This week in sensationalism I bring you the curious case of Tim Hunt, the shunned Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, who sabotaged his illustrious career due to “incendiary” comments he recently made about women in science. For those not familiar with the case, Tim Hunt was asked to share a few words in front of an audience of female journalists and scientists at the aptly-titled 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists, in Seoul. After brief preparation, Hunt went out and delivered a lackadaisical speech that really showcased his penchant for awkward humour, audience awareness, and verbal diarrhea. He opened thusly:
“It's strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. 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. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls?”
Brutal, right? He continued:
“Now, seriously, I'm impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science, despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”
Absolutely cringe-worthy. An epic fail, as the kids would say. As you can imagine, these comments—although made in a naive attempt at humour— didn’t quite jive with the female community at large, and what ensued was a veritable shit storm delivered by the hands of social justice warriors, feminists, and female scientists alike— a shit storm the likes of which our goofy little friend Tim Hunt could have never anticipated. Social media and online publications had a field day with him, dragging his name through the mud and chastising him for the “cruel, Victorian era” tone of his comments, as well as accusing him of overt misogyny. In an attempt to cover their ass, University College London promptly urged Hunt to resign from his position and academia severed all ties. He was blacklisted.
Now I know what you may be thinking. You may be thinking, “So what? He deserved it." And I couldn’t disagree with you more. Here’s why.
Context. It was simply a joke. A joke made in momentously bad taste, but a joke nonetheless. Mainstream media, of course, disregarded this fact, and quickly lambasted him through the paraphrasing of quotes just to make a story. And so began the witch hunt. It happens all too often. The media makes a story where there isn’t one, sprinkles in a little misogyny, and naturally the sheep flocked. Why? I can only speculate. But if I were to guess, I would say it has a lot to do with the increasing momentum of the North-American-Female-Victim narrative that the media has been voraciously perpetuating. This is simply shitty journalism in the same vein of the UVA rape case.
Tim Hunt’s story is a quintessential example of outrage politics and shaming being taken way too far. Robbing a man—or woman for that matter—of his or her entire life's work for some stupid comments made in jest is just pathetic. Where is the due diligence? Why did the campus not let Hunt tell his side of the story? Why is the public so quick to chastise people without digging any deeper into the story? I think I may know, but I’m going stop here for fear of being misquoted.
Photo Credit: Thumbnail from Beautiful Minds Series 1
Just a 23-year-old Irishman stuck in the city that fun forgot, cutting through the bullshit one story at a time. My hobbies include pretending I’m a scribbler, navigating sobriety, and consuming lemon-flavoured libations. I imagine myself becoming a famous writer one day, but if that doesn’t work out, I can always fall back on cooking professionally and screaming at people.