Distractingly sexy

Clearly the “distractingly sexy” women of science have an excellent sense of humour. But they are not amused by Nobel laureate Tim Hunt!

When I shared this on Facebook, I got this comment:

His career and his wife's has been destroyed over a remark he intended as a joke. Not funny, but way to pile on Paul. You do the PC mob proud.

Yeah, that’s me, always pandering to the crowd! And they just love me for it.

Regardless of whether the punishment is appropriate (and that’s a legitimate debate), the “crime” is real, and the just-a-joke defense was never credible and has been a cliché for decades. It isn’t possible to be funny about this while women are still being paid less than men and sexually harassed in the workplace, and the cultural tone-deafness of anyone who tries to go there is astonishing. That level of cluelessness requires actual chauvinism.

In any case, the evidence strongly suggests that Hunt was not just joking. Ars Technica: “He later went on to say that, while he doesn’t want to get in the way of women, he’s ‘in favor of single-sex labs.’ … the head of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program (and Pulitzer Prize Winner) Deborah Blum confirmed to Ars that she approached Hunt the next day, and he repeated his original comments and elaborated on them.” Hunt doubled down. Nor has his career been destroyed. See David Colquhoun’s summary of key points of the Hunt affair.

I do not know what the right position is on whether or not to participate in public shaming and social censure. I admire restraint and civility when I see it, but I’m sincerely not sure that it’s always the best response to injustice, and personally I’m so incensed by bullies of any kind that I will impulsively applaud whenever they get a taste of their own medicine. Right or wrong, I’m unlikely to even try to change that.