are scared you might not be able to purposely demean women to keep them in their place. And many people, including some women are scared.

  6. robro says

    The “Now seriously” proof that he was joking was also published in the National Post, though I suspect that’s not a better source. That article states that the transcript with his actual words, including the “Now seriously” turn from jest to seriousness, was from a transcript recorded “by an unnamed European Commission official who attended the event”…emphasis mine, of course. Dubious indeed. And note, that this authentic transcript only emerged days…over a week?…after the event. Hmmm…

    If it’s OK to guise your sexism as a joke, I suppose it’s OK to guise your racism as a joke.

  7. Maureen Brian says

    See also the Guardian of 20 June where, in an interview, Tim Hunt stresses the we should learn from this.

    Not terribly forceful. not loud enough for Dawkins to hear but he did try!

  8. says

    If that had been me, odds are I would have been smiling wryly while texting to a friend, “Ah, the sexist asshat is at it again!”

  9. Morgan says

    robro @7, apparently (based on Ophelia – I don’t have the Twitter links) the official in question is no longer unnamed, but what he provided was simply his own recollection of what was said, not a “transcript” that should reasonably be given more weight than the accounts from others, even setting aside the fact that it was initially from an unnamed source.

    The whole situation is absurd – “proof” offered that doesn’t prove anything, to “prove” something that wouldn’t be relevant even if true, all ignoring the actual problems people pointed to in the first place.

  10. Donnie says

    @7 robro

    “by an unnamed European Commission official who attended the event”…emphasis mine, of course. Dubious indeed. And note, that this authentic transcript only emerged days…over a week?…after the event. Hmmm…

    I would not even use the transcript, though the anonymous EU official original claimed it. The “transcript” was would I would call a recollection jotted down by this anonymous source, after the fact, and included in an EU report. This was not a verbatim transcript, as first reported, but when questioned by another reporter, the leaked source said it was not a transcript but what the anonymous source recalled he/she heard.

    In my opinion, even referring it to a transcript is providing to much authenticity to post-hoc rememberance by the anonymous source. All of he fanbois also forget that, as mentioned above:

    1) When confronted by the reporter, Tim Hunt repeated his stance and confirmed it was not a joke.
    2) The three reporters there compared each individual notes. Their mistake was not having an extra female reporter in order to have 4 women confront Tim Hunt with this actual, spoken words. Or, at least a man report on Tim Hunt’s words. I am sure things would have been different /s (I will let the reader determine the exact sarcasm)
    3) As mentioned, Tim Hunt immediately apologized to his hosts. Was that just per forma? Did he really mean the apology? Why apologize to his hosts and then go around and deny, and claim “it’s just a joke!” after the fact when he returned to England? I guess his received some PR flack strategy from Twitter defenders?
    4) As PZ said, during mild stress sometimes people can try and slough off mild aggression via a smile and chuckle. You know, as in, ha…ha….let’s get back to business, especially when the speaker is someone with high prestige.

    To Dawkins, I say…

    “racist word, racist word, picture stereotypical image of an Irish person, racist word, racist word. Now seriously, Irish people are great at thinky-sciencey things”. #WittySatire

    I am totes sure that Dawkins will agree with the above statement by me just as he does with Tim Hunt, right?

  11. Howard Bannister says

    Just Joking?


    Ford and Ferguson concluded that jokes don’t create hostility to the outgroup where it doesn’t already exist. But the evidence, they said, showed that joking reinforces existing prejudice. If you joke about women and get away with it, those who are hostile to women will see this as social sanction for their views and behavior. The joke tellers don’t themselves have to be actively misogynist to end up encouraging others to be.”


    The science is in. Sexist jokes reinforce sexism.

    You can’t hide behind the ‘just joking’ banner–it still has real-world effects that have been shown again and again in studies.

  12. tsig says

    It’s totes OK to belittle women as long as you do it in a joking manner./Tim defender off

  13. says

    I don’t get it. Hasn’t it been established that, just as racist jokes are racist, sexist jokes are sexist? Not only is is sexism to make sexist jokes, it is an invitation to your audience to share your sexist opinion and to join with you in finding pleasure in contemplating whatever sexist thing you said. In other words, it’s sexism with a side of sadism. And that’s supposed to make it better somehow?

  14. robro says

    Morgan and Donnie — Thanks for the update. I’m sure a non-proof goes right along with the non-pology. Not for a moment did I consider this so-called transcript revelation relevant to anything other than the guile of white men trying to cover their asses. Nor did I think the word “transcript” anything more than a media weasel. I found Dawkins’ tweets published with the article hailing this non-proof particularly pathetic and disappointing…time to put him on the shelf.

  15. says

    @ jacksprocket #2

    his generational silly assumptions.

    Don’t fucking do this. His generation was full of feminists fighting for equality. His age is no excuse for holding bigoted opinions. Also, I don’t think it’s very helpful to dismiss sincere, damaging bigotry as “silly” as though we can condescendingly ignore it from a height of privilege.

  16. robro says

    Re sexism is sexism even if it’s a joke: Paul Solman, a researcher at Berkeley, has been investigating how privilege affects the behavior of the privileged. In one experiment his teams has two people play Monopoly, except one of them starts with more money. Obviously this person immediately begins to win. As the game goes on, the winner becomes increasingly condescending toward the loser…smiling, teasing and joking, casually eating from the bowl of nuts, very good natured, hahahaha…meanwhile the disadvantaged person sits passive and meek.

  17. marcus says

    The part I don’t understand is why don’t the apologists just STFU? The only legs this entire sorry mess of notpologies and defensiveness (sorry, British,defenciveness) is that his supporters keep on kicking the poor dead beast. It is the “people in particularly privileged positions” version of the Dead Parrot Sketch. Tim Hunt was an idiot, being (male-chauvinist) pig-headed about it is only prolonging the pain.
    If he had started out with a real and considered apology, with just a smidge of contriteness and self-awareness about his stupid (though telling) “joke” (which it actually wasn’t) the controversy of this particular incident would be over and we could move on to rectifying the situation that his sexist comment epitomized.

  18. petesh says

    Marcus @20: “British, defenciveness” — boom! Excellent. One do get tired of pedants about the One True Version of a language whose orthography was only codified relatively recently, and is stolen flux.

  19. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    Yes but don’t you people see? A man has been lynched, stoned, burned at the stake, found guilty in a kangaroo court without a trial and hanged! There was a mob of screeching feminist harpies who descended on him and retroactively made his whole career disappear into thin air! And since this all happened so quickly after he said what he said (OR DID HE EVEN SAY IT?!), clearly someone wanted to just get rid of him and decided to mobilize a twitter gestapo to make it so. WHO WILL STAND UP AGAINST THE SJW TYRANNY?! You know, first they come for the sexist, and the next thing you know there are no more freeze peaches left in the world, ever! And that would clearly fit into the future fascist sentiments of these SJWs fully. Gods, the huge manatee! Is no one safe? Next stop, North Korea!!eleventyone!1!

    Yeah, these are all literal quotes from the facebook fight I’ve been fighting literally for weeks on this topic, now. In a “Skeptic” group. Oh, how I laff. Although at this stage, it’s more like sobbing, because us women are the emotional ones, you know. Clearly too given to crying when criticized, unlike the thinky think menfolk.

  20. petesh says

    Gen … @24: “freeze peaches” is totally going to be still in. Men complaining that gals are emotional is and always has been pure projection.

  21. Maureen Brian says

    jacksprocket @ 19,

    You’ll have to give us the password to get inside your head because I have no idea what you’re talking about. Do you?

  22. says

    I’m sorry, why is this position being linked to “skeptics.” It seems to me you are trying to perpetuate a stereotype of your making based upon an incidental association of a few individuals.

    Why is this post no titled, “atheists,” or “scientists?” – or why anything. beyond specific individuals.

    Are self-identified skeptics more likely to hold the position you are criticizing?

    If you are against stereotyping, then don’t employ it yourself.

  23. anteprepro says

    Steven Novella: Venturing a guess that the quotes are scare quotes. So it is not so much about stereotyping as mocking inconsistency. I would also guess that PZ identifies as a skeptic to a degree (as would most atheists, not sure what most scientists would identify as though they certainly use skepticism). But I could be wrong.

  24. Rowan vet-tech says

    I would think it would refer to those ‘skeptics’ who are so very very skeptical that they circle right back around and end up defending absurdities instead of questioning them, such as much of evo-psych and MRAs. Or those ‘skeptics’ who think science is a big conspiracy theory, leading us to the anti-vaxxers, climate-denialists, etc.

  25. says

    It’s only a joke if both the teller and the listener are laughing. If your audience is cringing in disgust, then it doesn’t matter what your intention was.

  26. paulbc says

    Ibis3 #17

    Don’t fucking do this. His generation was full of feminists fighting for equality.

    I agree that the “generational” thing is hooey. Hunt was born in 1943. There were female scientists back then, believe it or not. Marie Curie had won a Nobel 40 years earlier. My mother (as it happens) was just finishing her BS in chemistry around that time. Feminists? Gloria Steinem (born 9 years before Hunt) was active and well known in the 1960s when Hunt was in his 20s and melting hearts in the lab or at least in his mind. If Hunt had gone to Woodstock in 1970, he might have been a little above median age at 27, but would not have stood out–anyway not because of his age, but perhaps a kind of clueless demeanor.

    So the old man excuse that might have worked 50 years ago really doesn’t work now. “Old man who was raised in a cloister and lived under a rock” might work, but this guy carried out his work at a university among young people, including young women. It boggles the mind that he could have said such a thing at all, let alone digging himself deeper trying to defend it.

  27. consciousness razor says

    So the old man excuse that might have worked 50 years ago really doesn’t work now. “Old man who was raised in a cloister and lived under a rock” might work, but this guy carried out his work at a university among young people, including young women. It boggles the mind that he could have said such a thing at all, let alone digging himself deeper trying to defend it.

    Just to underline this point a little more. It’s understandable how a person could have terrible and ignorant views about groups they’ve never had any contact with (or very little significant contact). The group might be on the other side of the planet, or when communication and transportation were extremely limited for nearly everyone for most of recorded history, they might just be a little way down the road. Either way, you may have no way to tell how or when someone has lied to you about them or otherwise manipulated you into a prejudicial belief. That’s certainly not everything, but that’s one thing that has changed to give some people a somewhat better perspective on their fellow humans.

    But anyway, as obvious as it is, there’s an important difference we ought to recognize: there never was any large-scale separation of men and women, like there was with different races or religions or languages or political systems or what-have-you. You interacted with people of another gender, generally every day throughout your entire life, no matter which generation we’re talking about. Some dude doesn’t even have to go down the road to see that in fact women have the same potential/value/etc. as men, thus having all sorts of reasons to conclude he better change his fucked up views about them, no matter how he got those views in the first place. They’ve obviously done a lot of great things and deserve credit for it, but you personally (whoever you might be) shouldn’t need feminists or a movement of them to drill that trivial kind of shit into your head, because it should already be fucking obvious since you’re around them all of the fucking time. The really astonishing thing, which I’d have a fucking hard time explaining in any way that makes past generations of men look almost decent or reasonable, is that sexism ever got a foothold in any culture at all.

  28. oliversarmy says

    Steven Novella (#27):
    Why is this position being linked to “skeptics?”

    Perhaps it is because self-identified skeptics like you keep granting Hunt a benefit of the doubt that he does not deserve.

    From your 6/25 post at NeuroLogica:
    “I think to some degree it represents a fundamental loss of privacy.”

    Seriously? You think a Nobel laureate invited to speak at a luncheon honoring women in science has some sort of expectation of privacy? Seriously? This wasn’t an email he sent to a friend. This wasn’t comments he made over beers with friends. This wasn’t some masturbatory fantasy he posted anonymously in a chat room dedicated to lab slaves in white coats. And you want to grant to grant him some sort of loss of privacy.

    But here is the thing Steven, even in private these would have been reprehensible sentiments to express.

    Self identified “skeptics” who take no position on important social issues are the worst.

  29. Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened says

    Pretty much anything Louise Mensch claims can be dismissed out of hand.

  30. Daz365365 . says

    (oliversarmy 33)

    “Perhaps it is because self-identified skeptics like you keep granting Hunt a benefit of the doubt that he does not deserve. ”

    However, self identified skeptics like me grant Hunt nothing of the sort, which is why Steven is right and stereotyping Skeptics is unhelpful.

  31. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says


    I’m sorry, why is this position being linked to “skeptics.” It seems to me you are trying to perpetuate a stereotype of your making based upon an incidental association of a few individuals.

    Define those individuals. It is a vague statement in need of clarity.

    Too many self-identified “skeptics” show skepticism over only what women and SJWs say. They lack the true skepticism accept what reality says (Hunt said it, and acknowledged it), and what he said was essentially sexually harassing, as it demeaned women. That is reality. Nothing to be skeptical over.

    Daz365365 #35

    However, self identified skeptics like me grant Hunt nothing of the sort, which is why Steven is right and stereotyping Skeptics is unhelpful.

    Vague statement in need of clarification. Why is Steven right, and show examples of what you mean.

  32. says

    @Steven Novella, #27: I think the point is that there are people who call themselves “skeptics” ignoring actual evidence, citing unsourced transcripts made long after the fact, and doing anomaly-hunting in a single snapshot of a long event in order to bend over backward to support a preconceived notion. It’s people who call themselves “skeptics” engaging in flawed reasoning that, were it in support of Bigfoot or Nostradamus’s prophetic quatrains, they would immediately and rightly recognize as worthless. But instead it’s in support of a scientist and against the dreaded SJWs, so it’s okay to do what skeptics are supposed to fight against.

    That people involved are atheists is irrelevant to the point. If the situation were atheists bending over backwards to defend Tim Hunt’s claims that he is divine and we should all worship him, then the post would quite likely be titled “Atheists.” If the situation were scientists bending over backward to defend Tim Hunt’s claims of discovering cold fusion or something, then the post would quite likely have been titled “scientists.” Instead, it’s people who call themselves skeptics throwing skepticism out the window in order to defend sexism, something that’s happened with alarming regularity for the last several years.

    If you want to chide people for stereotyping skeptics, it might be good to go after the people who think “skeptic” is a label you apply to yourself, not a process you employ to understand the world.

  33. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    I’ve seen PZ’s feed. I’ve witnessed the Tim Hunt defenders. You could drop a dart on those making comments and hit a Twitter account with ‘skeptic’ as a part of their description, if not a part of their timeline. The quotes in the title are obviously for those like them.

    So, you see, you couldn’t use “Atheists” as part of the title, as there’s no discombobulating discrimination about the nature of an atheist which counterpoises against the activities Hunt’s defenders are engaged in. Quite simple, really.

  34. tonyinbatavia says

    Steven Novella @27, please read what Tom Foss said @37. Clearly PZ is commenting on “skeptics” taking a decidedly non-skeptical approach. This clearly wasn’t an issue to which science applies. This clearly wasn’t an issue to which atheism applies. Though these big names may also be scientists and atheists, it’s their lack of skepticism that is most relevant here.

    Besides, PZ wasn’t calling out (see also: “stereotyping”) all skeptics. He was calling out these specific big name “skeptics” who are not employing skepticism. Surely you get that, right?

  35. tinkerer says

    Steven Novella @27

    You have had several reasonable, and reasoned, responses to your somewhat tetchy post which disagree with you. A similarly reasoned reply from you which addresses those responses might show whether you actually have a point or not. Based on the evidence so far, I’ll go with “not”, but I’m prepared to listen to what you have to say.