politics

Tim Hunt said the wrong thing at the wrong time

The recent incident about Tim Hunt’s comment on women in science and the viral response of female scientists all over the world was covered by the media in an extent, that was, to my opinion, quite unusual. I think, most surprised by that enormous feedback was Tim Hunt himself, who resigned from his honorary professorship and now claims to have been “hung out and dry”.

Tim Hunt. source: The Daily Beast.

Tim Hunt. source: The Daily Beast.

I also wish to make clear that his comment is not to be justified. Especially the part about crying remembered me of my studies, when it was not uncommon that people did cry after some oral exams which were frequently held over a lab course. Studying was tough. However, the stress put onto the students was hopefully irrespective of the gender, and I think that females and males most often simply have different strategies to deal with that. Even so, it clearly states that something with the critics might be wrong when it causes such emotional reactions. In his comment, Hunt simply assumed that being a male labworker is “normal”, while being a female labworker is a deviation. This is an in insult to all people working in the lab – female and also male.

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 criticise them, they cry.

My impression is, that, in addition, Hunt’s comment on women in science was simply the last straw that broke the camel’s back: Females have to face discrimination since the very beginning of science. And since recently, sexism in science was already in focus of the scientific community and also in the public. I do think that this intense anger and dispute is not harming academia. I think, it is quite healthy. Females are showing their contribution to science and call this kind of harassment what it is: patriarchalic and unfair.

One thing that seems to be not considered in the one thing is that this issue is not only concerning the lab: It applies to all fields of work, where women are a minority. There are a lot.

#distractlinglysexy. source: Mashable.com

#distractlinglysexy. source: Mashable.com

His own defensive reaction after being that harshly treated and criticized seems a bit ironic in that context. Yes, he did something wrong. Yes, he was maybe tired and did not think before speaking. Yes, he was also maybe speaking about his personal experience. And yes, he may have even apologized. But this does not mean that everything is alright now. It seems like Tim Hunt is now the scapegoat of an angry, female Twitter mob, just because he spoke his mind. But speaking your mind does not mean that you cannot be an asshole. The same goes for having a Nobel Prize.

Hunt is 72 years old, having/being resigned from his honorary professorship. I think that this might be not a too great loss for him. I give him, that his feelings might be severely hurt. But so are many others’ feelings, too.

Link of the week: “How anonymous peer review fails to do its job and damages science.”

In his text in the Open Science Collaboration blog, Prof. Jan P. de Ruiter comments on the apparent drawbacks of the anonymous peer-review (AP) process in science publishing. He recites an ideed very popular phrase abut AP:

It may have its flaws, but it’s the ‘least bad’ of all possible systems.

The examples about partially insulting and unfair reviews that result from the current AP system are, after my experience, true in their tendency. I very much appreciate that de Ruiter also offers alternatives which he applies for himself, when possible.

Rule a) Reviewers with tenure always sign their reviews.

Rule b) Reviews are stored, and all researchers have the explicit right to look up and cite reviews. If the author of a certain review is anonymous, so be it. Call them “reviewer 3 in submission so-and-so to journal X”, but at least this allows researchers to address and discuss their arguments in the papers. I often notice that reviewers have a very strong influence on papers, by requesting that certain points be addressed before they advise acceptance. This epistemic tug-of-war between reviewers and authors often results in needless meandering and bad rhetorical flow.

The full text can be found here.

Link of the week: “Science is not Neutral”

Alice Bell describes in the Guardian’s “Political Science” blog a surprisingly well-matching equivalent of Occupy in the british science community, in 1970.

They started by just asking questions. But the panel chairman and speakers stifled any attempts of debate, dismissing political discussion as irrelevant. The BA seemed to be built on an inflexible culture and internal structure, too reliant on industrial sponsorship to positively challenge debate on the social implications of science. Frustrated, they occupied a mid-conference teach-in. It was designed to be the anti-thesis of how they saw a BA session, with no set-piece speeches, and no restrictions on what could or could not be asked.

The full text is available here.