Yesterday, as new accounts emerged, it was revealed that the critical initial reporting of that now infamous – and admittedly pretty awful – joke told by Sir Tim Hunt in Korea might have misrepresented his words in a potentially defamatory manner.
The Nobel Prize Laureate was widely condemned after three journalists present claimed he was “in favor of” and “made the case for” single-sex labs, and told a conference of female science journalists that he is against women in the lab because they “fall in love” and “cry.” One of the three journalists later added that he went on to “thank” the women present for “making the lunch.”
Within a week the allegations led to Sir Tim losing an honorary position at UCL, a position at the Royal Society and another with the European Research Council. “I’ve been hung out to dry. They haven’t even bothered to ask for my side of affairs,” he said in an interview.
The three journalists who compiled the explosive initial report were Connie St Louis, a lecturer in science journalism at City University London; Deborah Blum, professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Ivan Oransky, co-founder of a science website. Their unapologetically un-impartial and opinion laden account was lapped up verbatim by the press, hungry for any story to fit their rolling narrative of evil old white blokes oppressing everyone.
“I discussed [the comments] with a couple of colleagues, Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky, who I’d been sitting next to,” wrote St Louis a week later.
“…Women are vulnerable to vicious trolling on Twitter, and black women doubly so. So it was enormously supportive to have two journalists of (sic) Blum and Oranksy’s stature behind me,” she continues.
“We decided that I should publish the story on Twitter since it had a British angle, and that Deborah and Ivan would authenticate my account… I knew it was important to get it right,” she added.
However according to minutes taken by a European Commission official, also present, the twitter report left out critical words said by Hunt either side of the joke – context, which made it plain the contentions lines were jocular and quite clearly satirical. She also denied Sir Tim ever thanked women present for lunch.
Both comments, before and after the joke, were acknowledged and alluded to in the initial twitter report, but were curiously not relayed, despite St. Louis and her “colleges” claiming to have made comprehensive and accurate notes.
According to the new account, Sir Tim started with: “It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists,” which makes clear he mocking sexism, rather than indulging in it. St. Louis reported this as Hunt simply admitting: “he has a reputation as a male chauvinist.”
Immediately after the now infamous joke, according to the new evidence, he proceeded to make several very pro gender equality remarks, including: “Now seriously… Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me,” which was similarly disregarded in St. Louis’s twitter report.
Hunt has already protested that he added, “now seriously” to indicate the joke was over. Yet in a Guardian think piece titled, “Stop Defending Tim Hunt,” St. Louis claims: “He did not say this, nor did he praise the role of women in science and in Korean society.” She also says she sticks by the allegation that Sir Tim thanked women for making lunch.
Oransky and Blum said they could not recall enough to confirm or deny the additional quotes, but were clear not contradict them. Blum also claims she questioned Sir Tim some more, “He said his intent, at least in part, was to raise some real issues. He used the word ‘honest’,” she said.
Considering the reporters’ memories seem confused, as well as contradicting the arguably more reliable and impartial notes taken by the European Commission official, it would be reasonable to conclude it was a harmless but bad joke, as Sir Tim has always maintained. So why would it be perceived and/or reported as hate speech?
There is no evidence to suggest she intentionally mislead anyone, but St. Louis just so happens to be a Social Justice Warrior (SJW) with a history of making the accusation of bigotry against fellow science writers. She is clearly enthralled to the idea that Science is aggressively structurally sexist and racist, and has been using the episode and the coverage she’s generated to promote petitions, influence institutions and further political ends.
— Connie St Louis (@connie_stlouis) June 8, 2015
— Connie St Louis (@connie_stlouis) June 20, 2015
Sir Tim does, as it happens, hold some unfashionable – but not yet illegal – views on affirmative action and the relative number of senior women in STEM . When asked why women are under-represented in Science by The Lab Times last year, he responded in a controversial, but measured and diplomatic, manner.
“I’m not sure there is really a problem, actually. People just look at the statistics. I dare, myself, to think there is any discrimination – either for or against men or women.
“I think people are really good at selecting good scientists, but I must admit the inequalities in the outcomes, especially at the higher end, are quite staggering. And I have no idea what the reasons are…”
In her Guardian piece, St. Louis cites this very quote as a reason for us “not to support” him, and “believe” her. Ideologies come before facts. Sir Tim doesn’t think the relative numbers of men and women in Science is a problem or is the result of hate crime, and she deeply disagrees with him on this contentious political point.
It’s just possible that the politics at play at least influenced her perception and account of Sir Tim’s bad dad joke.