It looks like Sir Tim Hunt will not be reinstated in his UCL post, despite the great support that he has received from his peers.
Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt has made the gravest mistake of his entire career by making a very bad joke at a scientific conference, that was deemed extremely sexist.
Like saying the words to a magic spell, Sir Tim Hunt said that the trouble he finds in working alongside girls is that “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.” An Presto! His prestigious career was essentially ended.
After an extensive media backlash, that female scientists from all over the world have contributed to with pictures of themselves in their protection laboratory attire, all under the same #distractinglysexy banner, Sir Tim Hunt was urged to resign from his honorary professor position at the University College of London (UCL).
The fact he apologized for his appalling joke countless times and that his peers have vouched for the fact that he has actually been helping women to thrive in science did not seem to make any difference whatsoever.
Furthermore, one of these peers who stand by Sir Tim is actually his wife, who is a renowned scientist herself and who has declared herself a feminists. She said that if Sir Tim were as social media is portraying him to be, she would not have married him. She points out that anybody who knows him understands perfectly that his words were intended as a joke. Regardless of the fact that this would still qualify as misguided conduct, at least it could demonstrate that there was no ill intention involved.
In spite of all this support, the UCL has decided not to reinstate him because they feel that revising their decision would give out the wrong impression. Moreover, they regard Sir Tim’s conduct as being contradictory to their approach on integrating female scientists in their facilities, which is of the utmost importance for UCL at the moment.
There is even a report conducted by the European Commission that has recently been leaked on the internet that concludes that Sir Tim Hunt’s comments were in fact meant as a joke. It is based on an EU Official’s recount of the events, as he was present when Sir Tim made the remarks. The main argument that they have identified is the fact that immediately after he made the comments, he said “Now seriously,” and went on to discuss another matter.
However, science journalist Connie St. Louis, who has first written about the matter and who has brought into public attention, says that she clearly remembers that Sir Tim Hunt never spoke the words “Now seriously” and that he was not making a joke at that time. She said that she definitely stands behind the accusations that she has made.
Due to recent events though, Connie St. Louis’ credibility has become rather weak, as it appears that many of the achievements that she has included in her CV are not in fact real. This issue came to light when some authoritative publications decided to look into the matter. She was asked to confirm that she had done all of the things that are listed in her CV and her responses were ambiguous at best.
Unfortunately, the damage has already been done and it seems that the outcome of the situation will not be significantly altered in the near future. Professor Michael Arthur, UCL president, believes that even in the event that the comments were actually intended as a joke, this matter would still be extremely grave, as it goes against all the values that UCL stands for.
Therefore, allowing him to keep his honorary position at the university would devalue all the progress that UCL has achieved regarding gender equality. Professor Arthur’s remarks make the entire matter definite, because there is no hope for resolving it henceforth.
It remains to be seen what the final conclusion regarding this horrible situation will be, but it is regrettable that the entire career of a Nobel Prize winning scientist can be so easily tainted by a matter that has virtually nothing to do with science itself.
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