Written by Dotty Winters

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Tim Hunt, science cun…

English biochemist Tim Hunt told a conference that laboratories should be segregated because female scientists cause trouble for the blokes in white coats. Dotty Winters is quite rightly spitting feathers – and actual science.

Tim Hunt

Not surrounded by ladies: Tim Hunt after a seminar at UCSF in 2009, via Wikimedia Commons.

This month, British scientist and Nobel prize winner (for discovering protein molecules that control the division of cells, 2001), Richard (Tim) Timothy Hunt made comments during a public address suggesting that women and men should not work together in science laboratories. This month. This freaking month, in 2015, a ‘respected’ scientist took to a stage to spout un-evidenced, unscientific hate-filled nonsense, in public.

At the recent World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, Hunt has thanked the attending women journalists “for making lunch” and said: “Three things happen when they [women] are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.”

As the proud owner (and occasional user) of a science degree, with an immediate family chock full of scientists, I’d like to respond to him directly:

“Hey Babycakes (It’s OK if I call you that, isn’t it? I don’t mean to be disrespectful.)

I have a lot of respect for your contributions to the fields of medicine, physiology and (latterly) rhyming slang, but I’m a little worried about you. You OK, hun? You seem to have lost your grasp on fact and reality.

I’m sure you are aware that the Nobel prizes are awarded to people whose actions advance science, society or culture. With your recent actions you’ve performed the scientific equivalent of completing a taxing spin class and celebrating with 47 Big Macs. The business of science is to look at observable evidence, free from prejudice or opinion to establish theories of how the world works. The business of scientists with significant public profile, who hold views which are directly contrary to the weight of scientific evidence is to either: prove their hypothesis, or keep their pretty little mouths shut.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but nothing gets my motor running more than an outdated chauvinist who believes I will, inevitably, fall in love with him.”

I hope you are able to prove, in a peer reviewed study, that you are so irresistible to female scientists that they simply can’t help falling in love with you. I’m not entirely sure how you would structure this experiment: perhaps some sort of double blind randomised control trial which somehow still accounts for the fact that at some point, the experimental subjects will have to meet you, hear you express views and still fall head over heels? I don’t know about anyone else, but nothing gets my motor running more than an outdated chauvinist who believes I will, inevitably, fall in love with him.

I hate to break it to you, but I’m not sure that your grand plan to avoid emotional entanglements is going to work. I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but falling in love is not an activity solely reserved for a man and a woman. Perhaps an alternative hypothesis to test would be that working with scientists who actively ignore the facts is damaging to science, and these relics should work in separate labs whilst the real scientists get on with their important work.

I’d like to talk about the word “chauvinist” too. It’s been reported that you admit you’ve been described as “a bit of a male chauvinist”. It doesn’t appear that you said that with any sort of embarrassment, or even sheepishness. I wonder, Babycakes, in all your pursuit of knowledge, whether you really know what that word means? Would you have happily announced that you are a renowned racist, antisemite or homophobe?

I note that you have apologised. I say apologised, but what you appear to have done is said that you intended to be humorous (I’m sure your Nobel Prize for Gags is in the post), but that you definitely meant all the things you said. As far as I can work out you appear to be using the classic ‘I’m sorry that my offensiveness offended you’ defence. It did. It offends me; it offends scientists (male and female) and is an insult to the prestigious organisations you represent (Nobel laureates, Cancer Research and the Royal Society, to name just a few).

I note your concern that female scientists cry when you give them feedback. This may be true; I’ve seen both men and women cry when feedback is inexpertly given. However, I’d like to make sure you aren’t muddling up correlation and causation. For example, here are just some of the other things which make people cry:

• Working with dickheads
• Frustration
• Anger
• Dealing with your bullshit.

I recently confronted a colleague on a similarly sexist statement, who offered some similar lines of defence to you, and added that “it was a generational thing” and that “life used to be simpler”. On the off-chance that you plan on using either of these in your defence, let me be clear. Your job description as a human is not to be decent to the best of your ability given your age. The pursuit of knowledge is of no benefit if you fail to apply it. And life did used to be simpler for privileged, straight, white men; it must be a massive inconvenience for people like you to have to recalibrate their working theory to account for the incontrovertible evidence of the existence and value of the rest of the population. Sorry about that, hun.

I wish you all the best with your (surely) imminent retirement. May I suggest you watch the collected works of Amy Schumer, I think they’ll be right up your street.

Love and kisses,

Dotty”

@DottyWinters

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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.