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Monday, July 27, 2015

Tim Hunt & UCL

'Sexist' Scientist Tim Hunt: The Real Story

"It turns out that, just as Hunt has claimed, the 72-year-old scientist’s comments during a luncheon at a science journalism conference in Korea in June were an awkward self-deprecating joke—greeted with laughter (not the reported "stony silence") by a mostly female audience.

The "Tim Hunt, misogynist scientist” narrative has been falling apart piece by piece over the past month; last week, it was finished off by a snippet of audio recorded by a female attendee and made public by The Times. Attention should now tturn to the real scandal: irresponsible journalism magnified by social media frenzy...

[The] narrative took a major hit on June 24 when The Times obtained information that a European Commission report on the conference, based on the notes of a European Union official who attended the luncheon, gave a very different account of what happened...

A follow-up article revealed that the EU official also said Hunt’s remarks were well-received, contradicting his accusers’ claims of an uncomfortable silence (or even a "deathly silence," as St. Louis told BBC Radio 4), and that one of the luncheon’s organizers, a woman from the Korean National Research Council of Science and Technology, told him "she was impressed that Sir Tim could improvise such a warm and funny speech."

In the days that followed, this account was corroborated by several people who attended the luncheon. One of them, Russian science journalist Natalia Demina, had challenged the accusations against Hunt from the very start on Twitter. Another, Malaysian science journalist Shiow Chin Tan, provided a new detail: she told The Times that after his facetious comments about segregating the sexes, Hunt added that "men would be worse off for it." While St. Louis has continued to insist that Hunt did not say "now seriously" or praise women in science, Blum has acknowledged that the purported transcript had "some of the right elements" and was a "polished version" of Hunt’s "somewhat fumbling actual talk."...

British newspaper columnist and politician Louise Mensch, one of Hunt’s staunchest advocates, makes a strong case that his comments were misleadingly edited to obscure the fact that he was not referring to women scientists in general but to his own personal experience with romance in the lab and the resulting "emotional entanglements." (He met his wife in the laboratory while she was married to another man.) It's plausible that he said something similar to Blum the day after the luncheon; Kathryn O’Hara, the photographer who took their photo during that conversation, confirmed to me that she recalls Hunt saying he was trying to be honest about his own experiences.

Regardless, the new revelations turned the tide. By mid-July, Paul Nurse, the head of Britain’s chief scientific body, the Royal Society, defended Hunt on BBC radio and in a letter to The Telegraph and blamed the fiasco on "a Twitter and media storm." The Guardian ran a semi-apology for its tendentious coverage. A scathing Times editorial blasted the "betrayal" of Hunt...

But it still wasn’t quite over. On July 18, The Times published a new bombshell: a 12-second recording of the final moments of Hunt’s remarks that Demina had discovered among her materials from the conference and turned over to the newspaper with Mensch’s help. In the audio, Hunt says, "Congratulations, everybody, because I hope—I hope—I really hope that there won’t be anything holding you back, especially not monsters like me." There is a hearty laugh from the audience, followed by the start of applause before the recording breaks off.

The recording clearly dovetails with the EU official’s notes provided to the European Commission. One can also see how, in St. Louis’s retelling, Hunt’s final line would turn into "he doesn’t want to stand in the way of women." But in her version, the comment sounds insufferably patronizing, a pat on the head that compounds the earlier insult; in the audio, Hunt sounds warm, gracious, genuinely supportive and self-deprecating, not mocking toward women. In other words, this is a resounding vindication for Hunt—one that, unfortunately, may not undo the damage...

Hunt said that the worst blow was being forced to resign from the science committee of the European Research Council, to which he had devoted years of effort. More recently, Hunt’s invitation to speak at a conference of the Italian Society of Anatomy and Histology in Ferrara was withdrawn as a precautionary measure, apparently due to threats of disruption from activists.

This is particularly shameful given that Hunt is not only a great scientist but, by many accounts, a genuine friend to women in science...

In her latest blogpost on the Hunt scandal, Mensch catalogues numerous misleading, contradictory, and self-contradictory statements by Hunt’s accusers, suggesting that they have been knowingly dishonest...

No one bothered to ask how plausible it was that a scientist who had worked with women and was married to a prominent female scientist actually believed women should be relegated to their own all-girl labs—and would stand up and say that to a roomful of female scientists and journalists. The "sexist scientist" narrative was too good. As Guardian commentator Ann Perkins wrote with open glee, "The mask has not so much slipped as crashed to the floor. … Here at last is someone who has come out with it. Women at work are a nuisance." Jarringly, Perkins called this "a moment to savor"—not, as some thought, because of Hunt’s humiliation, but because he had supposedly laid bare the pervasive hidden misogyny women face.

In a more recent Forbes column, science writer David Kroll wrote about a European Research Council grant recipient, Debra Laefer of University College Dublin, who presented her pioneering research on architectural restoration techniques at a session Hunt chaired at the Seoul conference. Kroll expressed regret that the Hunt scandal overshadowed Laefer’s remarkable work. A shame, indeed. That’s what happens when the feminist mainstream is less interested in celebrating real female achievement than in railing against imaginary male chauvinism."

In offence culture, (deliberately twisted) words are more important than actions.

Author drops UCL from £1m will over Sir Tim Hunt's treatment - Telegraph - "Jeremy Hornsby, 79, an author and journalist, has now cut his alma mater out of his £1 million legacy. Mr Hornsby had planned to leave each of the two establishments that educated him – Winchester College and UCL – a tenth of his estate as a sign of his gratitude. He will now write UCL out of his will leaving it about £100,000 worse off. Mr Hornsby wrote to Prof Michael Arthur, UCL’s provost, warning him of his intention to cut off UCL. His threat became a reality after the provost failed to even acknowledge his letter. In his letter, Mr Hornsby explained that his exasperation with UCL over its seemingly soft stance on Islamist extremists, including the allegation that the so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had become radicalised there during his studies, had been compounded by the Tim Hunt debacle"

New freedom of expression row at university that forced out scientist over sexist remarks - Telegraph - "further allegations have emerged after UCL shut down an exhibition highlighting the problems of sexual harassment and sexual violence suffered by its female students. The two incidents have led to fears that UCL is more concerned about protecting its own reputation than allowing freedom of expression... Sir Andre Geim, of the University of Manchester, who shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010, said: The saddest part is probably the reaction by the UCL top brass who forced Tim to resign. So much for the freedom of expression by the very people who should be guardians of academic freedom.”"

Reversing the bandwagon that ran over Tim Hunt | Letters | Science | The Guardian - "All sense of fairness is forgotten in order to get on the bandwagon of a story – and the Guardian is not without blame. To make things more balanced, please would you publish not just the names of the organisations Tim has been asked to leave but the names of the self-righteous individuals who demanded that he leave?"
"It was not so long ago that the western world went to the wall to defend Charlie Hebdo’s “right to offend”, but it appears that neither our principles nor our resilience extend to tolerating the unfortunate remarks by Prof Tim Hunt, who must lose his position for a thoughtless aside. Our hypocrisy knows no bounds."
"“misogyny” means “hatred of women”, as might be exemplified by serial murderers, rapists or other disturbed male individuals. I suggest that you update the Guardian style guide as necessary. I doubt very much that Sir Tim Hunt, distinguished Nobel laureate and research scientist, who is married long-term to a professor of immunology whom he fell for while she was working in his lab, “hates” women at all – quite the converse."
"Upset female scientists, lose your job; talk about damaging poor people’s brains, raise a polite laugh. Class prejudice does not appear to attract the same moral outrage as sexism, even where the consequences are far more severe."
"as a woman I would like to know what came before and after these three sentences in his lecture"
"those comments were initially made at an obscure conference, and thus could hardly have had much of a negative effect on the general perception of women in science if they had not been picked up and broadcasted so widely... highly publicised witch-hunts like this one significantly compound the problem, because they make it inevitable that when a male scientist interacts with a female colleague, he cannot help but have in mind that any poorly judged comment might one day be used against him. A male scientist may well think twice about taking a female PhD student if he knows that a single complaint from her could ruin his entire career, and can we really blame him? Thus the furore over Prof Hunt’s comments can only make women feel more unwelcome in science and further decrease our employment prospects – precisely the opposite effect to what its originators presumably intended... there is something deeply wrong about the way science is regarded and reported on in our society when people know more and care more about a single offhand comment than a career of excellence and a Nobel prize"
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