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There can be no doubt that the situation for women has improved hugely since I started at UCL, 50 years ago. At that time women were not allowed in the senior common room. It’s improved even more since the 1930s (read about the attitude of the great statistician, Ronald Fisher, to Florence Nightinglale David).

Recently Williams & Ceci published data that suggest that young women no longer face barriers in job selection in the USA (though it will take 20 years before that feeds through to professor level). But no sooner than one was feeling optimistic, along comes Tim Hunt who caused a media storm by advocating male-only labs. I’ll say a bit about that case below.

First some very preliminary concrete proposals.

The job of emancipation is not yet completed. I’ve recently become a member of the Royal Society diversity committee, chaired by Uta Frith. That’s made me think more seriously about the evidence concerning the progress of women and of black and minority ethnic (BME) people in science, and what can be done about it. Here are some preliminary thoughts. They are my opinions, not those of the committee.

I suspect that much of the problem for women and BME results from over-competitiveness and perverse incentives that are imposed on researchers. That’s got progressively worse, and it affects men too. In fact it corrupts the entire scientific process.

One of the best writers on these topics is Peter Lawrence. He’s an eminent biologist who worked at the famous Lab for Molecular Biology in Cambridge, until he ‘retired’.

Here are three things by him that everyone should read.

PL

The politics of publication (Nature, 2003) [pdf]

The mismeasurement of science (Current Biology, 2007) [pdf]

The heart of research is sick (Lab Times, 2011) [pdf]

From Lawrence (2003)

"Listen. All over the world scientists are fretting. It is night in London and Deborah Dormouse is unable to sleep. She can’t decide whether, after four weeks of anxious waiting, it would be counterproductive to call a Nature editor about her manuscript. In the sunlight in Sydney, Wayne Wombat is furious that his student’s article was rejected by Science and is taking revenge on similar work he is reviewing for Cell. In San Diego, Melissa Mariposa reads that her article submitted to Current Biology will be reconsidered, but only if it is cut in half. Against her better judgement, she steels herself to throw out some key data and oversimplify the conclusions— her postdoc needs this journal on his CV or he will lose a point in the Spanish league, and that job in Madrid will go instead to Mar Maradona."

and

"It is we older, well-established scientists who have to act to change things. We should make these points on committees for grants and jobs, and should not be so desperate to push our papers into the leading journals. We cannot expect younger scientists to endanger their future by making sacrifices for the common good, at least not before we do."

From Lawrence (2007)

“The struggle to survive in modern science, the open and public nature of that competition, and the advantages bestowed on those who are prepared to show off and to exploit others have acted against modest and gentle people of all kinds — yet there is no evidence, presumption or likelihood that less pushy people are less creative.  As less aggressive people are predominantly women [14,15] it should be no surprise that, in spite of an increased proportion of women entering biomedical research as students, there has been little, if any, increase in the representation of women at the top [16]. Gentle people of both sexes vote with their feet and leave a profession that they, correctly, perceive to discriminate against them [17]. Not only do we lose many original researchers, I think science would flourish more in an understanding and empathetic workplace.”

From Lawrence (2011).

"There’s a reward system for building up a large group, if you can, and it doesn’t really matter how many of your group fail, as long as one or two succeed. You can build your career on their success".

Part of this pressure comes from university rankings. They are statistically-illiterate and serve no useful purpose, apart from making money for their publishers and providing vice-chancellors with an excuse to bullying staff in the interests of institutional willy-waving.

And part of the pressure arises from the money that comes with the REF.  A recent survey gave rise to the comment

"Early career researchers overwhelmingly feel that the research excellence framework has created “a huge amount of pressure and anxiety, which impacts particularly on those at the bottom rung of the career ladder"

In fact the last REF was conducted quite sensibly (e.g. use of silly metrics was banned).  The problem was that universities didn’t believe that the rules would be followed.

For example, academics in the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London were told (in 2007) they are expected to

“publish three papers per annum, at least one in a prestigious journal with an impact factor of at least five”. 

And last year a 51-year-old academic with a good publication record was told that unless he raised £200,000 in grants in the next year, he’d be fired.  There can be little doubt that this “performance management” contributed to his decision to commit suicide.  And Imperial did nothing to remedy the policy after an internal investigation.

Several other universities have policies that are equally brutal. For example, Warwick, Queen Mary College London and Kings College London

Crude financial targets for grant income should be condemned as defrauding the taxpayer (you are compelled to make your work as expensive as possible)  As usual, women and BME suffer disproportionately from such bullying.

What can be done about this in practice?

I feel that some firm recommendations will be useful. 

One thing that could be done is to make sure that all universities sign, and adhere to, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), and adhere to the Athena Swan charter

The Royal Society has already signed DORA, but, shockingly, only three universities in the UK have done so (Sussex, UCL and Manchester).

Another well-meaning initiative is The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers. It’s written very much from the HR point of view and I’d argue that that’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.
For example it says

“3. Research managers should be required to participate in active performance management, including career development guidance”

That statement is meaningless without any definition of how performance management should be done. It’s quite clear that “performance management”, in the form of crude targets, was a large contributor to Stefan Grimm’s suicide

The Concordat places great emphasis in training programmes, but ignores the fact that it’s doubtful whether diversity training works, and it may even have bad effects.

The Concordat is essentially meaningless in its present form.

My proposals

I propose that all fellowships and grants should be awarded only to universities who have signed DORA and Athena Swan.

I have little faith that signing DORA, or the Concordat, will have much effect on the shop floor, but they do set a standard, and eventually, as with changes in the law, improvements in behaviour are effected.

But, as a check, It should be announced at the start that fellows and employees paid by grants will be asked directly whether or not these agreements have been honoured in practice.

Crude financial targets are imposed at one in six universities. Those who do that should be excluded from getting fellowships or grants, on the grounds that the process gives bad value to the funders (and taxpayer) and that it endangers objectivity.

Some thoughts in the Hunt affair

It’s now 46 years since I and Brian Woledge managed to get UCL’s senior common room, the Housman room, opened to women. That was 1969, and since then, I don’t think that I’ve heard any public statement that was so openly sexist as Tim Hunt’s now notorious speech in Korea.

Listen to Hunt, Connie St Louis and Jenny Rohn on the Today programme (10 June, 2015). sl50

On the Today Programme, Hunt himself said "What I said was quite accurately reported" and "I just wanted to be honest", so there’s no doubt that those are his views. He confirmed that the account that was first tweeted by Connie St Louis was accurate

Inevitably, there was a backlash from libertarians and conservatives. That was fuelled by a piece in today’s Observer, in which Hunt seems to regard himself as being victimised. My comment on the Observer piece sums up my views.

I was pretty shaken when I heard what Tim Hunt had said, all the more because I have recently become a member of the Royal Society’s diversity committee. When he talked about the incident on the Today programme on 10 June, it certainly didn’t sound like a joke to me. It seems that he carried on for more than 5 minutes in they same vein.

Everyone appreciates Hunt’s scientific work, but the views that he expressed about women are from the dark ages. It seemed to me, and to Dorothy Bishop, and to many others, that with views like that. Hunt should not play any part in selection or policy matters. The Royal Society moved with admirable speed to do that.

The views that were expressed are so totally incompatible with UCL’s values, so it was right that UCL too acted quickly. His job at UCL was an honorary one: he is retired and he was not deprived of his lab and his living, as some people suggested.

Although the initial reaction, from men as well as from women, was predictably angry, it very soon turned to humour, with the flood of #distractinglysexy tweets.

It would be a mistake to think that these actions were the work of PR people. They were thought to be just by everyone, female or male, who wants to improve diversity in science.

The episode is sad and disappointing. But the right things were done quickly.

Now Hunt can be left in peace to enjoy his retirement.

Look at it this way. If you were a young woman, applying for a fellowship in competition with men. what would you think if Tim Hunt were on the selection panel?

After all this fuss, we need to laugh.

Here is a clip from the BBC News Quiz, in which actor, Rebecca Front, gives her take on the affair.sl50

Follow-up

Some great videos soon followed Hunt’s comments. Try these.
Nobel Scientist Tim Hunt Sparks a #Distractinglysexy Campaign
(via Jennifer Raff)

This video has some clips from an earlier one, from Suzi Gage “Science it’s a girl thing”.

15 June 2015

An update on what happened from UCL. From my knowledge of what happened, this is not PR spin. It’s true.

16 June 2015

There is an interview with Tim Hunt in Lab Times that’s rather revealing. This interview was published in April 2014, more than a year before the Korean speech. Right up to the penultimate paragraph we agree on just about everything, from the virtue of small groups to the iniquity of impact factors. But then right at the end we read this.

In your opinion, why are women still under-represented in senior positions in academia and funding bodies?

Hunt:  I’m not sure there is really a problem, actually. People just look at the statistics. I dare, myself, think there is any discrimination, either for or against men or women. 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.

This suggests to me that the outburst on 8th June reflected opinions that Hunt has had for a while.

There has been quite a lot of discussion of Hunt’s track record. These tweets suggest it may not be blameless.

19 June 2015

Yesterday I was asked by the letters editor of the Times, Andrew Riley, to write a letter in response to a half-witted, anonymous, Times leading article. I dropped everything, and sent it. It was neither acknowledged nor published. Here it is [download pdf].

One of the few good outcomes of the sad affair of Tim Hunt is that it has brought to light the backwoodsmen who are eager to defend his actions, and to condemn UCL.  The anonymous Times leader of 16 June was as good an example as any.
Here are seven relevant considerations.

  1. Honorary jobs have no employment contract, so holders of them are not employees in the normal sense of the term.  Rather, they are eminent people who agree to act as ambassadors for the university,
  2. Hunt’s remarks were not a joke –they were his genuine views. He has stated them before and he confirmed them on the Today programme,
  3. He’s entitled to hold these views but he’s quite sensible enough to see that UCL would be criticised harshly if he were to remain in his ambassadorial role so he relinquished it before UCL was able to talk to him.
  4. All you have to do to see the problems is to imagine yourself as a young women, applying for a grant or fellowship, in competition with men, knowing that Hunt was one of her judges.  Would your leader have been so eager to defend a young Muslim who advocated men only labs?  Or someone who advocated Jew-free labs? The principle is the same.
  5. Advocacy of all male labs is not only plain silly, it’s also illegal under the Equalities Act (2010). 
  6. UCL’s decision to accept Hunt’s offer to relinquish his role was not the result of a twitter lynch mob. The comments there rapidly became good humoured  If there is a witch hunt, it is by your leader writer and the Daily Mail, eager to defend the indefensible and to condemn UCL and the Royal Society
  7. It has been suggested to me that it would have been better if Hunt had been brought before a disciplinary committee, so due process would have been observed.  I can imagine nothing that would have been more cruel to a distinguished colleague than to put him through such a miserable ordeal.

Some quotations from this letter were used by Tom Whipple in an article about Richard Dawkins surprising (to me) emergence as an unreconstructed backwoodsman.

18 June 2015

Adam Rutherford’s excellent Radio 4 programme, Inside Science, had an episode “Women Scientists on Sexism in Science". The last speaker was Uta Frith (who is chair of the Royal Society’s diversity committee). Her contribution started at about 23 min.

Listen to Uta Frith’s contribution. sl30

" . . this over-competitiveness, and this incredible rush to publish fast, and publish in quantity rather than in quality, has been extremely detrimental for science, and it has been disproportionately bad, I think, for under-represented groups who don’t quite fit in to this over-competitive climate. So I am proposing something I like to call slow science . . . why is this necessary, to do this extreme measurement-driven, quantitative judgement of output, rather than looking at the actual quality"

That, I need hardly say, is music to my ears. Why not, for example, restrict the number of papers that an be submitted with fellowship applications to four (just as the REF did)?

21 June 2015

I’ve received a handful of letters, some worded in a quite extreme way, telling me I’m wrong. It’s no surprise that 100% of them are from men. Most are from more-or-less elderly men. A few are from senior men who run large groups. I have no way to tell whether their motive is a genuine wish to have freedom of speech at any price. Or whether their motives are less worthy: perhaps some of them are against anything that prevents postdocs working for 16 hours a day, for the glory of the boss. I just don’t know.

I’ve had far more letters saying that UCL did the right thing when it accepted Tim Hunt’s offer to resign from his non job at UCL. These letters are predominantly from young people, men as well as women. Almost all of them ask not to be identified in public. They are, unsurprisingly, scared to argue with the eight Nobel prizewinners who have deplored UCL’s action (without bothering to ascertain the facts). The fact that they are scared to speak out is hardly surprising. It’s part of the problem.

What you can do, if you don’t want to put your head above the public parapet. is simply to email the top people at UCL, in private. to express your support. All these email addresses are open to the public in UCL’s admirably open email directory.

Michael Arthur (provost): michael.arthur@ucl.ac.uk

David Price (vice-provost research): d.price@ucl.ac.uk

Geraint Rees (Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences): g.rees@ucl.ac.uk

All these people have an excellent record on women in science, as illustrated by the response to Daily Mail’s appalling behaviour towards UCL astrophysicist, Hiranya Pereis.

26 June 2015

The sad matter of Tim Hunt is over, at last. The provost of UCL, Michael Arthur has now made a statement himself. Provost’s View: Women in Science is an excellent reiteration of UCL’s principles.

By way of celebration, here is the picture of the quad, taken on 23 March, 2003. It was the start of the second great march to try to stop the war in Iraq. I use it to introduce talks, as a reminder that there are more serious consequences of believing things that aren’t true than a handful of people taking sugar pills.

ucl-quad-200303-500.jpg

11 October 2015

In which I agree with Mary Collins

Long after this unpleasant row died down, it was brought back to life yesterday when I heard that Colin Blakemore had resigned as honorary president of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), on the grounds that that organisation had not been sufficiently hard on Connie St Louis, whose tweet initiated the whole affair. I’m not a member of the ABSW and I have never met St Louis, but I know Blakemore well and like him. Nevertheless it seems to me to be quite disproportionate for a famous elderly white man to take such dramatic headline-grabbing action because a young black women had exaggerated bits of her CV. Of course she shouldn’t have done that, but it everyone were punished so severely for "burnishing" their CV there would be a large number of people in trouble.

Blakemore’s own statement also suggested that her reporting was inaccurate (though it appears that he didn’t submitted a complaint to ABSW). As I have said above, I don’t think that this is true to any important extent. The gist of it was said was verified by others, and, most importantly, Hunt himself said "What I said was quite accurately reported" and "I just wanted to be honest". As far as I know, he hasn’t said anything since that has contradicted that view, which he gave straight after the event. The only change that I know of is that the words that were quoted turned out to have been followed by "Now, seriously", which can be interpreted as meaning that the sexist comments were intended as a joke. If it were not for earlier comments along the same lines, that might have been an excuse.

Yesterday, on twitter, I was asked by Mary Collins, Hunt’s wife, whether I thought he was misogynist. I said no and I don’t believe that it is. It’s true that I had used that word in a single tweet, long since deleted, and that was wrong. I suspect that I felt at the time that it sounded like a less harsh word than sexist, but it was the wrong word and I apologised for using it.

So do I believe that Tim Hunt is sexist? No I don’t. But his remarks both in Korea and earlier were undoubtedly sexist. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that, as a person, he suffers from ingrained sexism. He’s too nice for that. My interpretation is that (a) he’s so obsessive about his work that he has little time to think about political matters, and (b) he’s naive about the public image that he presents, and about how people will react to them. That’s a combination that I’ve seen before among some very eminent scientists.

In fact I find myself in almost complete agreement with Mary Collins, Hunt’s wife, when she said (I quote the Observer)

“And he is certainly not an old dinosaur. He just says silly things now and again.” “Collins clutches her head as Hunt talks. “It was an unbelievably stupid thing to say,” she says. “You can see why it could be taken as offensive if you didn’t know Tim. But really it was just part of his upbringing. He went to a single-sex school in the 1960s.”

Nevertheless, I think it’s unreasonable to think that comments such as those made in Korea (and earlier) would not have consequences, "naive" or not, "joke" or not, "upbringing" or not,

It’s really not hard to see why there were consequences. All you have to do is to imagine yourself as a woman, applying for a grant or fellowship, and realising that you’d be judged by Hunt. And if you think that the reaction was too harsh, imagine the same words being spoken with "blacks", or "Jews" substituted for "women". Of course I’m not suggesting for a moment that he’d have done this, but if anybody did, I doubt whether many people would have thought it was a good joke.

9 November 2015

An impressively detailed account of the Hunt affair has appeared. The gist can be inferred from the title: "Saving Tim Hunt
The campaign to exonerate Tim Hunt for his sexist remarks in Seoul is built on myths, misinformation, and spin
". It was written by Dan Waddell (@danwaddell) and Paula Higgins (@justamusicprof). It is long and it’s impressively researched. it’s revealing to see the bits that Louise Mensch omitted from her quotations. I can’t disagree with its conclusion.

"In the end, the parable of Tim Hunt is indeed a simple one. He said something casually sexist, stupid and inappropriate which offended many of his audience. He then confirmed he said what he was reported to have said and apologised twice. The matter should have stopped there. Instead a concerted effort to save his name — which was not disgraced, nor his reputation as a scientist jeopardized — has rewritten history. Science is about truth. As this article has shown, we have seen very little of it from Hunt’s apologists — merely evasions, half-truths, distortions, errors and outright falsehoods.

"

8 April 2017

This late addition is to draw attention to a paper, wriiten by Edwin Boring in 1951, about the problems for the advancement of women in psychology. It’s remarkable reading and many of the roots of the problems have hardly changed today. (I chanced on the paper while looking for a paper that Boring wrote about P values in 1919.)

Here is a quotation from the conclusions.

“Here then is the Woman Problem as I see it. For the ICWP or anyone else to think that the problem.can be advanced toward solution by proving that professional women undergo more frustration and disappointment than professional men, and by calling then on the conscience of the profession to right a wrong, is to fail to see the problem clearly in all its psychosocial complexities. The problem turns on the mechanisms for prestige, and that prestige, which leads to honor and greatness and often to the large salaries, is not with any regularity proportional to professional merit or the social value of professional achievement. Nor is there any presumption that the possessor of prestige knows how to lead the good life. You may have to choose. Success is never whole, and, if you have it for this, you mayhave to give it up for that.”

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20 Responses to Are women still at a disadvantage in science?

  • Dear Prof

    Great post as usual. Lawrence’s quotes are spot on! I have just a quick comment on the Williams&Ceci paper. This study is quite controversial to say the least, and it has been widely criticised (here and here for instance). The authors send the dangerous message that academic sexism is a myth and that issue of women under-representation is due to the fact that they don’t apply enough for job positions. This may well contradicts (in my experience at least) the reality of academia.

    Ciao

  • Thanks very much. I agree that the way Williams & Ceci did their experiments was asking for trouble.  It isn’t at all easy to see how bad the problem is in 2015, but it certainly hasn’t vanished. 

  • It’s a little bit off topic of the main point, but please don’t say things like ” As a result of this “performance management”, he committed suicide.  ” 

    This is not in any way trying to  defend Imperial’s treatment of Prof Grimm, or what happened afterwards, but nobody can ever know that one thing causes a suicide, and it’s wrong to say that.  The  following is excerpted from the Samaritans’ guide to reporting suicide:

    “Over-simplification of the causes or perceived
    ‘triggers’ for a suicide can be misleading and is
    unlikely to reflect accurately the complexity of
    suicide. For example, avoid the suggestion that a
    single incident, such as loss of a job, relationship
    breakdown or bereavement, was the cause.”

    http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide

  • turingfan

    Thanks for reminding me about the advice from the from the Samaritans.  I’ll change the wording of that bit.

  • Many thanks David for taking my comment so positively and making a change so rapidly. While it is a subtle nuance, I think it’s important (or to be more precise the Samaritans do, which is more important).

    Indeed if you wish you should feel free to remove my comment since it now reads oddly given that you’ve changed the text.

    Thanks again.

  • “*An update on what happened from UCL. From my knowledge of what happened, this is not PR spin. It’s true.”

    After reading The Observer article two parts stood out for me in the UCL update, firstly:

    “Media and online commentary played no part in UCL’s decision to accept his resignation.”

    I wondered, how it is possible that media played no part in UCL’s decision to accept his resignation? Did Hunt surprise them by resigning out of the blue?

    According to Professor Mary Collins (Tim Hunts wife) in The Observer article she is quoted as saying she was told by UCL , while Hunt was still in the air flying back,  that “he should  resign immediately or be sacked“. 

    I guess that is covered by this part of their update 

    “UCL sought on more than one occasion to make contact with Sir Tim to discuss the situation, but his resignation was received before direct contact was established.”

    Even if it was only an honorary position, does it not disturb anyone in the slightest that it could be stripped away in such a casual way without a chance to defend yourself? And then when criticised, defended using such casuistry?

  • @tlitb

    I think that “media played not part” means that the decision was made by grown-ups on the available evidence. I had no direct part in that, though I had written to the provost to say that the comments he’d made seemed to me incompatible with UCL’s values.

    Tim Hunt is a sensible man and he presumably realised that himself, so he resigned.  

    I’m not sure why you describe that as casuistry.  From all that I have been able to discover, it’s true.

    I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the rather minimal, and unsigned, nature of the update.  I’ve urged the provost to make a statement himself, but I have no idea whether he will.

    I have a longer response which I sent to the Times this afternoon at the request of their letters editor.  I’ll post it here tomorrow.

    If there is any trial by media going on now, it is a backlash in the media from those who don’t give a damn about women.  The only good thing about this whole affair is that it’s provided women with a useful list of places to avoid, at least when the backwoodsmen don’t hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

  • @David Colquhoun

    “Tim Hunt is a sensible man and he presumably realised that himself, so he resigned.”

    I think currently for most people not directly in the know they will appreciate, after reading Professor Mary Collins description of what happened in The Observer article, that it does seem she thought there some was pressure applied  by UCL. And UCL certainly appear to have been prompted to behave as is they were on a very tight schedule for some reason. I don’t doubt before Hunt resigned people were expressing their distaste about what they heard to the UCL powers that be, but at that time those people and UCL could only have been informed by second hand reports and information from the media. 

    “…decision was made by grown-ups on the available evidence..”

    I look forward to hearing who those grown ups were, it certainly seems not Professors Mary Collins and Tim Hunt. They didn’t have a say in the decision about the ultimatum.

    The UCL update is no doubt true, but so far, given The Observer article, it is what it omits about the ultimatum, and what information they based their decision onthat is the problem for me. I really think it is not hard for anyone else to spot those omissions. If not casuistry, then their response certainly was ‘cute’. ;)

  • I talked to female colleagues and to students about this.  I got a range of response storm in a teacup to moderately damaging. None took the disaster for women in science view. However, several felt that they would not want Professor Hunt to judge their projects or grants. Essentially the view expressed at the outset from Prof Bishop. Some were reassured by what Profs Donald and Leyser said about how Prof Hunt approached things. 

    Two things stood out, firstly Hunt’s remarks did not accord with their own lived experience such blatant sexism none of them had encountered. However, they all felt it existed and were concerned that it was hidden rather than open.

    Secondly, the furore (akin to what DC critiqued) of the backlash against the backlash was troubling. They felt the petitions to reinstate Hunt and the name calling of those who criticised Hunt made many of them uncomfortable. However quite a few (even those who felt Hunt should go) were troubled by the vehemence of the opinions and the criticism of Professor Donald in particular.

    For me, I was listening to the radio and at first thought Professor Hunt must have been drunk. His remarks were so obviously nonsense (and I have to say that remains my opinion, like DC I have NEVER heard such views). I then heard Prof Hunt sort of sort of not apologise. I thought he should have realised when a journalist asks questions its time to take a breath and think through what you said. I initially disagreed with Prof Bishop and DC, I felt Prof Hunt should have been given the chance to make a full apology for his remarks, having reflected upon them and draw a line under it. 

    Having listened to female opinions I have changed my view. I now think it was right that Prof Hunt be resigned. His remarks did give cause concern amongst female scientists about how he would judge them. I was wrong, Prof Bishop and DC were right. However, I also believe Prof Donald when she says he is not the man suggested by those remarks. Sad but necessary then.

    The worse part for me and in my survey of female colleagues has been the vehemence of the name calling. As DC says some of Prof Hunt’s “defenders” are taking positions that are really worrying and quite serious; I can only hope they are not scientists in authority. Some of those taking issue with Prof Hunt are not blameless either, some comments about his humanity and hatred for women were hyperbolic; and if Prof Leyser and Donald are to be believed totally wrong and unfair. The whole saga has become polarised and those of us in science have a responsibility to engage with the issue, tone down the rhetoric and see the humans involved. If we do not then I fear we will make science seem a less attractive place for women and men.

  • Thanks @jimn

    I just posted what, I hope, will be my last word on the Hunt problem.

    http://www.dcscience.net/2015/06/15/are-women-still-at-a-disadvantage-in-science/#190615

    If there is any witch hunt now, it is from irresponsible and ill-informed journalists who are trying to whip up a scandal about the behaviour of UCL and the RS.

  • Normal
    0

    Regarding the Tim Hunt controversy:

    1) Tim Hunt has, for decades, mentored and supported women
    in science.  He has done more for women
    than 99.9% of those who called for his resignation.

    2) Tim Hunt “was always immensely supportive of the
    ERC’s work around gender equality
    ” (Dame Athene Donald)

    3) Tim Hunt made an jocular observation, based on
    over half a century of experience, that men and women working together in labs
    can be emotionally distracting for both sexes. 
    Indeed, he met his own wife whilst working in the lab!

     4) Tim Hunt commented that a problem he has had, working in
    labs in the past, is that women tend to cry more when confronted with
    criticism.  Nevertheless he fully
    supports women in science.  “No one
    seems to mention his main speech in Korea in which, according to the ERC
    President, he was ‘very supportive towards women in science and he said that he
    hoped there was nothing that barred women from science
    ’” (Dame Athene
    Donald).  He simply suggests, based on
    his own considerable experience, that single sex labs might be more conducive
    to good scientific research.

     5) We may disagree with what Tim says, but we should defend
    to the death his right to say it.

    Please follow the link below to read more on Sir Tim’s story
    and, if you agree, sign and spread the petition to help reinstate Sir Tim Hunt:

     http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bring-back-tim-hunt

  • I defend to the death his right to say it.

    I do not defend the right of anyone who says that labs should be single-sex should be an ambassador for UCL.

    It was clearly not a joke -he said himself that he was “trying to be honest”.

    I find the petition rather offensive. In any case there isn’t the slightest possibility that UCL will change it’s mind. All you are doing is prolonging Tim’s discomfort.

    If there is any lynch mob here it is the gang of more -or-less elderly men who are implicitly condoning his views.  Please just stop it.

  • “Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science”

    In the light of real video evidence, and the darkness of dubious qualifications, are you, DC, prepared to re-evaluate your position?

    Your attitude and behaviour, contrary to your tagline, and contrary to my understanding of both scientific method and modern legal practice, can only be seen by a rational observer as a cunning political manoeuvring, aimed at removing a senior competitor from sundry scientific and academic establishments.

    Et tu Brute?

    One’s faith in science is somewhat shattered

    Roland

  • @rolanpj

    Oh dear, why don’t you just listen to what Hunt himself said?  Don’t you trust his word?  He made his views clear in April 2014, repeated them in Korea and confirmed them on the Today programme.  Why don’t you believe him?  It’s perfectly possible to be a very good at science and to have 19th century views on the role of women. They are quite separate.

    Hunt is an honest man, and as entitled as anyone else to express his views.  But  those rights don’t extend to doing jobs where they could do real harm to 50% of the population.  I have never heard such views expressed openly since the late 1960s

    Hunt is also an honourable man.  He realised that his views were incompatible with his jobs at the Royal Society and at the European Research Council (where he resigned from real jobs). as well at UCL (where he had never actually worked).

    The matter would have passed almost unnoticed, if a minor celebrity had not recruited an army of Libertarian thugs who aren’t in the least concerned about sexism, and who launched a tirade of abuse on Twitter.

    The only good outcome of this whole sorry affair is that it has unearthed the extent to which sexism is still rampant.

    PS Hunt wasn’t “removed from science”. He was already retired, and his scientific reputation remains totally untarnished. And he isn’t  a competitor. If you’d bothered to do the smallest bit of homework, you’d have realised that my sort of science is in a totally different area from his.

  • *Hi again

    Thanks for replying, and, yes, I have both read, and listened to, what he said (the audio even includes opportunity for some inference of audience response.)

    My judgement (and, yes, that’s all I have) is that his remarks were well-intended, and very short of anything that might cause offense to a balanced person.

    On the other hand, I have also read, from the very beginning, the avalanche of media reports on the story. My immediate impression was that he was being unnecessarily hounded by fundamentalists, whose mode of thought is, of course, antithetical to that of science, and whose value, as a human pursuit has been rigorously defeated by (rational) science over the course of the last few centuries. For better and for worse, one might debate, but that is another discussion. My judgement is that the pursuit of science, in contrast to the pursuit of ideology/religion, has largely provided positive outcomes for humanity as a species. We can discuss whether that is the the appropriate metric, but I digress again.

    I immediately expressed my distaste for the reaction to Tim Hunt’s speech on good old FaceBook – the Luddite in me as not yet embraced the fast lane of Twitter. As of 10 June, amongst my generally educated and qualified friends, I was very much alone. The woman amongst them were scathing, and the men ranged between horror, hand-wringing and rational, but very critical discussion (yes, I realize that I might be horribly sexist for even considering the gender axis for analysis). To a person, no-one was even prepared to consider the possibility that Tim Hunt’s comments were simply being reported according to the biased perspective of a few people – biased in a non-pejorative sense, we are all biased according to our life experience. We have no choice in that, it’s simply how our minds work. 

    Science, on the other hand, demands rigorous testing, re-evaluation from alternate angles, until a repeatable consensus is achieved. I presume, as a scientist, that you are aware of the extent to which this rigorous ‘method’ is fundamental to the progression of understanding (yes, that was deliberately condescending.)

    So, I do note that you are no longer actively pursuing your hard-line attitude to Tim Hunt’s comments in on-line fora (apart, from this thread, so, thanks, I am privileged.) This suggest to the optimist in me that you are re-evaluating your own hasty malfeasance after digesting the real evidence – transcript, video and audio snippets. The pessimist in me, on the other hand, fears that you are sinking your head into the sand in order to save face.

    You can polish your half-truths (‘resigned’, not ‘removed from science’), but, as we both know, they are simply half-truths. If you refuse to acknowledge that, then you are nothing other than a libertarian thug, stubbornly clinging to your right to your own individuality.

    I enjoy your site. I enjoy that you are prepared to speak your mind, and take potentially unpopular positions on issues such as performance evaluation in academia, gender proportions in science at various levels of seniority, and ‘quack’ medicine. I appreciate (in both senses) that you are neither right, nor politically correct all the time.

    I still, however, believe that you have misread the Tim Hunt affair horribly.

    The outcome, contrary to your best intentions, will not be the exposure of sexism. On the contrary, the lasting story will be about the feminists who cried wolf. There will be two consequences:

      1. No-one will be prepared to say anything remotely controversial, for fear of recrimination.

      2. Reports of genuine sexism will be dismissed as another ‘Tim Hunt’ witch hunt.

    Society will be the poorer. I hold you culpable. :)

    Tim Hunt has apologised. Do you have it in you?

    R

  • *sed /woman/women/

    sed /as/has/

    (I published without the benefit of a sub-editor ;) )

  • @rolandpj

    Thanks for the hint. Any reader who is interested in the opinions of Roland Paterson-Jones should look at his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/rolandpj

    His attitude to racism is equally enlightening. See http://fleurmach.com/2015/05/01/a-delightfully-civilised-facebook-conversation-with-some-scared-white-liberals-about-uct/comment-page-1/

  • David, I very much doubt that anyone would bother themselves overly much with my scribblings.

    They are welcome to, as are you. I am strangely gratified. Everyone craves an audience. You will probably get a better measure of me through direct engagement, though. FaceBook is a play-pen, after all, not a peer-reviewed journal.

    Others, on the opposite side of the Tim Hunt affair, have taken the same approach as you – namely justifying their position by attempted assassination of the person, not the principle. Shooting the messenger, as it were. Unfortunately this was only too easy with Connie St Louis, and Louise Mensch has done a meticulous job with many other principle protagonists.

    I have tried to avoid credential attacks.

    I have tried to hold you accountable as a scientist, and again you appear to have failed the test, instead resorting to populist personal-political machinations.

    Incidentally, and in order to revert to, and progress, the original conversation, Louise Mench’s deconstruction of the timelines is a wonderful (evidence-based) study of non-scientific (hearsay-based) human behaviour.

    That is the crux.

    I don’t believe you are a bad person. I believe you have good intent. I do believe that you have behaved misguidedly and hastily. I believe that evidence supports me:

      1. Tim Hunt has a great track record of gender-neutral behaviour, as evidenced by testimony of colleagues, past and present.

      2. The real transcripts and real audio-visual snippets are in stark contrast to the initial personal testimony upon which you acted.

    In short, well played sir, but it’s still a foul.

    I understand that you might now find yourself very tightly boxed in a prison of your own making, particularly w.r.t. public statements that might go against the official UCL position. Perhaps you have no choice at this stage, other than to lie quiet. That, in a nutshell, is what I am protesting.

    Go well, R

  • Since the comment above, Roland Paterson-Jones has sent seven more. They are incoherent and abusive rants.  One says

    “David, are you preaching pre-Salem-witch-trial ethics.

    Are you a homosexual, or even paedophile male, that is using a ‘gender-equality’ platform to source some sexual targets?”

    There is no place for such abusiveness in any dialogue.  They speak volumes about the people who write them.  

    I very rarely fail to publish comments, but Paterson-Jones has crossed any reasonable boundary.

  • I am not accepting any more comments on this post.

    It’s quite obvious that neither side will persuade the other, and the comments are too polarised and unpleasant to be useful.

    I have given my opinions and propose to say no more on the matter.

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