Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt has resigned after the uproar caused by comments he made at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, where he pushed for single-sex science labs. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” he said. “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.” Here, a senior academic responds to his comments.
I’m not sure whether I’m weeping tears of laughter or sorrow at the comments made by Nobel Laureate and English biochemist Tim Hunt. Poor man – he certainly has stirred up a storm of debate following his inadvised remarks about single-sex laboratories and women crying when criticised.
I say poor man, but I don’t really feel sorry for him. He should have known better. OK, it is important to have a sense of humour, and most people are able to laugh when someone makes a light-hearted joke at their expense. But there are limits, especially when addressing a group of people you don’t know very well, who might have different social or cultural reference points.
Someone as senior as Hunt should have realised his remarks were going down like a lead balloon, and been able to change the tenor of his comments.
There are (at least) two aspects of Hunt’s remarks to take issue with. The first is about workplace relationships: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you". In saying this, he seems to be marking laboratories out as seething dens of sexual iniquity. [Humorous aside: chance would be a fine thing …].
OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit – though I did meet my husband when we were sharing a laboratory as fellow PhD students. We celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary this year. Because of university administration cycles, for several years he was my boss, then I was his boss. We still work together, publish together and collaborate on a variety of projects. Sometimes, workplace romances can even serve as a source of inspiration rather than distraction.