Tim Hunt complained that female scientists "cry" and make male colleagues fall in love with them
Renowned scientist and Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt told a room full of high-ranking scientists and science journalists Wednesday that the trouble with “girls” working in science is that “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.”
Hunt, who was speaking at the World Conference of Science Journalists in the South Korean capital, Seoul, went on to say that scientists should work in gender-segregated labs, adding that he hoped not “to stand in the way of women,” the Guardian reports.
Hunt, 72, won the 2001 Nobel prize in physiology and medicine for his work on protein molecules and their role in cell division. He was knighted in 2006.
The Royal Society, of which Hunt is a fellow, quickly tweeted a message distancing itself from Hunt’s remarks, writing that the comments “don’t reflect our views” and later adding, “Science needs women.”
Hunt later tried to apologize on BBC Radio 4’s Today:
I’m really sorry that I said what I said. It was a very stupid thing to do in presence of all those journalists. And what was intended was a sort of light-hearted, ironic comment … was apparently interpreted deadly seriously by my audience. But what I said was quite accurately reported.
It’s terribly important that you can criticize people’s ideas without criticizing them. If they break in to tears then you hold back from getting at the absolute truth. Science is about nothing except getting at the truth. And anything (that) gets in the way of that diminishes, in my experience, the science.
I mean I’m really, really sorry that I caused any offense. That’s awful. I certainly didn’t mean … I just meant to be honest actually.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Twitter responded with outrage. Sabine Dittrich, an infectious-disease researcher based in Laos, wrote:
Lynn Schreiber, who runs a “girl-positive” online magazine, said:
And mechanical-engineering Ph.D. student Aaron Mifflin added:
The ratio of women to men in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) careers has remained persistently low despite initiatives around the world promoting science education for young girls. Women hold only 25% of American STEM jobs, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce.