Friday, June 19, 2015

208.8 - Clown Award: Tim Hunt

Clown Award: Tim Hunt

Now for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given in recognition of some act or expression of meritorious stupidity.

The Big Red Nose this week goes to Tim Hunt. Who is Tim Hunt? Well, he's a biochemist who won the 2001 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine - and he is an unapologetic sexist toad.

On June 8, at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea, he told his audience that he had a reputation as a male chauvinist - and then went on to prove it, saying:
"Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry."
Later, in a classic non-apology, Hunt actually stood by his comments, saying he "did mean the part about having trouble with girls," but insisted "I'm really, really sorry I caused any offense. I certainly didn't mean that. I just meant to be honest."

Right. You call them "girls," say they can't deal with criticism, suggest they don't belong in a research lab, but you didn't mean any "offense." Well, of course, because how could anyone think of any of that as offensive when you were just being "honest?"

Honest about being a sexist toad, yes. Beyond that....

The fact is, while there has been measurable progress, gender bias and discrimination remain a real barrier for women in academia, particularly in the areas known as STEM - for science, technology, engineering, and math.

Tim Hunt
For example, in 2012, 62 percent of men in academia were tenured compared to only 44 percent of women, and women were far more likely to be in non-tenure track positions than men (32 percent of women in academia compared to just 19 percent of men).

In 2013, women earned about half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in science and engineering and 38 percent of doctorates, but only made up 26 percent of tenured faculty members.

A study in 2012 revealed that chemists and biologists are likely to favor a young male scientist over a woman with nearly identical qualifications and are more likely to offer the man a job. When women do get hired, their pay averages nearly $4,000 less than what men are paid.

None of this, seemingly, matters to Tim Hunt, who's only being "honest" about disruptive, weepy women in his lab. As the UK newspaper The Independent noted, "With lab rats like him, is it any wonder there's a shortage of women in science?"

Oh, but really it's all okay because Hunt said that he didn't want to stand in the way of women, just that he was in favor of single-sex labs. Academic apartheid, in other words.

But considering that a good part of his complaint was about disruption caused by romantic involvements - he apparently has little self-control - by his own logic wouldn't he also have to ban gays and lesbians from their gender-segregated labs? Where would he propose stopping?

The pushback against Hunt was hard enough - even the Royal Society, the UK's leading science organization, of which he is a member, distanced itself from him - that he lost his honorary post, and yes it was an honorary post, at University College London.

That's okay though, because Tim Hunt can always pursue another career - as a clown.

Sources cited in links:

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