The beleaguered British biologist Sir Tim Hunt has revealed that he was forced to resign from his post at University College London (UCL) without being given a chance to explain his controversial remarks about women in science. “I have been hung out to dry,” he told the Observer in an exclusive interview. “I have been stripped of all the things I was doing in science. I have no further influence.”
Hunt, who won the Nobel prize in 2001 for his work on cell biology, was the focus of widespread controversy last week after suggesting at a conference in Seoul that women in science were disruptive and prone to crying. He has since apologised for his remarks, which were supposed to be ironic and jocular, he said.
However, as a result of the furore, Hunt was told by UCL that he would have to resign his honorary post at the college. “At no point did they ask me for an explanation for what I said or to put it in context,” he told the Observer. “They just said I had to go. There has been an enormous rush to judgment in dealing with me.”
This point was supported by Hunt’s wife, Mary Collins, who also has a post at UCL, as a professor of immunology. “Tim was still on the plane from Seoul when a senior manager at UCL phoned me and said Tim had to resign his honorary position. They had not even spoken to Tim at that point. He just said Tim had to resign or we fire him. It was very upsetting. We are both extremely angry.”
Hunt was then sacked from his post on the European Research Council’s science committee and has since resigned from other posts, including membership of a Royal Society committee. “I have become toxic,” he told the Observer. “I am finished.”
Just like that. Several former female scientific colleagues of his have come forward to speak of his generosity to women in the laboratory. Doesn’t matter. One lame joke and his career is over. This is downright Soviet in its ideological rigidity and stupidity. One of the best scientists in the world is chucked out of his university for expressing a trite opinion that violates political correctness. The Soviets did this kind of thing all the time, you know, to their great detriment.
Northwestern University bioethicist Alice Domurat Dreger wonders if she’s going to be the next Tim Hunt:
The mob that thinks this is a good idea seems to be composed largely of people I generally respect: feminist, pro-science, publicly-engaged. But I feel like they’re not thinking about this clearly.
Let me admit my biases here: The last couple of months have been rough for me. In just the last couple of weeks I published two articles that pissed off a whole lot of people on the science-y left, including one for WIRED on gender nonconforming children, and another for New Statesman on vaccine politics. These have each generated a number of calls for my head from people on the pro-science left.
In addition, as you may have heard, I live-tweeted my son’s sex ed class, and with no warning that went internationally viral. (If somehow you haven’t heard about that, you can read what happened through my articles in The Stranger and The Guardian.) That was not exactly a pleasant experience, and I quickly got the sense my medical school’s administration was none too happy to have their institutional name on the front page of the Washington Post in this raucous sex ed context.
I’m sure it didn’t help that I’m already on the outs with my medical school’s administration because they censored some of my work for fourteen months and the censorship only ended it a few weeks ago when I told them I was going to go public about it.
If Northwestern decides to get rid of me, it will be easy for them to do so. I’m on a one-year contract that ends at the end of August. It’s a part-time gig. (As I explain in my book, I gave up tenure and went part time in 2004, in part to do more interesting work.) They won’t need to give any reason for ending my job, really. Budgetary shifts; personnel changes; blah blah. The truth is, it won’t be because I haven’t done a stellar job for Northwestern on a 20% FTE. I have. It’ll be because what I’m saying is off-brand and might offend somebody.
See, in my world, the fear of offending someone is reason enough to forget about academic freedom.
What is it going to take to stop this madness? Conservatives have no power within the academy; it’s going to have to be liberals like Dreger who are fed up with it. Conservatives do have power within the business world, though. How many Brendan Eichs are going to lose their jobs before enough people get sick of these Social Justice Warrior witch hunts, and fight back? The real offenders here are not really the SJWs, but gutless college administrators and corporate hacks who are terrified of them.