An Italian university has banned Sir Tim Hunt from speaking at a conference because of “some hazardous occurrence” threatened by a local group of feminists. The silencing of the renowned scientist follows a recording of his now infamous toast finally surfacing in which laughter is heard following the joke, confirming that it was taken in jocular spirit.
Sir Tim was due to speak at a conference of the Italian Society of Anatomy and Histology in Ferrara later in the year. However, in an e-mail seen by The Times, president of the organising committee, Silvano Capitani, apologised to the scientist before writing:
“[The society’s board] have reached the conclusion that your presence at the society’s 69th annual conference… might result in some hazardous occurrence for you and for the regular course of the event… I have several evidence [sic] that activists have already taken [a] position on the issue, and regardless [of whether] they are right or not, this represents a potential serious problem.”
Over the weekend Sir Tim’s account of the saga was given further credence when a short recording emerged of him saying, “Congratulations, everybody,” to the room of female scientists, “I do hope there is nothing holding you back, especially monsters like me.” After which loud laughter is heard.
This contradicts the explosive initial account given by a feminist journalist present, which sparked the saga. “There was a deathly silence… Nobody was laughing… these guys are incredibly upset. And so after he’d finished, there was just this deathly, deathly silence,” said Connie St Louis on BBC television. “It was a room of about a hundred people,” she said, “nobody was laughing… everybody was stony-faced.”
She was one of three journalists who claimed Sir Tim was “in favor of” and “made the case for” single-sex labs. One of the three later added that he went on to “thank” the women present for “making the lunch.” Official notes taken by Marcin Mońko, a European Commission official, contradicted their account.
Ten days ago, UCL’s ruling council decided that the Nobel laureate would not be reinstated despite admitting failures in the university’s handling of the saga, and despite all of the evidence emerging in support of Sir Tim’s account.
The institution has come under heavy criticism for its treatment of the esteemed scientist, with several trustees resigning and others promising to take UCL out of their wills.
As it continues its crusade against Sir Tim and perceived sexism, UCL was met with accusations of gross hypocrisy as it was also reveled last week that the University regularly hosts dinners at a men-only social club.
Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society, tried to bring an end to the controversy on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House. He said:
“It became a complete Twitter and media storm, he should never have been sacked by University College London.”