Welp, I guess we’ll never be done with Tim Hunt

I thought it was clear. The case is closed. UCL released their official statement.

But strangely, I’m being bombarded with claims that the statement was ambiguous, that it didn’t say what it seems to say, that I’ve misquoted it. Really? What’s ambiguous about:

Council unanimously supports the decision taken by UCL’s executive to accept the resignation.


Council acknowledges that all parties agree that reinstatement would be inappropriate.

I think it’s pretty clear that UCL confirmed that their decision to strip Hunt of an honorary title was a correct one. And I think that all along they’ve been absolutely crystal on their insistence that promoting equality does not involve stereotyping women in science, even as a joke. To now claim that their statement is open to interpretation is just plain weird.

It’s also an example of straightforward denialism to now try to rewrite history. His remarks at the Women’s Science and Technology Associations at the 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists were quoted by multiple sources; he has acknowledged what he said, and that he meant it; the Korean group that invited him asked for an apology, and he gave it; yet somehow, that one source claimed that he said “seriously now” after his stereotyping completely changes the meaning of everything? This is beyond absurd. This is a desperate grasping at straws.

It also ignores the fact that in 2014, he said:

I think people are really good at selecting good scientists but I must admit the inequalities in the outcomes, especially at the higher end, are quite staggering. And I have no idea what the reasons are. One should start asking why women being under-represented in senior positions is such a big problem. Is this actually a bad thing? It is not immediately obvious for me… is this bad for women? Or bad for science? Or bad for society? I don’t know, it clearly upsets people a lot.

Here’s what it all means. It does not mean that Hunt is a terrible scientist (I know his work, it’s important stuff), it does not mean that he has to give his Nobel back or get fired from his real positions. It means that Tim Hunt has not thought very deeply about inequities in science. He questions whether it’s even important. Even after all this criticism, he’s baffled that anyone would find his opinions objectionable, and he’s still not questioning his own privilege.

If an institution is trying to correct those inequities, that makes him a terrible public representative of institutional values, and it is right and honorable to ask him to step aside from those duties and instead do what he does well — research.

But he’s a Brave Hero of Science, so the fanatics will continue to demand that he be treated as infallible and semi-divine, right?


  1. davidnangle says

    I suppose even the invincible Black Knight had fans, who also agreed that it was just a flesh wound.

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

    Huh? Social regressives trying to rewrite history? I’ve not come across them doing that before.

  3. iknklast says

    Everyone points to the “women he has helped”. He probably has. But I’ve been a woman in science long enough to know the subtle cues, so subtle the person giving them off may have no clue of them, that can become disheartening and discouraging. My dissertation advisor was a wonderful man. He was a great scientist, and I benefited a lot from his mentoring. He truly believed that women were able to do science as well as men, and he lived his life in a way to promote that idea, mentoring many female students and giving them opportunities equal to those he offered to his males. He recognized talent, and rewarded it, regardless of gender. Still…he had a way of acting around the women students that was slightly different from the men. For a male student, there was a camaraderie, a sense of total equality in his manner. For a female student, he became fatherly (even with students near his own age). He didn’t condescend or talk down like we couldn’t understand “real” science, but there was something slightly different in his tone, a leftover chivalry from a courtly age when women were in a different universe than men. Although I never doubted that he considered me equally capable and intelligent to his male students, it could still become disheartening at times, a subtle reminder of the double standard even in someone who would fight to his last breathe for the notion of women’s rights and women’s ability to do good science.

    The effect was so subtle I didn’t really recognize it until late into my program, when I found myself responding to him almost as I would a father, rather than an equal. He didn’t mean it, he would be horrified at the idea that he treated women that way, but there it was.

  4. Karen Locke says

    I’ve seen comments on Facebook, from scientists I mostly respect, insisting that the whole thing was blown out of proportion and Hunt was ill-used. Never mind the apology. And now we have people questioning whether locking women out of science careers is a bad thing??!!??


    In my own field of geology, I see comments — even from people who should know better — to the effect of, wow, we have so many women in the field now! Isn’t it wonderful? Well, yes, but why aren’t we beyond counting heads? Why do most of the women geologists in academia still not have families? Is it because they’re human, can only work so hard, and must choose between a family and a career?

    I came late to geology; I started out as a computer engineer. That’s another field that sheds women, because so many find the work environment difficult; systemic gender discrimination and unrelenting long hours make it difficult to get up and go to work in the morning after a few years, no matter how much you like the technical aspects of your work.

    When I first graduated in a STEM field, in 1980, I knew I was entering a brave new world that had historically been hostile to women. It never crossed my mind that I might be seeing the same, or nearly the same, level of difficulty three and a half decades later.

  5. dianne says

    Is this actually a bad thing?


    It is not immediately obvious for me…

    That’s because you’re stupid.

    is this bad for women? Or bad for science? Or bad for society?

    All of the above. Let’s face it: talent is scattered randomly. Men are no more likely to be great scientists than women. The fact that most recognized great scientists or even mediocre but productive scientists are men suggests that quite a lot of talent is being wasted. That means that diseases that could be cured are not being cured, the universe is not being understood, disasters are occurring unnecessarily…we’re poorer, sicker, and stupider than we need to be because women are not allowed to use their talent in the same way that men are. That’s bad for society and bad for science. I shouldn’t have to explain to someone with more brains than the average stone why it’s bad for women to be locked out of a field where their interests and talents lie, but since Tim’s intelligence doesn’t seem to be there, I’ll go for it: Keeping women out of science because of YOUR problems with them is unjust and results in women leading lives that are not as interesting, fulfilling, or useful as they could have been. Or even as long. Tim, may you die of a condition that would have been curable if women were equal. It’s an easy curse to give because you almost certainly will.

  6. Rob says

    This will never be over. If not Tim Hunt, these people will keep on finding something to be outraged over because… well, because. Remember elevatorgate? Gamergate? Puppygate (rabid and sad)? Now this debacle. For these sad sad people it is all just one big bundled mess of seething anger and discontent. Their lives are not what they think they should be. They are angry that they perceive themselves to be judged for holding opinions that more often than not we DO judge them for holding. They equate being judged as being silenced and so they are angry that they are not the undisputed lords and masters of the universe whose views and opinions are beyond reproach. The truth is the only silencing going on is their own sun-conscious saying “Stop saying that! You’re making me look like a dumb shit!” I suspect that barely perceived sense of shame just gets externalised and fuels the anger. Then again IANAP, so what do I know.

    Over at George RR Martins Not A Blog this exchange was quite revealing.

    Here are the relevant quotes:

    Seeing as how your side has treated people like Tim Hunt, James Watson, Brendan Eich and others, I very much doubt your tune would be the same if the shoe were on the other foot.”


    “I have no idea who Tim Hunt, James Watson, and Brendan Eich are, but I very much doubt that my side — that is, science fiction fandom — has treated them any way at all.”

    All this is the context of Puppygate and an attempt by the Rabid Puppies to boycott Tor Books.

    Frankly, if you are a sea-lioning, JAQing, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, fascist theocrat (combine in any number and order you wish) then of course decent people will judge you for that. The irony is that if they were truly the alphas they believe themselves to be, they wouldn’t care what other people think of them. Quite apart from the fact I’m not sure there is actually anything in the whole alpha/beta claim anyway. Frankly it sounds too simplistic to be true. Then again, my experience of dealing with people like this is that they see the world in black and white and have such simplified thought patterns they can’t possibly cope with nuance and shades of grey. I’d feel pity, but if pity is the first emotion you go to when faced with a dangerous animal chances are you’ll get bitten. Cold hard understanding tempered with justifiable anger and fear will lead to a better defence frankly.

    PS lagopus muta had a wonderful response to JoelP.

  7. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    #8, Yawn, I scanned the article, apologist propaganda. Doesn’t change my opinion one iota.