Earth to Tim Hunt supporters: it doesn’t matter if he was joking!


I wrote the piece It’s official: men are too emotional for a career in science as satire, but the emotional (dare I say irrational) response of many men shows that there is a regrettable amount of truth to my claim.

As described in The Boston Globe:

A Nobel Prize-winning British scientist apologized Wednesday for saying the ‘trouble with girls’ working in laboratories is that it leads to romantic entanglements and harms science.

But Tim Hunt stood by his assertion that mixed-gender labs are ‘disruptive.’

Hunt, 72, made the comments at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea, according to audience members.

Connie St Louis of London’s City University tweeted that Hunt said when women work alongside men in labs, “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Hunt acknowledged the comments and resigned:

Hunt, a biochemist who was joint recipient of the 2001 Nobel for physiology or medicine, said he was just trying to be humorous. He told BBC radio on Wednesday that he was “really, really sorry I caused any offense.”

Then he added: “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. … 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.”

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#ffdead”]Sure, Dr. Dawkins, an apology will be coming right after Hell opens a skating rink.[/pullquote]

But as is inevitable when anyone is held to account for blatant sexism against women in science, a backlash has ensued. Connie St. Louis, the journalist who broke the story, is having her reputation torn to shreds, and Dr. Emily Grossman, another science journalist as well as a science PhD, has been subjected to a campaign of vilification by Hunt’s supporters. Even scientists have gotten into the act. Dr. Richard Dawkins, who has had his own problems with accusations of sexism, has leapt to Hunt’s defense:

Without wishing to join a reverse witch-hunt to root out the individuals responsible, I can’t help hoping Sir Tim will receive an apology.

Sure, Dr. Dawkins, an apology from those who reported on Hunt’s comments will be coming right after Hell opens a skating rink.

Most of those defending Hunt are insisting that his statements were a joke. I have news for them all, from Richard Dawkins to the losers sending anonymous vitriol to Dr. Grossman:

It doesn’t matter if Hunt was joking!

And perhaps if men weren’t so emotional about maintaining science as an all male preserve, or so emotional in whining whenever sexists are held to account, they might realize it, too.

To understand why it doesn’t matter if it was a joke consider the following:

What if Hunt had said I did mean the part about having trouble with blacks. … I have had trouble with them in the lab and they’ve had trouble with me and it’s very disruptive to the science.

Or how about if he had said I did mean the part about having trouble with gays in the lab. … I have had trouble with them in the lab and they’ve had trouble with me and it’s very disruptive to the science.

Would anyone think that statements like that could be excused as “jokes.” I doubt it. Racism and homophobia can’t be excused as jokes and hopefully very few people would accuse black individuals or gay individuals of being “unable to take a joke” if they found it distinctly unfunny.

Earth to Hunt defenders: claiming it was a joke simply proves the point, it was an example of the egregious gender bias that many women in STEM face every day.

Women do not exist for your amusement. Women in STEM are not there to be subjects for your fantasies and delusions about your attractiveness. We aren’t interested in your flirting, your fixation with our chests, and we don’t appreciate your very unfunny jokes.

This is clearly going to come as earth shattering news to some male scientists, but women choose to work in science and technology for the same reasons that men do: to engage intellectually, to pursue a passion, and to make a living.

Reputation smearing and vilification of those like Connie St. Louis and Dr. Emily Grossman who call you out for your behavior are just an extension of your inappropriate behavior. The vicious Twitter and YouTube comments are ugly and sad.

What makes you commentors think we care about your opinion? What makes you think you come across as anything other than pathetic losers? Probably the same mindset that makes you think Tim Hunt’s comments should be excused as clever male banter.

What Tim Hunt did was inexcusable and trying to pretend that it was a joke doesn’t excuse it. It merely marks you as apologists for inappropriate behavior.