Poor Tim Hunt – sort of

Miss Nellie A. Brown; L to R: Miss Lucia McCollock, Miss Mary K. Bryan, Miss Florence Hedges
Put down your test-tubes and give us a smile girls.

Brian Cox and Boris Johnson don’t have loads in common, other than the hair thing and the fact they have both jumped to the defence of Nobel winning scientist Tim Hunt. Professor Hunt got himself into a lot of trouble last week with his comments about ‘girls’ in labs and subsequently resigned from his positions at UCL and The Royal Society. Boris and Brian’s appeals for reason really highlight the differences between someone who understands science and the nature of evidence and someone who thinks girls go to university to find a husband.

Boris – not a scientist- Johnson, rather embarrassingly used evidence to prove that Professor Hunt was right about girls crying, because evidence shows that women do cry more than men. Boris doesn’t think it should be an offense to point out these gender differences, presumably making it also ok to point out how much more men commit violent crimes than women. Begging the question is there a problem with letting men into mixed gender workplaces because boys can get a bit rapey? Seriously, shush Boris, you’re not doing Tim any favours by being on his side, now get back into your basket you crazy albino.

Professor Brian -actual scientist- Cox, didn’t defend Tim Hunt’s comments, just said that he shouldn’t have lost his job over them, which seems fair enough. Hunt’s words and thoughts, while irritating and offensive, are just words and thoughts- not actions. There is no evidence that he has discriminated against women in the work place. To fire him because he has the potential to discriminate, or other people just don’t like him, is a bit too thought-police. I’m not going to stop sending my nana Christmas cards because she calls black people ‘darkies’ either.

Was Professor Hunt really ‘hounded out’ by social media? If so I missed it, all I saw was some fairly reasonable irritation and some rather excellent piss-taking. Twitter doing some good with the ensuing #distractinglysexy hashtag undoing the harm and promoting women in science, happily the only reported tears were from laughter.  People on Twitter are always calling for resignations, but since when did we take ‘people on Twitter’ so seriously? They say a lot of shit, you’ll notice they aren’t literally Laughing Out Loud either.
Still, The Royal Society and University College London lost their bottle and caved in to the pressure, not helped by Professor Hunt who apologised by saying his comments were intended as a joke, but that he meant what he said and he was just being honest, the second part seemingly contradicting the first.

Hunt gets the chop but Phillip Larkin gets honoured in Poet’s Corner and he said a lot worse- what’s the difference? Twitter? How much people love ‘This Be The Verse’? The fact that Larkin is dead and doesn’t have to give appraisals to besotted, sobbing employees? Or that Larkin owned his words, for the most part shunning honours whereas Hunt said something very stupid, and still expects everyone to think he’s clever.

I do feel sorry for Professor Hunt, I’m sure he is a very nice man and he should still have his job, but let’s not forget, his damaged reputation is his own fault. The professor is finding out what it’s like to have your career blighted by a single moment of human weakness. You work hard all your life to achieve a level of respect in your field then one stupid joke, one single tear and you’re branded a ‘sexist pig’ or a ‘crying girl’.