A British Nobel laureate, Sir Tim Hunt, 72, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on cell division, was forced out of honorary positions at University College London (UCL), the Royal Society, and the European Research Council (ERC) after a British academic named Connie St Louis, whose credibility is itself under fire, reported Hunt making sexist remarks in Seoul, South Korea.
The Daily Mail reported that Hunt was speaking to roughly a group of 100 science journalists, comprised primarily of women, when he said, according to Hunt, “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 criticize them, they cry.”
St Louis posted the quote on Twitter, prompting a world-wide barrage of invective targeting Hunt and also provoking the subsequent actions by the academic societies. Hunt, who called Hunt a “sexist speaker,” said Hunt boasted that he was a “male chauvinist.” She said Hunt stated that single-sex labs were better than mixed ones, while saying of Hunt, “Really, does this Nobel laureate think we are still in Victorian times?”
Hunt, returning from Seoul, could only defend himself by voicemail to Radio 4’s Today program, offering an apology for the “very stupid” comment, adding that he was “really, really sorry” to have “caused offence.” His wife, Professor Mary Collins, also a well-known scientist, said that Hunt became depressed, recalling, “‘Tim sat on the sofa and started crying. Then I started crying. We just held on to each other.”
But then a backlash from famous scientists roared back, led by eight other Nobel Prize winners and some female academics. Sir Andre Geim, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner in Physics who developed graphene, the world’s thinnest material, which may utterly change the world, said Hunt was being “crucified” by ideological fanatics. Some of the scientists surmised Hunt had been joking. All of the scientists told the UCL, the Royal Society and the ERC to reinstate him.
All three institutions said no, even though The Times reported that an anonymous EU official at the Seoul conference had quite a different account of what had transpired, The EU official stated that Hunt had been joking, even that he was a “chauvinist monster” he was before offering the ill-fated remarks and saying, “Now seriously . . .” then enthusing about the ‘”important role” women scientists play. The EU official averred that Hunt even said women should work in his field “despite monsters like me.” The EU official concluded, “I didn’t notice any uncomfortable silence or any awkwardness in the room as reported on social and then mainstream media.”
Meanwhile, St Louis told the Daily Mail that Hunt never said, “Now seriously.”
The Daily Mail conducted its own investigation of St Louis, showing her to have lied about details of her career, including a CV describing her as “an award-winning freelance broadcaster, journalist, writer and scientist … She presents and produces a range of programmes for BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service . . . She writes for numerous outlets, including The Independent, Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, BBC On Air magazine and BBC Online.”
Yet, as the Daily Mail pointed out, digital archives for The Independent, Daily Mail, and The Sunday Times dating back 20 years show no by-lined articles by St Louis. St Louis confessed to the Daily Mail that it was “possible” she had never written for the newspaper, arguing that her articles for the Independent and Sunday Times may have been written more than 20 years ago, but when the Daily Mail asked how she could justify saying she wrote for the articles, she hung up the phone.
The City University web page states, “She is a recipient of the prestigious Joseph Rowntree Journalist Fellowship to write a book based on her acclaimed two-part Radio 4 documentary series, Raising Ham.” It is true in 2005, St Louis received £50,000 for the supposed book, but the book was never written. St Louis claimed, “I didn’t finish the Rowntree book I was writing because I had breast cancer and was extremely ill for a year. Then, after that, I had to work to look after my family. It doesn [sic] take away the fact that I won it [the £50,000] and still hope to finish the book does it?”
The online CV for St Louis claims that she had published three articles in academic journals, but the truth is that two of the three are the same.
In her CV presented to become a board member of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), St Louis claimed, “In November 2002, I was invited and subsequently appointed by the Minister responsible for media, sport and culture to be a board member of UK Sport (the former UK Sports Council) . . . My term of office ended last year but I continue to serve on the audit committee as an external member.”
One problem: a spokesman for UK Sport said St Louis was appointed to the board in November 2002 but she was gone by 2005.
Dame Valerie Beral, a famous scientist who is the principal investigator for the Million Women Study on the effect of women’s lifestyle on health, responded to the Daily Mail’s revelations by saying, “I think the institutions who have forced Tim to resign now need to look at the claims that this person has made in the past, and work out whether they can trust what she says regarding this incident. If her previous claims turn out to be false, then I believe that Tim must be re-instated.”