The world is reading: Sexism in the lab

Anjana Ahuja, a woman scientist writing in the Telegraph, says that the nature of science labs itself encourages such close-minded thinking.

Written by Joyeeta Biswas | Updated: June 14, 2015 8:41 am
Tim Hunt, #DistractinglySexy, Nobel scientist, Mirror Online, trending, viral, trending topics, viral trends Many people found his remarks so ridiculous that a new meme called #DistractinglySexy sprang up, with women scientists posting pictures of themselves at work.

Poor Tim Hunt. One day he was a distinguished Nobel Prize-winning scientist, the next he found himself in disgrace, derided all over the world as a sexist, forced to resign from his position at a university. And all because his attempts at humour in front of a roomful of Korean women scientists, telling them about the “trouble with girls” in science labs, backfired horribly.

Many people found his remarks so ridiculous that a new meme called #DistractinglySexy sprang up, with women scientists posting pictures of themselves at work. Others dismissed him as an old-school chauvinist out of touch with today’s societal attitudes. “He has shown that any competent woman could wipe the floor with a knighted Nobel scientist, leave him in a bucket overnight to soak and he’d still be an idiot next day,” said Susie Boniface, a columnist at Mirror Online.

But Dr Zoe Schnepp, in the Huffington Post, pointed out that it was about more than just Hunt: “It betrays a certain mindset and one that is particularly worrying when you consider that academic interview panels, funding boards and government advisory groups are often dominated by senior male scientists.”

Anjana Ahuja, a woman scientist writing in the Telegraph, says that the nature of science labs itself encourages such close-minded thinking. “Academics tend to hang out with other academics, who all operate in the same sort of environment… there isn’t much time for the outside world to intrude correctively.”

Wired.co.uk’s Katie Collins brought up an important point everyone was missing: “Workplace romances aren’t only for heterosexuals.” And the BBC’s Dr Anna Zecharia felt a conversation about the bigger picture was important: “We don’t need to demonise Sir Tim Hunt but if we shrug off his views as a generational quirk… we fail to acknowledge how deeply these attitudes are embedded in our workplaces and how they are still holding women back.”

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  1. B
    b ford
    Jun 14, 2015 at 1:51 am
    who cares about a shy and lonely scientist. his comments are not about ability or brains, but about social skills (lacking) and self confidence. smart, able women are doing science within the old boys school. move on.. there are actually interesting stories in thej kab, this isn't it.
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    1. Last Curmudgeon
      Jun 14, 2015 at 3:04 am
      the guy said it was his experience. considering some of the juvenile responses, i don't find his comments too far off the mark. science is no place for political correctness. unfortunately, there is a lot of it. the media are expected to stoop as low as pandering gossip. it sells papers. the truth is labs have a social layer. one as accomplished as this has seen it all. what he said was what is called an unfortunate truth. the women don't like it. except the one who got a marriage proposal from a coworker in a science paper recently. the point is we need minds like his. we don't need minds like his detractors'.
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      1. N
        N. Cornelius
        Jun 14, 2015 at 2:09 am
        I like this story except I do not think anyone is wiping the floor with him. He is a man of his time. I am sure he has a nice retirement and he walks away with a lot. He probably had a wife who did all the housework, cooking, cleaning, shopping for him etc. He probably never had to juggle his work and his personal life. If everything is done for you all the time, you live in a bubble which is a privileged life and in the long run lose sight of other people and what they go through. I don't think Tim Hunt is any different than most men of his time. These men got away with a lot and they really are completely CLUELESS about women.
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        1. mzungu %e2%80%9cWordsPerMinute%e2%80%9d
          Jun 14, 2015 at 2:54 am
          The Guardian is a better news outlet. Here is the joke quoted by them: "“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,” he told delegates."
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