Professor Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s bestseller, Antifragile, contains at its start a note on ethics:
If you see fraud, and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.
When I read this quote, it jumped out at me; I remember gasping with surprise. This was exactly the concept I had been looking for to sum up the “reporting” of the leaders of the ‘World Conference of Science Journalists” on Sir Tim Hunt’s brief toast in Seoul.
After he’d finished, there was this deathly, deathly silence.
Very clearly, nobody was laughing – everybody was stony-faced. – Connie St. Louis, lecturer in journalism, City University, London
Professor Taleb, who became famous for his development of Black Swan theory and the resulting global bestseller, had been one of the earliest, strongest defenders of Sir Tim Hunt, announcing his contempt for the actions of UCL without due process, and boycotting the university under its present leadership. When Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, vindicated Sir Tim on the BBC, saying
It became a complete Twitter, media storm, completely out of proportion.. He should never have been sacked by University College, London [recording of those words below]
The long, slow vindication of the Nobel winner, whose record on women in science was one of the strongest among senior scientists, seemed complete.
But it was not quite complete. The Russian journalist and witness, Natalia Demina, had discovered a fragmentary audio she made of the end of Sir Tim’s toast. (I release it in this blog by consent, outside a paywall; the recording remains the copyright of Ms. Demina and should not be copied without her express permission.)
It remains to examine how precisely Sir Tim’s character was traduced and how his words were willfully distorted by his hosts, the WCSJ 2015 (note: NOT “kofwst” of whom more later). Some journalists and organizers present at that toast did the following:
- Misreported Hunt’s words by omission
- Misreported Hunt’s intent
- Failed to correct the record
- Sought to give false impressions of the event
- Colluded, instead of independently reporting
- Failed to declare their conflicts of interest
- Failed to declare their positions as conference organizers
- Re-tweeted attacks on Sir Tim that their own accounts contradicted
- Attacked in gross terms the personal character of Sir Tim Hunt, including tweeting out cartoons portraying him as a racist and a misogynist
- Despite saying that they opposed ‘twitter mobs’, in fact campaigned to remove him from his positions
- In the case of Scientific American blogs, published accounts that they should have known to be false and
- Apparently deceived fellow journalists, whom they charged money to attend their conference, about ‘keynote speaker’ Connie St. Louis, who is described in their programme as an ‘award winning …scientist’
And of course there is the lesser species of bad journalism: shifting your grounds of reporting and defence when the evidence changes, from “He wasn’t joking” to “so what if he was joking.”
I also want to be clear that this criticism does not apply to most attendees of the conference, who were just going about their business. Also, not all of the journalists and editors who did one of these bad things, did all of these bad things. For example, Curtis Brainard, @CBrainard on Twitter, the editor of Scientific American blogs and the new President of the WCSJ for this coming year), did not actually misreport the words of Sir Tim Hunt. But, he did not correct the record, given Ms. St. Louis had misrepresented important facts, such as a ‘deathly silence’ in the room, and ‘stony faces’ in the audience, and that Deborah Blum had insisted Sir Tim was not joking. Nor did Rosie Mestel, the editor of the scientific journal, ‘Nature’. She was present. Sir Tim had praised women in science in his toast. Where was the reporting on that? ‘Congratulations, everybody…’ he says in this snippet. What immediately preceded these ‘congratulations’? Why weren’t those congratulations reported?
Ms. Mestel and Mr. Brainard should have known that Ms. St. Louis had not told the truth and did not correct the record on the facts.
In my view it was the absolute duty of both editors to do so.
1. The original misreporting and collusion
Connie St. Louis tweeted out her now notorious “report” three hours after the luncheon. It included the alleged joke and added that Hunt said ‘keep girls single labs.’ It included nothing at all about his praise of women scientists, or a serious part of his speech praising women in science.
This tweet was boosted by others from the Pulitzer winner Deborah Blum, a year previously appointed to a journalism professorship at MIT, and Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch. These are two important journalists and many readers simply took their tweets on trust, as ‘that’s right’ witnesses to the truth of St. Louis’s account.
This was simply false reporting. In context, Sir Tim had not said “keep girls single lab”. As the editor Ms. Tan Shiow Chin of Malaysia would later report
He said men would be the worse off for it [if labs were segregated]
Furthermore, a false impression was given by these tweets. They were not spontaneous. This was not independent reporting. As Mr. Oransky would later tell his former intern from Retraction Watch, now at Buzzfeed, and as Ms. St. Louis would tell Scientific American, they had ‘gathered quotes’ to make a ‘post-hoc transcript’ and agreed that St. Louis would ‘tweet it out’ and the other two would ‘verify’ it. In that way then, Blum and Oransky are responsible for St. Louis’ tweet including the false characterization ‘keep girls’ single lab’.
UPDATE: I noticed that Blum’s own Storify admits Sir Tim praised women in science. Going from first principles, why was this omitted from the tweet CSL broadcast and which Blum colluded in, tweeting “she’s got it right“? Blum literally chose to omit Hunt’s praise of women in science she describes herself on June 14th – 4 days later and after Hunt’s forced resignations. Ivan Oransky also tweeted ‘the three of us….gathered quotes’. Why were none of these quotes the praise of women in science described in Blum’s Storify – or the ‘congratulations, everyone’ to women scientists we can all hear in the audio clip? Please also note; Oransky and Blum both tag Curtis Brainard, editor of Scientific American blogs, in. All three were not just guests at WCSJ 2015, they were Sir Tim Hunt’s hosts as conference organizers (see below). I would advise no senior scientist to do anything for Scientific American blogs without recording the entire thing her- 0r himself.
On June 10th the BBC hosted Ms. St. Louis on the Today show. The distortion on the BBC requires a wholly separate blog. For now, here is the transcript. Readers should note how ‘I was just trying to be honest’ has been spliced out and appears in two separate places. This is a good, short blog from the transcriber on the spliced and edited audio. Apparent but not actual admissions were “made” by Hunt on this show, but it is as distorted as the rest of the story. Nobody should say ‘Hunt confirmed his views [of women in science] on the Today programme. He bloody did not. The BBC distorted and misreported on Hunt for more than a month, knowingly. They are still doing so today.
Because of the distorted words of Sir Tim Hunt on the BBC’s Today’, the interview was cited over and over by Blum and others. But St. Louis had been the main guest on that same show, and her interview had concentrated on the horrified reaction in the room, and the total silence with which Sir Tim’s toast was received:
Sarah Montague: Connie St. Louis, when he said this – I mean, you heard him, you were there – what was the reaction in the room?
Connie St. Louis: Well, there was a deathly silence, it was – who stands up and says “I hope the women have prepared the lunch”? “…you’d think he would get some social cues to say “Stop”, because nobody was laughing. His guests had already told him not to go down this ha-ha route, and these guys had been incredibly generous and thoughtful and inclusive by asking him to make comments at their lunch… he just carried on, digging this enormous hole…And I kept thinking: he’s going to stop – please, he’s going to stop, and he’s British, and this is just too awful and these guys are incredibly upset.
And so this – after he’d finished, there was this deathly, deathly silence.
Connie St. Louis: So he says he was being humorous and that’s fine, I – you can try and be funny but actually you should take your cues from the audience and realise that nobody thinks you’re being funny.
Connie St. Louis: And also this idea that you have single-sex laboratories, in this day and age.
Connie St. Louis: I didn’t think they were intended as a joke, at all. I’d just like to say that they – you know, he went on for at least five to seven minutes –
Jennifer Rohn: Fair point.
Connie St. Louis: – you don’t go on like that.
On BBC TV, St Louis amplified her point and the BBC again reported her false story as fact:
Connie St. Louis: – Not in the slightest bit humorous. Very clearly, nobody was laughing – there was a room full of about a hundred people – nobody was laughing, everybody was stony faced.
That is the audio snippet of the end of Sir Tim Hunt’s speech. There is clear, audible laughter. It cuts out before the applause begins. Named witnesses have said the applause was sustained and they laughed and clapped throughout.
Now, there can be dispute about the meaning of words. A joke can be misunderstood. But there cannot be any dispute about something as specific as ‘After he finished, there was this deathly, deathly silence.’ ‘Nobody was laughing.’
It was not silent and they were laughing. The WCSJ 2015 honchos in the room including the editor of Scientific American, Deborah Blum of MIT, Charles Seife of NYU, Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch, Rose Mestel of Nature, DID NOT BLOW THE WHISTLE ON CONNIE ST. LOUIS’S FALSE REPORT. Why not?
On the same day the Today show broadcast Sir Tim made it clear yet again in a statement to the Guardian newspaper that he was NOT trying to mock women but only himself.
I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather be honest about my own shortcomings.
This of course contrasts with the impression given by the false reporting of Connie St. Louis and the Today show. But, I suggest deliberately, the coterie of St. Louis- boosters left it out.
Most people would think from the “reporting” that Sir Tim had in some way made a generalized joke about women in the lab. But he did not. He made an ironic joke about his own life. The joke was not even ironic about women in general. It was ironic about Sir Tim Hunt specifically. His specialized audience in the room would have known what the general public might not, that Sir Tim had fallen in love decades ago with his lab student, who had left her then husband to marry Hunt. The couple remain married and remain scientists. His wife’s name is Professor Mary Collins; she is a distinguished immunologist; she is a Professor at UCL and on the basis of an unverified tweet they contacted her, in a sexist way, to fire him.
So in fact Sir Tim had not made remarks about women in general at all. He had made an ironic joke about his own marriage and followed it with praise of women in science, and the toast was received with applause and laughter.
ETHICAL JOURNALISM: OUT TO LUNCH. AMIRIGHT? AMIRITE???
Buzzfeed, the Daily Beast, the Associated Press, [THAT’S RIGHT – THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]
(Hunt thanked the women journalists for “making lunch” before beginning his remarks.)
and Connie St. Louis, all reported before the Today show that not only had Sir Tim seriously advocated segregation and attacked all women in science, he had even thanked the women scientists for making lunch.
On June 9th Ivan Oransky contacted Cat Ferguson at Buzzfeed, who was his former intern at Retraction Watch. (Oh, the irony). Within the horrible piece of “reporting” by Ferguson she quotes his email to her:
Though his comments were not recorded, several science journalists created a “post-hoc transcript,” Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the Retraction Watch blog and editorial director of MedPage Today, told BuzzFeed News by email. Another journalist who was there, Connie St Louis, who directs the science journalism program at City University, London, then tweeted the unofficial transcript:
Brandy Zadrozny of the Daily Beast also published a load of poorly-sourced bullshit:
Lady scientists: they’re always falling in love and crying about it. Amiright?
These reports said, as fact, that Tim Hunt ‘berated’ women, ‘called himself a misogynist’ (no report ever said he did that) and ‘thanked the women for making the lunch.’
This was based on Dr. Scott Watkins’ tweet, made shortly after St. Louis original one. This tweet appears in Connie St. Louis’ list of Favourites on Twitter for May 7 immediately after her own on Hunt:
Thanking the women journalists for making lunch wasn’t too great either. Bad form all around.
But none of the “journalists”, and I use the word in its loosest possible sense, had done so much as check with the tweeter to verify this single tweet. Fact checking? Who needs it, amirite?
Now Brandy Zadrozny holds the august title of “News Librarian” at the Daily Beast. But she couldn’t bear to admit that she’d attacked Tim Hunt based on a single tweet she didn’t bother to check:
Update: An earlier version of this article quoted Hunt as thanking the women journalists “for making lunch.” Those remarks have been removed due to a possible error in translation.
No no Madam “News Librarian”. It wasn’t a “possible error in translation” that caused you to remove the remarks. Tim Hunt spoke in English. It was the fact you “quoted Hunt” as doing this. Based on a single tweet. That you couldn’t be bothered to check. And then you didn’t have the basic journalistic ethics to admit to your dreadful, appalling sloppiness.
you are right that one of them didn’t appropriately correct the record
Dr. Watkins later wrote to me. You can say that again.
Deborah Blum, instead of noting that Tim Hunt didn’t ‘thank the women for making the lunch,’ tweeted
And nails the story here: Nobel Prize Winning Biologist Calls Women Love-Hungry Cry Babies
Oh sure Debs. She ‘nailed the story.’
Buzzfeed’s correction does link to the two tweets by Watkins, but even here Cat Ferguson, ex “Retraction Watch,” inappropriately excuses her own sloppy zero fact-checking:
Well, no. It wasn’t “reported on Twitter” nor “corrected”. In what I think is a clear journalistic ethics violation, Buzzfeed and Ferguson ascribe the false reporting and the correction to Dr. Watkins, not to Cat Ferguson. He never reported that Tim Hunt thanked the women for making his lunch. His tweet was third person. The attribution to Hunt was all the work of Ferguson, Zadrozny, and St. Louis. Watkins corrected their wrong attribution.
And as for the Associated Press…. words fail me. But the Associated Press misreporting on tweet had good company. On June 11th the New York Times would report with a string of errors, calling Tim Hunt “Mr. Hunt” instead of Sir Tim or Dr. Hunt, reporting as fact ‘the comments were received in stony silence’ and a host more. My open letter asking the New York Times for a correction is here.
THE SILENCE OF THE SHAMS
But despite Sir Tim’s clear as day statements on June 10th that he meant only to mock himself to the Guardian, nobody was listening. It seemed that Connie St. Louis, Blum et al were riding high. UCL had called Professor Collins (a real female scientist) and demanded she tell her husband to resign his honorary professorship or be sacked. Later, St. Louis would say
I do have sympathy for Hunt. Like everyone else I find the “internet tidal wave effect” horrifying.
Deborah Blum would say:
I do have sympathy for anyone caught in the leading edge of a media storm.
In point of fact, both of these had campaigned to have Hunt stripped of his honors. St. Louis tweeted at the Royal Society demanding they force him to step down, then boasted about it. Blum asked for contact with the ERC that sent Hunt to Seoul. She re-tweeted (RTed from now on) a comment suggesting that Tim Hunt be, er, stripped of his Nobel.
On June 15th in an article published by Scientific American St. Louis must have broken her wrist slapping herself on the back:
During the flight I have a very disturbing dream.
…I turn into the arrivals lounge…It’s happy space and the ambiance is good. [sic] Suddenly, out of the blue, a pack of journalists comes rushing up to me. They’re like the ones in those old, black-an-white movie ones [sic]: men in trench coats holding large microphones, cameras and flashbulbs all poised. They are all shouting the same question: “How did you think you would get a way with publically [sic] calling to account a prominent white male scientist?”
I don’t know Connie. Maybe we should all give you a medal, huh?
Importantly this story was praised by Deborah Blum as ‘And another smart take by @Connie_stlouis.’ But that is a big problem. Because in the story praised by Blum, Connie gets very very specific about how the three co-authors could ‘independently verify” their quotes. ‘Verify’ is a word Blum would use later. Journalistic ethics people!
discussed them with a couple of colleagues, Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky, who I’d been sitting next to. Unbeknown to each other we had written down what we had heard Hunt say at the lunch. Our quotes were identical, which meant we could independently verify the story
But alas! Oransky was later to flatly contradict her on this important point. By now the backlash had begun. People simply did not believe that Hunt hadn’t just told a bad joke. So St. Louis is getting very specific about how she can ‘independently verify the story’ because ‘unbeknownst to each other we had written down’ what Hunt said. Compare:
Oransky in a podcast he recorded three days later. It wasn’t immediately broadcast and Mr. “Retraction Watch” didn’t correct the record in the meantime:
Ivan Oransky: But right afterward, we said, you know, “Look, we have to do something about this. Let’s compare notes on what we heard”, as we hadn’t taken notes, and – wasn’t that kind of a luncheon, where, you know, we were reporting on it. Er, we compared notes very quickly
The podcast has Oransky eager to say St. Louis and Blum have ‘taken the lead':
Um, I was sitting next to Connie St. Louis, who of course is – has really taken the lead on all of this, along with Deborah
And Oransky admits now that contrary to St. Louis “reporting”
Some of them actually did laugh politely and, and applaud
So. Why didn’t you blow the whistle? Your “beat” is (excuse me while I choke on my tea) retractions and ‘ethics in science.’ You knew St. Louis had falsely written down that you took contemporaneous written notes. You knew that there was no ‘deathly silence.’ You knew ‘very clearly, nobody was laughing’ was utterly untrue. But YOU DID NOT REPORT.
Blum and Oransky surely had a duty to say that this report of Connie St. Louis was, apparently, false. They did not do so. Blum even praised it as ‘another smart take’.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, TRANSPARENCY ISSUES:
Deborah Blum, Ivan Oransky, Connie St. Louis, have failed to report the full truth and not merely in their failure to report what Sir Tim really said, or to correct reports they knew were false. They did not disclose that they were not just attendees of this conference. They were organizers and keynote speakers.
Blum in the Daily Beast:
I flew to South Korea to participate in the 9th World Conference of Science Journalists. The conference had paired my lecture (Pulitzer Prize winner, 1992, beat reporting) with one by Sir Tim Hunt
It is wrong of Blum to use the passive voice here. She was on the Programme Committee of the WCSJ 2015. I did stuff the old-fashioned way, I looked it up. Not ‘The Conference’. “We.”
Oransky failed to disclose his massive organizer status. He is on the conference Programme Committee with Blum and he is the fourth big head on the overall conference welcome brochure.
At no point in the story did these journalists disclose this. Why not?
Further, they were friendly with each other before and working on ‘sexism in science’ reports before the lunch. Christine Russell of MIT was there sponsored by MIT along with Blum sponsored by MIT. (How have the mighty fallen).
As a participant at the World Conference of Science Journalists last week in Seoul, I had a ringside seat for the running story of Nobel Prize-winner Sir Tim Hunt’s dismissive and offensive offhand remarks about female scientists.
This really implies she was in the room. Debbie Kennett thought so, then corrected. Was she? Russell didn’t answer me. Did she disclose she was there as Blum’s MIT partner? She did not. Where was this blog published? Why, Scientific American, that also published Connie St. Louis’s execrably written, misspelled, back-slapping blog above. The Russell blog is entitled ‘Why Tim Hunt’s comments were no joke.’ Curtis Brainard, editor of Scientific American blogs, was in the room when Sir Tim spoke. You hear the audio. It is quite clear that he was joking (listen to his tone on ‘monsters like me’. He is not calling himself a ‘monster’.
But Brainard did not blow the whistle and Scientific American published both the St. Louis and Russell blogs.
Curtis Brainard also did not declare that at that conference he was elected the President of the WCSJ 2016. In my view a massive, massive conflict of interest in publishing on the “story”. His favorites list includes this gem, published after Guy Adams forensic dismantling of the falsehoods on Connie St. Louis’s CV:
Wait, hasn’t updated her CV, therefore , , , , etc. are all mistaken? Odd logic.
Oransky and Blum ought to have declared any involvement, as should Curtis Brainard, in their selection of Connie St. Louis as a ‘keynote speaker’. She was one of three and is described in the WCSJ 2015 programme as
Connie St. Louis, award-winning freelancing [sic] broadcaster, journalist, writer and scientist
But there is no evidence Ms. St. Louis is an award-winning scientist; there is no evidence that she is a scientist. Her sole publication in the BMJ (cited as scholarly) is not made as a scientist. When you look it up, it is credited to her as a science journalist only.
Who in the WCSJ was fact-checking the bio they advertised on the expertise of their ‘keynote speaker’? Ms. St. Louis appears to have supplied this bio and nobody checked it; the same line appears on Scientific American and the Guardian. Where is the science – and where is the journalism? Fees were charged to other journalists to attend this conference.
The personal friendships and associations go way back.
Hi Deborah its your uk doppel-ganger I’m interested to see what you think about my guardian piece [St. Louis to Blum, Oct ’13]
When one journalist, instead of independently reporting, is ‘backing up’ another – itself in my view unethical – they need to declare their interests. Nobody did this.
RTing INSULTS TO TIM HUNT THEY KNEW WERE FALSE
Ah yes: we haven’t got to Charles Seife, Professor of Journalism at NYU (yes really) who came up with this absolute classic of serious “reporting”
“Tim Hunt is lying.” Well, somebody is lying “Professor”, but I don’t think it’s Tim Hunt. Seife in the tweet-slander-and-retract mode shows us the importance of independent journalistic reporting. He’s so emphatic: “Tim Hunt is lying.” “I was in the room.” And what has exercised Seife? Well, that Sir Tim claims the ironic joke was about his marriage “my trouble with girls” rather than the BBC’s distortion “the trouble with girls” “the trouble with women in the lab.” As Seife inadvertently points out with the vehemence of his rage, “my” trouble is different from “the” trouble. Very different. Changes the entire sense. Hence Sir Tim on June 10 “I never meant to demean women but only to be honest about my own shortcomings”.
Later Seife says he is being consistent as he thinks Hunt said ‘the’ trouble with girls. But might have got ‘my’ trouble from St. Louis’ account. It is, however, also Blum’s and Oransky’s agreed account, and Blum returns to it in her Storify of 14th June.
Seife then says he backs ‘Blum and St. Louis.’ But he cannot back both; they differ wildly. Sir Tim Hunt remained consistent; he was joking ironically not about women but himself. This is because it is easy to be consistent when you are telling the truth. When you are not telling the truth you find it hard to keep your stories straight. Seife commits ethical violations by accusing Tim Hunt of lying without evidence; and by not checking as he destroys the reputation of a wonderful and kind man who has supported women in science all his working life. He should know that the accounts of the three principals are apart. One cannot back them all. St. Louis:
They were deeply offended and didn’t get Hunt’s “jokes”. Nobody was laughing. Hunt now claims he added the words “now seriously” before going on to praise the role of women in science and in Korean society. “The words ‘now seriously’ make it very clear that I was making a joke, albeit a very bad one, but they were not mentioned in the first reports and I was deluged with hate mail,” Hunt said. He did not say this, nor did he praise the role of women in science and in Korean society. I wish he had; things would have been so much better.
The only contemporary tweet, above, during the lunch in Seoul, contradicting St. Louis flatly
But wait! Here’s Blum much earlier on the 14th in her Storify. Note how she admits Tim Hunt praised women in science, and goes on to say he used the phraseology “MY” trouble with girls…
I talked about the importance and value of women in science. And Sir Tim also said something like that but then went onto say “But maybe I should tell you about my trouble with girls.”
Seife, meanwhile (I hesitate to spend a lot of time on a “Professor of Journalism” who will tweet out “Tim Hunt is lying” then have to immediately retract, is unethically asserting things as facts without research, that smear a Nobel-wining scientist, 72 years old with an unblemished record of support for women in science. Blum and St. Louis contradict; he says he supports their accounts but he cannot support both.
And here is where I have no hesitation in pointing out ethics violations in Deborah Blum’s “reporting”. Her Storify account is, I believe, flat wrong. However, that is not itself an ethics violation. Charitably we can assume a very faulty memory. What IS an ethics violation is Blum, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a conference organizer who doesn’t declare it, RTing insults and accusations against Sir Tim Hunt that she knows to be false because her own account contradicts them:
Yes. Repeat. Repeat,” Blum says with emphasis, pulling out a tweet that says ‘….neither him praising women and Korean women in science.’
But her own storify says that Sir Tim Hunt praised women in science! It’s right there!
Once more, from Blum’s own damned Storify:
my trouble with girls
Sir Tim Hunt, Blum says, for still insisting it was a light-hearted joke, is a “spinner of self-protective tales.” What guff from Deborah – Arachne herself could not compete with her on this matter. But what is she quoting? Why, she’s quoting the already-retracted “Tim Hunt is lying” – Blum calls it an “important tweet” which states “There was no “my” trouble with girls…. I was in the room.” But her account says “my” trouble.
Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize winner, is also tweeting out and praising Connie St. Louis Guardian account which, again, she knows to be false as it contradicts her own account:
What has not been reported, which I feel is important and adds balance to his earlier comments, is that he also added that men would be the worse off for it (if the genders were segregated).
I did laugh at his comments, because it was very obvious to me that he was saying it in a very light-hearted and joking manner. I was not offended at all, because I did not think he meant it seriously, in particular, his comments on segregating the sexes. And yes, I did applaud as well.
I did not notice my neighbours’ reactions at the table – to be honest, I had come in late from the previous session and was busy with my lunch – but I don’t remember hearing any particular comments from anyone after Tim Hunt’s little speech.
I think that the whole incident has been blown way out of proportion, and that Tim Hunt has been made a scapegoat for sexism in science. This is really sad because I don’t think he thinks that female scientists are inferior to male scientists, which seems to me to be the point of the whole situation. In addition, if you look at the programme, the parallel session that was sponsored by the European Research Council during the conference and moderated by Tim Hunt had female scientists as its both speakers – hardly the action of a real male chauvinist pig, yes?
Although the anti-Hunt coterie later shifted to “So what if it was joke,” it is so important to correct the record: at first they all pretended it was no joke and was serious.
Buzzfeed: “His support for sex-segregated labs… admitted he has a reputation as a misogynist.”
Daily Beast, Brandy Zadrozny: “Maybe lady scientists
just can’t take a joke? Not so
prominent science writer Deborah Blum, who wrote that Hunt doubled down when she asked him about his comments. “I was hoping he’d say it had been a joke.
But he just elaborated. Sigh.” Blum’s Daily Beast piece: “NO JOKE.” (in bold red caps) . Connie St. Louis “It wasn’t a joke … not in the slightest bit humorous.” Cristine Russell in Scientific American “Why Tim Hunt’s Sexist Comments Were No Joke”
Hunt claimed that he’d only meant to make “a self-deprecating joke,” … His wife Mary Collins, herself a prominent scientist, backed him up, but there are numerous reasons to reject this as a misunderstood-martyr’s tale.
In fact, from the very start, Hunt had several opportunities to clarify his comments .. At a hotel breakfast the day after his remarks, American journalist Deborah Blum followed up by asking him if his call for segregated labs had been a joke.
In fact Blum misreported. Sir Tim had indeed said it was a joke to her by her own account. He said he meant to be ironic. That means, a joke. Apparently seriously she tweeted ‘He did say to me he thought I’d be ok as I didn’t look the crying type.’ Christ on a bike woman, that is a joke, a joke on the same lines, a sarcastic and obvious joke. English people often say ‘Americans don’t get irony.’ Is it really conceivable Blum interpreted ‘I’d be ok as I didn’t look the crying type’ as serious?? Maybe it is; to the English nothing could be clearer, this was a joke, and if it wasn’t clear, Sir Tim bloody told her it was a joke and that he was being light-hearted and ironic.
But Sir Tim said ‘ I meant to be honest’ about HIS OWN ’emotional entanglements’ in the lab in the joke, and maybe to Blum (we don’t know if she made a recording as she ought to have done as a journalist). His joke was rooted in honesty about his own life, his own wife – that was all he was saying. In order NOT to apply it to women in general
I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather to be honest about my own shortcomings – Tim Hunt to the Guardian, 10th June
Sir Tim ACTUALLY made sure that he told the BBC it was about his personal life and when it came to emotion in the lab he was VERY CAREFUL not say ‘women in the lab’ but to use the gender-free “people”. When discussing emotions he also never says ‘women’ or ‘girls’. He says ‘people‘. Sir Tim and Professor Collins remain both married and both scientists. Sir Tim’s trying to explain that the joke was only about his own life and shortcomings was twisted into “further confirmation” that he disrespects women.
POSITIVE REACTION OF THE CONFERENCE HOSTS*****
[Update: sources tell blogger Thomas Baseboell that KOFWST never claimed to be Sir Tim’s “hosts”, despite Connie St. Louis and Deborah Blum calling them that. (see base of post). They merely sponsored the lunch and it is not known if Dr. Paik was even present. Certainly KOFWST apology request refers to themselves only as sponsors. Therefore, KOFWST should no longer be referred to as Sir Tim’s “hosts”. This characterization is merely that of Deborah Blum and Connie St. Louis. The hosts were the WCSJ 2015 and the Korea Science Journalists association]
A senior woman Korean scientist present told the EU observer “without being asked” i.e., unprompted, that ‘she was impressed Sir Tim could improvise such a warm and funny toast. Later she told [him] that the Korean women scientists present had not noticed anything amiss.’ Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the ERC, told me that he had both spoken to this scientist on the day itself and afterwards face to face in Brussels and she had “confirmed” to him how the event went.
However a week after the event, KOFWST, a sponsor of the event, sent Sir Tim a request for an apology. The English text differs from the Korean; the phrase ‘a private story told as a joke,’ in Ms. Blum’s Daily Beast piece, doesn’t appear in the Korean.
I think it would be invidious to attach any blame at all to KOFWST and their President Dr. Paik. It is not known if she was present herself at the event. They were reacting to the facts as portrayed around the globe. The conference hosts present, Korean women scientists, clearly reacted well. Some KOFWST may not have – after all they heard the toast through translator headphones and we cannot know how it came across. Korean women scientists and other women scientists spoke out in droves in favour of Sir Tim. KOFWST understandably felt upset at the global media attention turned their way and they quoted the BBC interview which we now know – they could not have known – spliced out Sir Tim’s ‘honest’ phrase and attached it somewhere else, about emotion in the lab.
Dr. Paik therefore is not to be criticized for her apology request, nor is KOFWST. In fact Sir Tim was glad to receive it as it gave him a chance to apologize for making a joke that could have been misunderstood and more importantly to clarify his total support for women in science and Korean science. Is this, as Blum said, a “spinner of self-protective tales”? Or is it a generous apology that focuses on women in science and the barriers they face?
I am extremely grateful to you for giving me the opportunity of apologising for my stupid and ill-judged remarks.
I am extremely sorry for the remarks made during the recent “Women in science” lunch at the WCSJ in Seoul, Korea. I accept that my attempts at a self-deprecating joke were ill-judged and not in the least bit funny. I am mortified to have upset my hosts, which was the very last thing I intended. I also fully accept that the sentiments as interpreted have no place in modern science and deeply apologize to all those good friends who fear I have undermined their efforts to put these stereotypes behind us. In my own career I have always tried to treat my colleagues with respect and kindness whoever they are and am proud to have developed and mentored the careers of many excellent young scientists who will be tackling tomorrow’s biological problems long after I have left the scene. I would like to ask that people accept my apology as heartfelt and judge me on my record.
I have tremendous respect for Korean science and scientists, and would point out that my very happy association with Korea came about through a female scientist.
What a sweetie. Is this not the model of a gracious, generous apology for saying something that could have been taken the wrong way? But still Sir Tim notes that it was meant to be a “SELF-deprecating joke” – i.e., not joking against women – and that the sentiments as interpreted would have no place in science – i.e. of course he doesn’t want sex-segregated labs!
But as to ‘not at all funny’ those who laughed and clapped would disagree with him. Ultimately, it was a brief toast in which he praised Korean women in science, congratulated them, and joked against himself in a way that was taken by some present to be a joke against women. It was willfully misreported as serious. The praise of women in his speech was denied, was left out. Reports by the principals that “nobody was laughing” and there was “a deathly silence” after he’d finished were not discredited by other journalists and editors present. Nobody declared their interests. Nobody declared they were conference organizers but presented themselves only as ‘invitees’. The brave witnesses who DID blow the whistle were utterly ignored.
KOFWST did what they thought was the right thing and Dr. Paik, head of KOFWST, very generously acknowledged Sir Tim’s immediate response. In this way, Dr. Paik really did a wonderful service to science and the truth – she published Sir Tim’s definitive statement of support for women in science and Korean scientists. Female Korean scientists present who were conference hosts of the lunch confirmed to the ERC they enjoyed the toast. Witnesses clapped. They laughed. They report that rather than seriously advocating sex-segrated labs he actually said labs SHOULD NOT be segregated.
He said men would be the worse off for it – Ms. Tan of Maylasia
No blame at all should attach to KOFWST – who had read and heard the same reports as the rest of the world – but to those WCSJ 2015 journalists present who knew Sir Tim was joking, knew there was applause and laughter, and yet reported otherwise.
If you see fraud, and do not say fraud, you are a fraud. – Nassim Taleb, AntiFragile
After he’d finished, there was this deathly, deathly silence. Very clearly, nobody was laughing – everybody was stony-faced. – Connie St. Louis, lecturer in journalism, City University, London