If you are a scientist or academic, please email, with your name and university,
and ask them to, at the very least, state publicly that there is no evidence Sir #TimHunt ever made a sexist joke, or is a sexist.
Sir Tim Hunt Was Misreported. Here’s How
My first blog on the shameful treatment of the Sir Tim Hunt, FRS, Nobel Laureate, 72, demonstrated how a couple of his peers pre-judged him as a sexist over a Twitter storm, before he could speak a word in his own defence.
This blog will, I hope, demonstrate how the initial portrayal of Sir Tim was based on partial, false reporting. It contains an on the record statement from Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the ERC that he had eyewitnesses plural report to him on the day of the lunch that Sir Tim had praised women in science and been warmly received: that he personally spoke both on the phone, and later face to face, with a Korean woman organizer of the conference, and she had given him “explicit confirmation” of the speech’s praise of women and warm reception.
It also contains, below, testimonies from named journalist eyewitnesses who all flatly contradict Connie St. Louis’ account.
Sir Tim Hunt was a guest of honour on June 8 at a luncheon held in honour of women scientists and engineers at a conference in Seoul.
the only contemporary tweet during the lunch in Seoul
Connie St. Louis Reports a Serious Attack on Women; Says Sir Tim Hunt Argued In Earnest That Labs Should Be Segregated
After this luncheon, Ms. St. Louis sent her now-notorious tweet accusing Sir Tim of having seriously insulted women in science, and seriously argued for sex-segregated laboratories.
Ms. St. Louis went on the UK’s most listened-to programme, the Today Show on Radio 4. She was very insistent that Sir Tim had not been joking in any way, and that he was definitely advocating segregated laboratories.
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”? “I’m a male chauvinist pig”. And at that point, you’d think he would get some social cues to say “Stop”, because nobody was laughing…these guys had been incredibly generous and thoughtful and inclusive by asking him to make comments at their lunch. …And I kept thinking… this is just too awful and these guys are incredibly upset.
And so this – after he’d finished, there was this deathly, deathly silence.
When Sir Tim later told the Guardian that his joke was meant to be sending up sexism, not women, and that it was misreported:
Crucially, Hunt said, he then 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
Connie St. Louis was not having any of it. STOP DEFENDING SIR TIM HUNT, she wrote, also in the Guardian. He was NOT joking and he had absolutely not praised women in science or in Korea. If only that were true!
During Hunt’s outburst, the female Korean scientists and engineers were stunned and confused…Nobody was laughing. Hunt now claims he added the words “now seriously” …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 EU Observer’s Report is Leaked
An internal report by an EU Observer (it is standard practice to write these up at such events, President Bourguinon told me) then leaked to the Times. It contained this ‘rough transcript, as best as I can remember.’ and a reaction in the room totally different from Connie St. Louis description:
‘It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women 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. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls?’ Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”
The official added: “Sir Tim didn’t ‘thank women for making lunch. I didn’t notice any uncomfortable silence or any awkwardness in the room as reported on social and then mainstream media.”
The official added that his neighbour, a woman from the Korean National Research Council of Science and Technology and an organiser of the conference, responded positively. “Without being asked, she said she was impressed that Sir Tim could improvise such a warm and funny speech (her words). Later she told me that all other Korean lunch participants she talked to didn’t notice or hear anything peculiar in Sir Tim’s speech.”
This, of course, backed up what Sir Tim had said from day 1. At first, Blum and Oransky did not deny the extra words and context when it put to them by the Times. I suggest that Blum’s reactions on twitter show that she was afraid there was a tape.
‘Can you confirm or refute this claim? The added context is important,’ she’s asked on Twitter the day before the times published.
A fellow journalist at the lunch, Nataliya Demina of Russia, had challenged St. Louis’ and Blum’s account all along and did so again:
‘Verified by many?’ Deborah Blum was sitting right next to him.
But as it becomes clear that there’s no tape recording, Connie St. Louis and Deborah Blum, and their allies, go back on the attack. ‘Not a transcript! Not an official report! Complied late! Proves nothing!’
Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the ERC, And Journalist Eyewitnesses Contradict St. Louis’ And Blum’s Account
I then do some fact-checking. There was one official document, the first, on the 10th June: a statement from the ERC President that was on the record.
Sir Tim Hunt has already apologised and explained that his impromptu comments were meant to be “light-hearted” and “ironic”, and that it was not his intention to demean women. In his main speech he was very supportive towards women in science and he said that he hoped there was nothing that barred women from science.
I can also add that during the time I have worked with him on the ERC Scientific Council he has only ever been a supporter of gender balance.
The ERC’s clear view is that women and men are equally able to perform frontier research at the highest level. This is the core of the ERC Gender Equality Plan, first endorsed in 2010 and revised in 2014. The plan is fully supported by the entire Scientific Council, including Sir Tim. The plan is available on the ERC website.
So…. being an ex-politician, as well as a journalist, I know that it is very difficult for political bodies to release documents, like the observer’s report, they have tried to suppress. I ignore the EU observer report because it is off the record, and I ask questions about the document which is on the record. For one thing, its date is closer to the speech – 10th June, when Connie St. Louis was talking to Today about the ‘deathly silence’ in the room.
I asked M. Bourguignon why he made the assertion that he did on June 10th that Sir Tim was in fact “very supportive to women in science.” He replied:
I based the relevant part of my June 10 statement on the testimonies of eye witnesses. These were confirmed by other testimonies that surfaced later.
7. As I recalled in the statement, gender balance has been an issue the Scientific Council has been concerned about for a long time and remains to be highly concerned with. A number of measures have been put in place, e.g. the plan quoted in the statement. All those required votes of the ERC Scientific Council, and Sir Tim always supported these pro-active actions.
Your question 7 has also another dimension, namely Sir Tim’s availability to interact with other researchers, in particular young ones, female and male of course. It is well known to very many people that, among people of his distinction, Sir Tim is exceptionally keen of talking both to audiences or to individuals about his experience and answering all kinds of question. This is precisely why I chose him to accompany two women ERC grantees to attend the very special conference in Seoul.
M. Bourguignon is clear – he heard at the time from eyewitnesses plural and confirmed it later that Sir Tim’s main speech was ‘very supportive to women in science.’
Could he shed any light on the claim that a Korean woman host had agreed with Nataliya Demina’s testimony that Tim Hunt was warmly received in the room? This was important as the head of the organization had belatedly, after the media storm, demanded an apology ‘on behalf of all women scientists in Korea and around the world’. She was contradicted by a female former pupil of Sir Tim’s, Professor Hyunsook Lee of Seoul University, who said ‘This does not sound like Tim at all’ and ‘he never treated me like a female scientist.’ If a Korean woman host present HAD INDEED praised the speech at the time, and testified to its warm reception, then the ‘apology demand’ would be so much guff from somebody who wasn’t there – speaking on behalf of others.
Amazingly, President Bourguignon stood up to be counted on this matter, too, and he delivered a genuine bombshell: not only had he received a verbal report on the day itself that corresponded with the contents of the written report, he had personally spoken to the Korean host himself in Brussels, face-to-face, and she confirmed the leaked account. A staffer had conveyed the reaction in the room of one of the Korean women hosts
“who was present
and to whom I could speak later face-to-face (she
came later to Brussels) and get explicit confirmation of
how the event went”
Just to recap: the leaked report said:
“Without being asked, [the Korean female host] said she was impressed that Sir Tim could improvise such a warm and funny speech (her words). Later she told me thatall other Korean lunch participants she talked to didn’t notice or hear anything peculiar in Sir Tim’s speech.”
So now we aren’t in the territory of unconfirmed, off the record reports any more. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the European Research Council, confirmed that day and face to face in Brussels later that this was the truth of poor Sir Tim’s lunch.
Before I got this bombshell email on Monday morning I had spent some time gathering evidence from other eyewitnesses. The Filipino journalist Timothy Dincali had taken this picture on his Facebook page on the day of the speech, at first captioning it just “Tim Hunt” on 8th June. Only as the controversy developed did he feel the need to change the caption to note he snapped the photo “at the very moment” Tim made the joke
UPDATE: New photo by journalist eyewitness Natalia Demina. remind yourselves: Connie St. Louis said ‘he wasn’t joking at all’ ‘everybody was stony faced'; Deborah Blum wrote ‘Before his attempts to pass it of as humour he told his co-panelist something else entirely’ ‘I asked him if he was joking and he just elaborated. Sigh’
Tim Hunt was like a rabbit who came to a dark forest with wolfes. Next time let him take a dictophone and a videocamera – Nataliya Demina, Russian science journalist
In Timothy Dimacali’s photo, Sir Tim can be seen smiling, as can a Korean woman. Connie St. Louis can be seen with her translation earpiece still in her ear. She’s not looking at Sir Tim. A TV interview she gave to France 24 states that at first she didn’t even know who was talking. ‘
I’m so embarrassed -all the way in Korea and here I am, listening to these ridiculous comments being made by a British man.” And then I suddenly realised he was Tim Hunt
But other journalists present were paying a lot more attention than Connie – even ones who thought the joke was inappropriate (such as Dincali), as well as those who were not at all offended:
As I keep telling people, he said it in a very lighthearted manner with no outward hint of malice, condescension, or derision…. I’m not surprised nobody had their recorders out. The luncheon was a very laid-back affair, and Hunt’s remark was just one of those usual bits of light banter made at the start to usher in the event while waiting for food. In Hunt’s case, it seems he was too laid back for his own good
Was it followed by praising women in science? Deborah Blum insisted that Hunt had praised women in science (sorry Connie) but afterwards gone on to be insulting and argue for sex-segregated labs:
No – the joke came ahead of everything else. That much I’m certain of
Nataliya Demina, Russia: (female)
So for me his speech during the Lucheon was a real joke. I can’t help
people who felt offended. I didn’t even pay much notice at what he
said, I laughed and applauded as my neighbors at the table, and I was
surprised to know what a scandal arraised afterwards.
I was suprised that his critics didn’t publish his whole speech.
Connie St Loius published only the beggining as if Tim didn’t speak
anything else and she said that everybody in the Lucheon Hall was
offended. It wasn’t true. Many people laughed, because Tim also
laughed. Debora Blum rearranged the beginning and the end. I remember
that Tim joked in the beginning and then he said serious things about
the conference and about his lecture.
Pere Estupinya, Spain (male)
I don’t remember Tim Hunt’s exact works, but he said something positive about women scientists after his awful joke …. I mean: he definitely made the famous comments. He made them in an humoristic tone. …Then he said some positive words towards women.
Tan Siow Chin, Maylasia (female)
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?
And did Sir Tim sit down to “stony silence” as Connie St. Louis insisted, having shocked all his Korean hosts? Well President Bourginon has confirmed that last bit was utterly false face-to-face with the Korean woman host thought Sir Tim’s speech was warm and funny. So do journalists Nataliya and Tan Siow Chin.
Opinions differed as to whether the joke was inappropriate or not. The Korean woman organizer and the Russian and Malaysian journalists all laughed; the men were more critical, including the Spanish and Australian and Filipino witnesses cited here – but nobody has said that Sir Tim was not joking. Without exception eyewitnesses have said he was joking and that he praised women in science AFTER the joke, not, as Blum claimed, before it. Mocking himself then praising women? Absolutely.
But let’s get down to the awful suggestion of sex-segregated labs – Connie and Deborah and Ivan of the ironically named ‘Retraction Watch’ all backed each other in the account that this was a genuine argument. No mention of ‘but men would be worse off’ and then the praise of women in science.Wouldn’t people be up in arms at such a suggestion?
Timothy Dincali was explicit: Nobody on his table had complained or discussed it for the whole rest of the lunch.
But what about the deadly, deadly silence? That’s not a matter of interpretation, is it? Either everybody was shocked, and silent as Sir Tim sat down, or they were not.
So was Connie at least accurate about the horrified reaction in the room?
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, ……. after he’d finished, there was this deathly, deathly silence.
Spoiler: NO. NO SHE WAS NOT.
Dr, Scott Watkins (a critic of Hunt)
there was probably some polite applause, and it’s possible that some of the people did laugh with him at some of the comments.
Timothy James Dincali
there was a clear, definite applause immediately after he spoke. It was a polite applause, to be sure, but not a gentle nor quiet kind of applause. And it couldn’t have been misinterpreted as being for some other speaker precisely because it happened just as he sat down.
There was laughter and there was applause. Whether or not there were any misgivings in the audience about his remarks, the fact was that there was definite laughter and applause. Could it have been that the audience was simply being polite about it? Perhaps. But they definitely did not sit in stony silence.
He certainly did NOT sit down to stony silence. Putting aside whatever misgivings people might have had with his words immediately after, I can say with absolute certainty that the rest of the lunch proceeded normally.
there were the typical applauses after his intervention, that was at least three to four minutes long….
….when he finished, there was the conventional applause after any intervention. It would have ben weird (and noticeable) if not….
I am surprised to read Connie’s answers, as if we were at different luncheons. Many people smiled and applauded! I saw words about deadly silence and stone faces in CSL piece… that wasn’t true, people reacted quite differently. There are several eyewitnesses who also laughed and applauded as me, no deadly silence at all
Tan Siow Chin
I did laugh at his comments…. and yes, I did applaud as well.
So we now have debunked:
1. Connie St Louis – “Nobody was laughing – everybody was stony faced – when he finished, there was a deathly, deathly silence.” This is, quite simply, false on its face.
2. The President of the Korean Federation of who said all her members were scandalized – both Professor Hyunsook Lee and the female Korean conference host at the actual event totally contradict that issued statement days later. The Korean woman present spoke personally to the president of the ERC to confirm her view of Sir Tim’s speech, and of course, that no other Korean women she spoke to present noticed anything amiss:
3. Deborah Blum’s Storify account that Sir Tim opened with some praise of women but then finished only some jokes against them. Every other eyewitness says it was the other way round. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President, ERC, confirms on the record that he received oral eyewitness accounts plural that day of Sir Tim’s support for women scientists in that speech.
But what remains? Well, the rest of Blum’s storify – namely, that Sir Tim did really think that women were too emotional etc etc – as opposed to his personal romantic problems (a lab romance is how he met his wife, Professor Mary Collins. But Blum knew what Sir Tim had said was controversial the day before, so where is her recording?
This photo was taken when I was asking him if he was joking, Blum said. Yes, I can certainly see who is joking and who is serious here Debs, you pillock (British term; non-gendered insult). Blum repeatedly claims the photographer Kathryn O’ Hara ‘backs’ and ‘confirms’ her account. She does not; she merely took the photograph. Nor was O’Hara even present at the original lunch.
Blum should have produced a contemporary recording and transcript. Frankly, if she brought one up now I wouldn’t believe it.
(Somebody pointed me to a YouTube video of one of Sir Tim’s other lectures. He is frankly a bit of an old sweetie. And it seems he uses irony pretty often as a rhetorical device “And then a wonderful thing happened,” he says in the speech. “The lab burned down.” )
Sir Tim Hunt’s reported comments, as a serious attack on women in science, and an argument for sex-segregated labs – shocking everybody in the room, scandalizing his hosts, received in deathly silence, were indeed dreadful – but nobody bothered to fact check if the reports were true. They were not true. They were false.
And nobody bothered to ask any of the most very basic common sense questions:
1. If Sir Tim despised women in science so much, why would he agree to be the guest of honour at their lunch?
2. How likely is it that a British man of 72 would seriously attack his hosts before a lunch?
3. Had the guy ever asked for a single-sex lab in his entire life?
4. What was the conference programme, was he doing anything for women at the goddamned conference, such as agreeing to be guest of honour at the ‘Women Scientist/Engineer lunch’ and as the female Maylasian scientist points out, moderating a session to highlight two women scientist speakers?
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?
5. If Sir Tim despised “women in the lab” so much why did he marry Professor Mary Collins?
6. Sir Tim was there as representative of the ERC. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon told me three times that since 2010 he had been working on and voting for its ERC Gender Equality Plan – five years of work.
Professor Hyunsook Lee’s mentor has obviously done more for women in science in the last five years than his critics have done in a lifetime. He got a creche installed at the Okinawa Institute.
He hasn’t yet been as successful in his fight to get one installed in the Crick Institute but, he says, he will keep fighting.
The head of the Crick is Sir Paul Nurse, who – coincidentally – is also the President of the Royal Society,
Time to consider the new evidence, UCL and The Royal Society – isn’t that what scientists do?
And lastly for those Tim Hunt attackers with any shame whatsoever here he is on the ERC website fighting breast cancer for ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’. Tim Hunt not only fighting for the ERC’s gender equality plan and for creches in Okinawa and the Crick – he’s fighting for Breast Cancer awareness AND, er, fighting ACTUAL BREAST CANCER. You know, fighting for women’s lives.
1. The European Research Council already funds several projects related to breast cancer. Can you tell us what the ERC’s added-value is in this field?
The ERC aims to support excellent scientists who propose excellent projects with an investigator-driven or “bottom-up” approach. Research funding from the ERC supports basic research that is higher risk than the work supported by specialist funding agencies with longer time-lines. It has therefore the potential to be of greater benefit in terms of providing major novel discoveries that could lead to new insights and ultimately to cures. There have been excellent examples of this in breast cancer research. In former times, the only treatment for breast cancer was surgery, and the main area of research simply concerned how much tissue to cut out. There was almost no understanding of the fundamental causes of breast cancer. This is exactly where the ERC’s added-value now stands for as it funds excellent basic research in many fields, including Life Sciences.
Oh shut the hell up about Breast Cancer Sir Tim! Women don’t need you! Go away! You made a joke about your own wife! Report to the nearest police station! We have plenty of Nobel-prize winning cancer scientists, ten a penny, they are! It’s not as if you write for Buzzfeed, is it?
PS: I shall write a separate blog on all the falsehoods and inconsistencies in the BBC Today Show’s reporting, which put words he didn’t say in Sir Tim’ mouth and edited ‘I was only being honest’ to make it apply to something else – and in Deborah Blum’s, Charles Seife’s, and Connie St. Louis’ accounts – but to have listed everything here would have been to bog down the main point: the President of the ERC contradicts Connie St. Louis’ versions of events, and so does the Korean woman host of the lunch and multiple eyewitnesses.
And so does Sir Tim Hunt’s record of support for women – not that any of the twitterstorm rushing to judgement gave a flying **** about that. Look! Vagenda’s got a hashtag! Who needs fact-checking?
Well, I guess I like to do things in a slightly more old fashioned way, you know, like finding witnesses and colleagues and asking them questions.
They taught me that at Oxford. You might call it “data journalism”. As in – get some data.
The “feminist” who lobbied the Royal Society to strip Sir Tim Hunt of his committee position, Dorothy Bishop, is very much against making jokes about women, because, as she said of Sir Tim “You don’t need to be a decent human being” to be an FRS.
So Professor Dorothy Bishop, FRS, I’ll just leave this one here, shall I?