My hero of the week is 72-year old Nobel-prizewinning scientist Sir Tim Hunt who this week went public at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Korea on the three main problems he has encountered during a lifetime working with female scientists:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. 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.”
But to his credit – and this is what really makes Hunt my hero – he has stuck to his guns. While covering himself with a formulaic non-apology apology (ie expressing sorrow for the “offence caused”) he has so far made no attempt to retract what he said.
Presumably this is because Hunt is one of those old-fashioned, pre-Social-Justice-Warrior-era sorts who believe that a scientist’s job is to tell the truth.
As Charles Darwin once said:”A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, – a mere heart of stone.”
That is, keep emotions out of it. Which makes a lot of sense in the context of what Hunt said about having girls in the lab. He wasn’t (necessarily) saying that women had no place in science, nor even that on balance their presence as colleagues wasn’t a delightful, fragrant, silken-petalled, life-enhancing, giggly, nice-cup-of-coffee-making, shoulder-to-cry-on, fantastic-shag-or-two-in-the-lab-store-room thing. Just that they do have their downsides when it comes to advancing the strict business of scientific inquiry.
Anyway, if he were that anti women-in-science, why would he have gone and married a professor of immunology?
Could it be, perhaps, that Hunt- as some of us quite enjoy doing to let off steam – made his remarks in order deliberately to wind up the usual suspects?
One interesting thing that I don’t think anyone else has noticed yet is that this spat has brought Hunt into a major ideological clash with one of his Nobel-prizewinning co-workers.
Enter Sir Paul Nurse, with whom Hunt shared his 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries regarding cell cycle regulation by cyclin and cyclin-dependent kinases.
(Obviously I would tell you exactly what those things are but I just don’t have the space and you probably wouldn’t understand).
Nurse, of course, is now the President of the Royal Society which has already issued a statement publicly dissociating itself from Hunt’s views.
It says on its website:
“Too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the society is committed to helping to put this right.”
Regular readers will be aware that I am not a fan of Nurse. And that statement is depressingly symptomatic of the dismal effect this former Socialist Worker salesman – a left-wing agitator who maintains the view that politics has a place in science – has had on Britain’s foremost scientific institution during his tenure at its president.
The job of science is to do science, not engineer social harmony or correct “gender” imbalance.
This was true in the 17th century when the Royal Society was founded; and there is no scientific reason why it should remain any less true today.
The very idea that an institution as august as the Royal Society should print such drivel on its website and not feel any sense of shame or embarrassment just shows how far we have fallen.
We seem to be abandoning the rigorous quest for truth and objectivity embodied by the Enlightenment, in favour of the superstitions and prejudices of the Dark Ages. And instead of standing against this, the Royal Society has decided to act as the New Endarkenment’s cheerleader.