In Sympathy for the Devil?, Michael Eisen provides some interesting background to the original story. That background makes it even worse.
Another thoughtful entry in the debate is Janet D. Stemwedel’s post on why Good Scientists Should Publicly Criticize Tim Hunt's Claims.
I had assumed there were women involved in the history of Hunt’s discoveries. Helen Cahill’s Guardian piece provides some details on The unseen women scientists behind Tim Hunt’s Nobel prize.
So, the story so far:
- Tim Hunt criticises women (oh, my bad, “girls”) for being far too sensitive to criticism to do science. When explicitly asked about his statements, he said he was trying to be honest,
- Several women (and some men) call out Hunt for his blatant sexism. And an amusing line of “distractingly sexy” photos gets tweeted.
- Hunt appears rather sensitive to this criticism.
- Many men (and some women) then criticise these people for criticising Hunt, using oh so reasoned and non-hyperbolic terms like “baying witch hunt” and “feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness”.
So, when a man makes a sweeping statement of how women should be kept out of the lab, it’s just a joke, banter, unimportant. When women call him out on it, that’s a witch-hunt, stifling academic freedom, a lynch mob, thought police.
It’s not so much the original comments, bad enough as they are, as the doubling down and not-pologies and subsequent whinging, that causes the fury, by the way. Other prominent people have made a huge gaffe, had it brought to their attention, realised they did wrong, apologised sincerely, and things have moved on (apart from a few people trying to say they were bullied into apologising, because, hey, why else would they have done so?). Tim Hunt needs to learn about the first rule of holes.
Oh, and if an eminent scientist were to say that labs should be racially-segregated, or something equally racist, and was called out on it, would these people leap to his defence then, saying it was just a joke? I suspect not. So what does that tell you about how the defenders view this issue?