Notes and Comment Blog


When we do make a noise

Jun 23rd, 2015 9:36 am | By

I missed one by Deborah Blum with a lot of important details. It was last Tuesday, so I was busy catching up after the conference.

(I know I’m posting a lot about this, but it has many parts, and also many conflicting accounts. Plus I get like a dog with a bone, and we already know that.)

Last week—along with science writers from more than forty countries—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 (Nobel Prize winner, 2001, Physiology or Medicine).

There’s one thing I didn’t know – that their lectures were paired.

Some media organizations have stepped in to defend Hunt’s comments, which he now claims were an attempt to be entertaining. As a co-panelist sitting next to him at the luncheon, I heard a different story. His speech, he told me, was rooted in “honesty,” not humor.

I’m seeing people claiming UCL changed its story. Maybe UCL didn’t change its story; maybe Tim Hunt wasn’t telling the truth about UCL.

The conference started out on a good note. Our lectures, or so I think, were solid. I talked about the importance of history in good journalism; Hunt talked about the importance of creativity in good science. The organizers regarded these parallel talks as a clever way to balance the contributions of science and journalism.

Afterward, we were invited to a luncheon hosted by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations. Female scientists in South Korea are a definite minority; a recent study found that they represent only 17 percent of the working researchers in the country. This is slightly less than the average across Asia of 20 percent.

Ah, so that was the setup. Blum and Hunt gave twinned lectures, and then went to that lunch hosted by the female scientists.

So they were very proud to have us there and to showcase their work. Because Hunt and I were the morning speakers, they also asked both of us to stand up during the lunch and make a few remarks.  Anyone who has done this knows that the operating principle is kindness. I talked about the ways that women make science smarter; Hunt began also by paying tribute to the capable female scientists that he knew.

A few remarks. Not a talk, but a few remarks, and probably not prepared remarks. Hunt started well…but he didn’t finish well.

Unfortunately, he decided that wasn’t enough. But “let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” he said.

Why? Why did he? This wasn’t an evening at the Groucho with Kingsley and Conkers and the gang. Why did he do that?

If you are a working woman, the word “girl” tends to be a signal flare, a red light warning of problems ahead. He continued. “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,” he said. Next he made a case that science might work better if we separated researchers into single-sex laboratories. Of course, Hunt emphasized, he didn’t want to “stand in the way” of women.

Of course not. He just wanted to portray them as fools and argue that they should be in separate labs by themselves.

Blum and Connie St Louis and Ivan Oransky talked about how to report Hunt’s comments, and agreed on what they did: St Louis tweeted the story and Blum and Oransky retweeted her account.

Our idea was just to get it on the record. In the week that followed—after the story simply exploded—Hunt would resign from an honorary professorship at University College London and from the advisory board of the European Research Council, which had sponsored his trip to Seoul.

He would also tell The Guardian that he had been “hung out to dry.” He would insist that he had only been joking and that no one had asked him to explain his position. At which point, I jumped back in to counter those statements. Because, as I detailed here, I’d made a point of asking him for that very explanation.

Hunt hasn’t been fully truthful, in short. That’s understandable, because it’s all very shaming, and people flail around in the face of shame. He’s been flailing. But unfortunately a lot of ill-disposed people have been treating his account as Definitely True and everyone else’s account as Obviously Lies, and a lot of others read the distorted accounts and believe them. A lot of people are convinced that Hunt was fired from a job as a professor at UCL. Not true.

Some people have described all of this—the eruption across Twitter, the resulting storm of media attention—as taking on the shape of a kind of feminist witch-hunt. You’ll certainly see that in this opinion piece in Canada’s Globe and Mail.

I could not disagree more.

I do have sympathy for anyone caught in the leading edge of a media storm. But if we are ever to effect change, sometimes we need the winds to howl, to blow us out of our comfort zones.  Because the real point here isn’t about individuals, isn’t about Tim Hunt or me.

The real point is our failure, so far, to make science a truly inclusive profession.

Exactly. And wouldn’t it be nice if people like Brendan O’Neill and Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins could grok that and help instead of going into a panic about putative lynch mobs destroying Tim Hunt?

The real point is that that telling a roomful of female scientists that they aren’t really welcome in a male-run laboratory is the sound of a slamming door.

Yes it is – and yet so many of the pundits saved all their concern for the guy slamming the door, with none left over for the women on the wrong side of it.

Let me quote now from a letter that the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations sent to Tim Hunt regarding his statement:

“As women scientists we were deeply shocked and saddened by these remarks, but we are comforted by the widespread angered response from international social and news media: we are not alone in seeing these comments as sexist and damaging to science. Although Dr. Hunt is a senior and highly accomplished scientist in his field who has closely collaborated with Korean scientists in the past, his comments have caused great concern and regret in Korea.”

That’s another thing I didn’t know about. I wonder if Dawkins considers the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations a lynch mob.

I interrupted myself to tweet that question at him. He won’t answer, but it’s worth a try.

They also noted that although Hunt belatedly called his remarks an attempt at humor, he had earlier defended them as “trying to be honest.” (That was certainly what he said to me among others.) His remarks, the letter said,  “show that old prejudices are still well embedded in science cultures. On behalf of Korean female scientists, and all Koreans, we wish to express our great disappointment that these remarks were made at the event hosted by KOFWST. This unfortunate incident must not be portrayed as a private story told as a joke”.

They asked for an apology – and got it. Hunt stopped flailing and sent them a real apology.

Hunt wrote that he regretted his “stupid and ill-judged remarks.” He added: “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.”

Great. What a pity he’s letting people in the UK paint him as a martyr to baying witch-hunting lynch-mobs of PC feminists. He didn’t paint the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations that way, so why is he not protesting when his defenders do so?

Blume ends with optimism.

When we do make a noise, stand up for what’s right, have an open conversation about gender balance in science—even if that conversation is conducted as a virtual shouting match—we remind each other of the essential importance of equality. And we move, all of us, in a direction that matters.

I wish. Not all of us do. The O’Neill-Dawkins faction doesn’t.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



It was always toxic

Jun 22nd, 2015 5:46 pm | By

Even Walmart is ditching the pro-slavery flags and related dreck.

Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, will remove all Confederate flag merchandise from its stores, the company told CNN Monday.

The announcement is the latest indication that the flag, a symbol of the slave-holding South, has become toxic in the aftermath of a shooting last week at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gov. Nikki Haley announced in a Monday afternoon news conference that she supports removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.

Walmart.com currently carries the Confederate flag as well as attire featuring the flag’s design, such as T-shirts and belt buckles.

Apparently they did this because CNN prodded them.

Walmart’s statement came in response to a CNN inquiry Monday. In addition to Walmart, CNN asked Amazon and eBay whether they would remove Confederate flag merchandise from their sites. Neither company responded to repeated requests for comment.

Cha-ching, I guess. Impressive.

Amazon.com lists pages of Confederate flag-related merchandise, ranging from the flag itself to folding knives, T-shirts, blankets and even shower curtains.

eBay also carries the Confederate flag and accessories such as handbags and jewelry. The online auction site’s “offensive material policy” bans the sale of items that “promote hatred or racial supremacy including historic and current items.”

Interesting. It’s not as if people who aren’t white supremacist would want to wear or carry that thing.

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



A vast difference between memorializing the dead and memorializing the cause

Jun 22nd, 2015 5:20 pm | By

Originally a comment by Patrick G on “Vandals.”

@rjw1:

There is a vast difference between memorializing the dead and memorializing the cause. The Civil War entailed a horrific loss of life, which should be remembered. However, memorials should not celebrate the evil cause in service of which the Confederacy fought. Bridges and streets should not be named after those who sunk this nation into war to preserve slavery. Politicians and citizens should not be celebrating this Lost Cause while working to disenfranchise the descendants of people their ancestors went to war to keep enslaved.

If the Vietnam memorial said “We’d do it again, because napalm is awesome and if we’d stayed longer Vietnam wouldn’t be Communist today!”, I’d absolutely support the defacement of that memorial. But it doesn’t, it simply commemorates the dead and is rather neutral on any other topic (not least, noting that Vietnam is not Communist today). The dead matter, not the lying cause.

If a (hypothetical) Iraq memorial said “We’d do it again, because our leaders didn’t lie to us and we totally found WMDs!”, I’d absolutely support the defacement of that memorial. The dead matter, not the lying cause.

This is a memorial celebrating those who attacked first at Fort Sumter to start a civil war (or, if you want to be weaselly, died later trying to prevent it being retaken). It sits under a Confederate Flag symbolizing racial terror that continues to this day. It sits in a city bursting to the seams with celebration of crime and treason in defense of slavery. It sits in a state whose legacy of toxic racism is a matter of public record and history. It sits in a nation where so many people deny any racism exists at all (unless it’s towards white people!), while turning a blind eye to police brutality, the suppression of voting rights, and systemic economic inequality.

The dead matter, but too many Americans still believe in that lying cause. That memorial, in all the context noted above, says “Slavery and racism rule! We were right, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat!”. I don’t even have to infer this — we have politicians from multiple states who are still campaigning on racist brutality and yes, even secession!

So do try to be a bit more clear on just what this vandalism was actually trying to point out. You seem to think it’s strictly about mocking the dead of the past. If that were true, I’d feel quite differently. But clearly, it’s not about mocking the dead. It’s about drawing attention to the suffering of the present, and how the living are still deeply wedded to an evil cause.

Have a nice day.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Free Raif Rally in Los Angeles Friday

Jun 22nd, 2015 4:11 pm | By

From Stacy Kennedy:

Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger, was arrested in 2012 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes; the lashes to be administered each Friday, 50 at a time.

Raif’s crime? Founding a website, Free Saudi Liberals, that “insulted Islam through electronic channels.”

Free Saudi Liberals championed free speech and human rights.

Raif received 50 lashes on January 9, 2015. The lashings were suspended for a time, but the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Raif’s sentence on June 7, 2015, and the lashings could resume any time. Raif is reportedly in poor health.

On Friday, June 26, The Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles, in conjunction with Amnesty International, Muslims for Progressive Values, PEN Center USA, and the Los Angeles Press Club, will be protesting Raif’s sentence in front of the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles.

We ask the Saudi Government to FREE RAIF BADAWI and allow him to join his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three young children in Canada.

Please join us.

FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 2015
12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

WHERE:
Consulate General of Saudi Arabia in Los Angeles
2045 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

For FURTHER INFORMATION, contact
Stacy Kennedy
catsydestiny@hotmail.com
(323) 385-1812

Free Raif Rally June 26, 2015

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Rich symbols

Jun 22nd, 2015 3:51 pm | By

The Times did some background on Emanuel AME church and Clementa Pinckney the other day.

Intentionally or not, the gunman had found in Emanuel A.M.E., and in its 41-year-old pastor, rich symbols to attack with deadly racial hatred. Pastor Pinckney was a well-known civil rights leader in Charleston. He was elected to the South Carolina House at age 23, and then to the State Senate at age 27.

After Walter Scott, an African-American, was shot in the back by a North Charleston police officer in April, Mr. Pinckney helped guide through the State Legislature a bill requiring officers to wear body cameras.

Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a friend of Mr. Pinckney’s since their teenage years, said all the young Democrats coming up together in the state looked up to Mr. Pinckney. “We all aspired to be like Clementa,” Mr. Harrison said.

Mr. Pinckney was not a divisive figure, community and political leaders say. State Representative James E. Smith Jr., the minority leader and a Democrat who was elected to the State House at the same time as Mr. Pinckney, called him, “a giant voice for justice in South Carolina,” and a conciliatory leader, not a bomb thrower.

Tyler Jones, political director of the South Carolina House Democratic Caucus, said, “I have never heard anyone utter a negative word about Clem Pinckney, and that’s not an exaggeration.”

But the church was a rebel church, a slave revolt church.

In 1822, the authorities were tipped off before plans for the slave revolt could be put in effect; 313 suspected conspirators were arrested, and 35, including Denmark Vesey, the organizer who was a founder of the church, were executed. Angry whites in town burned the original church down.

The church, rebuilt in 1891, holds that history dear. A memorial to Mr. Vesey within its Gothic Revival walls is a reminder not only of the revolt, but also of Charleston’s past.

In the 1960s, the church was a center of civil rights organizing. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church in 1962.

In his remarks on the killings on Thursday, President Obama acknowledged the church’s special history.

“This is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty,” he said. “This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery. When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret. When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps.”

So no wonder an ambitious racist went there to murder some of its members.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



There are significant biological differences between men and women

Jun 22nd, 2015 3:00 pm | By

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand there it is – there really are differences between women and men therefore it’s fine to discriminate against women and Tim Hunt wuz robbed.

aaand

Ophelia Benson ‏@OpheliaBenson 3 hours ago
@jonrotten3111 Not at all. Job comes with tenure, pay, rights. Hon position does not. Hon position can be revoked at any time.

jonrotten31 ‏@jonrotten3111 3 hours ago
@OpheliaBenson so they revoked his position over his comments without giving him a chance to apologise or explain.

Ophelia Benson ‏@OpheliaBenson
@jonrotten3111 Imagine Hunt telling a group of black scientists they should be in segregated labs.

jonrotten31 ‏@jonrotten3111
@OpheliaBenson not a good analogy because there are significant biological differences between men and women, not between races

Note that “jonrotten” uses a photo of Hitchens as his thumbnail. People who use photos of Hitchens for their thumbnails are guaranteed to be assholes.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



It’s given us the names of some surprisingly backward people

Jun 22nd, 2015 2:44 pm | By

I mentioned this public Facebook post by David Colquhoun from yesterday.

When the Hunt affair first came to light, my first reaction (June 10, below), was to describe it as a “disaster for the advancement of women”.

I was wrong.

Women have come out of the affair very well. The light-hearted ‪#‎distractinglsexy‬campaign was a good start. Now we are seeing a backlash, mainly from more-or-less old men who think that UCL was wrong to accept Hunt’s resignation. That has only prolonged the unpleasantness for Hunt, but at least it’s given us the names of some surprisingly backward people.

In the last few days I’ve had rather unpleasantly aggressive letters from a handful of people. telling me that I’m wrong to support UCL’s decision to accept Tim Hunt’s resignation. I can only speculate whether their motive is to defend academic freedom, as they claim, or whether their aggression stems from a well-hidden feeling that Hunt’s right.

Guess what? They are all from senior men.

I’ve had nothing but support from young people, men and women. I often urge them (in a different context) not to show respect to their elders, but not betters, when they get things wrong.

I’m starting to hate these senior men, who are so very concerned about their own well-being and so very indifferent to that of everyone else.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Cash for candidates

Jun 22nd, 2015 12:53 pm | By

No wonder Republicans are trying to pretend the Charleston terrorist attack was just some random “incident.” The New York Times reports:

The leader of a white supremacist group that apparently influenced Dylann Roof, the suspect in the killing of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns, including those of 2016 presidential contenders such as Ted Cruz,Rick Santorum and Rand Paul, records show.

Mr. Cruz, a Texas senator, said Sunday night that he would be returning about $8,500 in donations that he had received from the Texas donor, Earl Holt III, who lists himself as president of the Council of Conservative Citizens.

The council of conservative racist citizens.

The group is regarded by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading authority on hate crimes, as a white supremacist extremist organization that opposes “race mixing” as a religious affront and that vilifies blacks as an inferior race.

None of which has anything to do with America’s history as a slave state. Nope, that all went away a long time ago, before any of us were born.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



“Vandals”

Jun 22nd, 2015 12:45 pm | By

 

Interesting priorities. This news item is from the reliably-reactionary Washington Times:

Vandals spray-painted “Black Lives Matter” and other racial messages on a memorial honoring fallen Confederate soldiers in the South Carolina community still rocked by a church shooting last week that left nine black people dead.

“Black Lives Matter” in red spray paint covered the inscription on the base of the statue, which honors the “Confederate Defenders of Charleston” who died at Fort Sumter, Yahoo News reported.

Oh no, vandals. The horror. And on a memorial to soldiers who fought for the slave-owning Confederacy, too – the horror the horror. The soldiers were “fallen” so it is not permissible to point out that they were fighting for the slave states. Once fallen, always heroic.

I’m not sure “vandals” is the right word to use here. It’s not unlike calling freedom riders “trespassers” or protesters “thugs.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



UCL reserves the right

Jun 22nd, 2015 11:06 am | By

I posted that absurd comment by the guy who drew up an even more absurd petition to rescue Tim Hunt from the consequences of his own actions, one Stephen Ballentyne, on Facebook. A journalist friend told me the reason people there are angry is that UCL sacked Hunt without hearing his side of the story, a denial of natural justice that I shouldn’t go along with.

Well that’s certainly not the only reason for many people, but leaving that aside – is there any truth in the claim? I don’t know what the normal procedure is with honorary positions, so I crowd-sourced it and a friend found several universities that frankly say they can withdraw honorary positions at will. Knowing this improved my Google-fu so I found the right page at UCL – the page for honorary professorships and similar academic titles.

At the bottom of the page:

Honorary associations of this type are not employment relationships and UCL reserves the right to withdraw honorary status from an individual at any time.

So that’s that issue settled.

Unless, that is, you agree that there’s some issue of “natural justice” here. I don’t. An honorary professorship is an honor given by UCL, and UCL clearly says in writing that it reserves the right to withdraw honorary status from an individual at any time. I think that means what it says.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



More unreconstructed every day

Jun 22nd, 2015 9:01 am | By

The morning update. Dawkins is still raging at feminism, still whipping up hatred against women who object to Tim Hunt’s contemptuous remarks about women scientists.

daw2

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 8 hours ago
“The Modern Witch-hunt.” @TheTimes letter: “Competitive condemnation.” “Ugly race to condemn.” The wish “to be in the front row of the mob.”

Condemnation can be good. But Internet today makes it all too easy to whip up a baying mob & recapture the spirit of the playground bully.

The bully here is Tim Hunt. The bully here is Richard Dawkins with his 1.2 million followers. The bully here is the consortium of Famous Pale Male Scientists trying to defend their right to express their contempt for women as colleagues.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Sign that mofo

Jun 21st, 2015 5:15 pm | By

Connie St Louis set up a petition. It has only 195 signatures so far. Let’s do better.

Its time to elect a female president to lead the Royal Society

The Royal Society was founded in 1660. In that time there has never been a female President at its helm. This may not be surprising in the light of sexist comments made by one of it’s Nobel Laureates, Tim Hunt, in Seoul, Korea on 8 June 2015 at a lunch sponsored by the Korean Female Scientists and Engineers. Royal Fellow and Nobel Laureate, Tim Hunt took the podium: identifying himself as a “male chauvinist pig,” he declared that he found the charms of “girls” who enter scientific fields inherently distracting, and, astoundingly, proposed “single-sex labs” as a solution. The Royal Society have refused to censure him in any way and have only distanced themselves from his comment.  If they are ‘committed to a diverse science workforce”, why have they not elected a female scientist to be the head of this organisation? Please join me in asking them to redress this inequality in November 2015 when a new Presidential term begins.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Utterly ruined by sexist speaker

Jun 21st, 2015 4:56 pm | By

Another item to include is Connie St Louis’s famous tweet, which broke the story:

connie

Why are the British so embarrassing abroad? At #WCSJ2015 President lunch today sponsored by powerful role model Korean female scientists and engineers. Utterly ruined by sexist speaker Tim Hunt FRS @royalsociety who stood up on invitation and says he has a reputation as male chauvinist.

Then she quotes the trouble with girls bit, the falling in love and they cry bit.

not happy with the big hole he has already dug he continues digging “I’m in favour of single sex labs” BUT he “doesn’t want to stand in the way of women[“] Oh yeah! Sounds like it?

Then she repeats that part, then

Really does this Nobel laureate think we are still in Victorian times???

There are interesting comments. Carl Zimmer for instance:

carlzimmer ‏@carlzimmer Jun 9
@2casey451 @connie_stlouis @royalsociety What kind of bad day is that? A day when he slips up & speaks his mind? A day possessed by demons?

@2casey451 @connie_stlouis @royalsociety If he can run a lab, he can take responsibility for his own remarks in front of journalists.

But that’s a witch-hunt.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



An unreconstructed backwoodsman

Jun 21st, 2015 4:11 pm | By

Because of all this nonsense talked by people like Dawkins and Brendan O’Neill and Dawkins and Brian Cox and Dawkins, I’m looking into the Tim Hunt question more than I did when it started. (That week was quite full of other things, what with going to a conference and a few other odds and ends.)

So now I’ve read David Colquhoun’s take, or rather takes.

15 June

It’s now 46 years since I and Brian Woledge managed to get UCL’s senior common room, the Housman room, opened to women. That was 1969, and since then, I don’t think that I’ve heard any public statement that was so openly misogynist as Tim Hunt’s now notorious speech in Korea.

Oh? But we’ve been assured it was just a joke, just a few thoughtless words, just a casual passing remark. We’ve been assured it was so tiny it can barely be detected at all.

On the Today Programme, Hunt said “I just wanted to be honest”, so there’s no doubt that those are his views. He confirmed that the account that was first tweeted by Connie St Louis was accurate

Inevitably, there was a backlash from libertarians and conservatives. That was fuelled by a piece in today’s Observer, in which Hunt seems to regard himself as being victimised. My comment on the Observer piece sums up my views.

I was pretty shaken when I heard what Tim Hunt had said, all the more because I have recently become a member of the Royal Society’s diversity committee. When he talked about the incident on the Today programme on 10 June, it certainly didn’t sound like a joke to me. It seems that he carried on for more than 5 minutes in they same vein.

Everyone appreciates Hunt’s scientific work, but the views that he expressed about women are from the dark ages. It seemed to me, and to Dorothy Bishop, and to many others, that with views like that. Hunt should not play any part in selection or policy matters. The Royal Society moved with admirable speed to do that.

The views that were expressed are so totally incompatible with UCL’s values, so it was right that UCL too acted quickly. His job at UCL was an honorary one: he is retired and he was not deprived of his lab and his living, as some people suggested.

Although the initial reaction, from men as well as from women, was predictably angry, it very soon turned to humour, with the flood of #distractinglysexy tweets.

It would be a mistake to think that these actions were the work of PR people. They were thought to be just by everyone, female or male, who wants to improve diversity in science.

The episode is sad and disappointing. But the right things were done quickly.

Now Hunt can be left in peace to enjoy his retirement.

And that will be fine, but some of his defenders are not very retired. I only wish they were.

16 June 2015

There is an interview with Tim Hunt in Lab Times that’s rather revealing. Right up to the penultimate paragraph we agree on just about everything, from the virtue of small groups to the iniquity of impact factors. But then right at the end we read this.

In your opinion, why are women still under-represented in senior positions in academia and funding bodies?

Hunt:  I’m not sure there is really a problem, actually. People just look at the statistics. I dare, myself, think there is any discrimination, either for or against men or women. I think people are really good at selecting good scientists but I must admit the inequalities in the outcomes, especially at the higher end, are quite staggering. And I have no idea what the reasons are. One should start asking why women being under-represented in senior positions is such a big problem. Is this actually a bad thing? It is not immediately obvious for me… is this bad for women? Or bad for science? Or bad for society? I don’t know, it clearly upsets people a lot.

This suggests to me that the outburst on 8th June reflected opinions that Hunt has had for a while.

Nooooooo, it’s not a bad thing. It’s natural and right that men should have all the senior positions, because it’s always been that way and what the hell, know what I mean? Why change it?

19 June 2015

Yesterday I was asked by the letters editor of the Times, Andrew Riley, to write a letter in response to a half-witted, anonymous, Times leading article. I dropped everything, and sent it. It was neither acknowledged nor published. Here it is [download pdf].

One of the few good outcomes of the sad affair of Tim Hunt is that it has brought to light the backwoodsmen who are eager to defend his actions, and to condemn UCL.  The anonymous Times leader of 16 June was as good an example as any.
Here are seven relevant considerations.

  1. Honorary jobs have no employment contract, so holders of them are not employees in the normal sense of the term.  Rather, they are eminent people who agree to act as ambassadors for the university,
  2. Hunt’s remarks were not a joke –they were his genuine views. He has stated them before and he confirmed them on the Today programme,
  3. He’s entitled to hold these views but he’s quite sensible enough to see that UCL would be criticised harshly if he were to remain in his ambassadorial role so he relinquished it before UCL was able to talk to him.
  4. All you have to do to see the problems is to imagine yourself as a young women, applying for a grant or fellowship, in competition with men, knowing that Hunt was one of her judges.  Would your leader have been so eager to defend a young Muslim who advocated men only labs?  Or someone who advocated Jew-free labs? The principle is the same.
  5. Advocacy of all male labs is not only plain silly, it’s also illegal under the Equalities Act (2010).
  6. UCL’s decision to accept Hunt’s offer to relinquish his role was not the result of a twitter lynch mob. The comments there rapidly became good humoured  If there is a witch hunt, it is by your leader writer and the Daily Mail, eager to defend the indefensible and to condemn UCL and the Royal Society
  7. It has been suggested to me that it would have been better if Hunt had been brought before a disciplinary committee, so due process would have been observed.  I can imagine nothing that would have been more cruel to a distinguished colleague than to put him through such a miserable ordeal.

Some quotations from this letter were used by Tom Whipple in an article about Richard Dawkins surprising (to me) emergence as an unreconstructed backwoodsman.

No surprise around here, I imagine.

I’m pleased that he said this:

Would your leader have been so eager to defend a young Muslim who advocated men only labs?  Or someone who advocated Jew-free labs? The principle is the same.

I often make that argument when people blow off sexism as unimportant, but I get waved away a lot when I do. I’m pleased to see DC saying the same thing.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Always happy to be reminded

Jun 21st, 2015 2:32 pm | By

Sean Carroll:

Sean Carroll ‏@seanmcarroll Jun 9 Always happy to be reminded that there’s no sexism in science, just that those girls keep crying in the lab. Sean Carroll added,

Connie St Louis @connie_stlouis
Nobel scientist Tim Hunt FRS @royalsociety says at Korean women lunch “I’m a chauvinist and keep ‘girls’ single lab

Uh oh, look out, witch hunt.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Not pornographic cartoons of him being shot in the head

Jun 21st, 2015 11:56 am | By

I like Richard Carrier’s post on Dawkins v Feminists v Tim Hunt.

Dawkins cries watery tears whines hyperbolically almost every time he is criticized. (Just google around. The number of examples documented on the Internet is so bewildering it’s become a well known trope.) It’s always the same thing: someone exercising their free speech rights to express their negative opinion of him or things he said, becomes a “witch hunt” and an “inquisition” by a wild “angry mob.”

In fact it is never any of those things, but basically a lot of serious, thoughtful, often well-argued criticism. Mere free speech. And often well done and spot on at that. Not email bombs sent to his in-box to harass him. Not sea lioning. Not pornographic cartoons of him being shot in the head posted in public. No actual torches and pitchforks, prison time, or setting him on fire. No actual mob. Just a citizenry peaceably assembling and expressing their grievances to those with power.

No one even asked any organization to fire Hunt. He was only fired from a few honorarypositions whose role was to promote the values of those organizations, entirely on those organizations’ own initiative. Because epically failing at your job, and embarrassing your employer on precisely a mission point of what they are actively fighting against, means you suck at your job. People who suck at their job can get fired. That’s how life works. Stop crying whining about it.

Just what I say. He wasn’t given those positions as if they were shiny baubles for him to play with forever. He was given them as a way to add extra fame and glory to the donating institutions. Once the fame and glory started smelling like the rotting oysters one of the #DistractinglySexy scientists tweeted she always smells of, they had no reason to continue to clutch him to their bosoms. He acted like a sexist jackass in public, so he was bounced.

I’m sorry, but this behavior makes Dawkins look like a child. He can’t handle criticism.

Either A:

He shivers in terror, hiding in his closet (or as he calls it, the “muzzle” his critics have apparently sent thugs to attach to his face and hands), deathly afraid of being criticized, and blames thecriticism for chasing him into that closet (muzzle). It’s all their fault, for criticizing him. Not his childish fear of criticism. Or his inability to deal with it. Or just stand up for his criticized views and laugh the critics off (like he would creationists and theologians). Or recognize his mistakes and value them as learning experiences. And then try harder to help us combat sexism, for example, instead of acting like a clueless twit hyperbolically attacking us for being against sexism.

Or B:

He wildly overreacts to criticism with a massive display of a shocking sense of entitlement. And learns nothing. And doesn’t even notice he has this flaw. He certainly doesn’t notice how sexist and insulting it is for him to use the witch hunt trope when defending his or others’ sexism or their right to be immune to the consequences from it. A lot of Big Atheism dudebros do the same (like Peter Boghossian). They also constantly cry watery tears whine hyperbolically when criticized, lashing out in an irrational state of intemperate anger and indignance, using the same inapplicable and inappropriate tropes.

They do, they do.

Happy World Humanist Day.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



So gender specific

Jun 21st, 2015 11:37 am | By

This happened. The British Humanist Association publicly posted a Happy Humanist Day message on Facebook:

A humanist is someone who does the right thing even though she knows that no one is watching.

[Random bolding theirs.]

A good message, right?

Ah no, not so fast. There’s a problem.

Jane Brown Why the she? Big mistake to be so gender specific.

Did your jaw hit the floor? Mine did.

“She” is gender specific, in sharp contrast to “he,” which is not.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Anyway, happy world humanist day.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Tim Hunt signals Dawkins and co to pipe down

Jun 21st, 2015 9:51 am | By

This is an interesting twist: the Observer ran a piece on Tim Hunt yesterday in which the reporter, Robin McKie, said disgusting things but Tim Hunt said some good things. Tim Hunt arguably took a fairer view of the reaction to his remarks than did the science editor for the Observer.

Robin McKie’s lead-in:

The beleaguered UK scientist Sir Tim Hunt on Saturday thanked the hundreds of female scientists who have written to support him in the wake of the furore triggered by his controversial remarks about women in science.

Hunt, who won the Nobel prize in 2001 for his work on cell biology, became the focus of furious online attacks earlier this month over comments about women in science being disruptive. He had to resign from several academic posts, including an honorary position at University College London (UCL).

However, support for Hunt has since mushroomed, with fellow Nobel prize winners, senior academics and leading scientists and politicians – including Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins and Boris Johnson – lining up to denounce the treatment of the 72-year-old biologist.

Nasty stuff. Starting with “beleaguered,” as if Hunt were a martyr. His “controversial remarks” – always a useful way to hide the actual nature of the remarks in question. He became “the focus of furious online attacks” – again, he’s a martyr and victim, while his critics are scarily enraged. And then McKie cheers on the Nobel prize winners, senior academics and leading scientists and politicians for trying to shout down the pesky insubordinate women.

I wish these people would take a harder look at what they’re doing.

Hunt says he has a long record of helping women colleagues.

“I certainly don’t recognise myself as the horrible sexist portrayed in media reports, and I don’t think the women who have worked with me throughout my career do either,” said Hunt, who added that he was particularly upset by the journal Nature which accused him of “belittling women”, an accusation he flatly rejected.

No, sorry, that won’t fly – the “joke” was a belittling joke. I’ll accept that he didn’t intend it to be, but not that it wasn’t. It was.

Hunt also pointed out that, initially, his remarks about women in science and their alleged tendency to weep had not been fully reported. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” he told delegates at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul. “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.”

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, albeit a very bad one, but they were not mentioned in the first reports and I was deluged with hate mail,” Hunt said.

Sigh. That doesn’t matter. Imagine making a joke of that type about people from South Asia or the Caribbean. Saying it was a joke doesn’t rescue it.

However, he did acknowledge that his “idiotic joke” had touched a nerve. “My comments have brought to the surface the anger and frustration of a great many women in science whose careers have been blighted by chauvinism and discrimination,” he said. “If any good is to come from this miserable affair, it should be that the scientific community starts to acknowledge this anger, recognise the problem and move a lot faster to remove the remaining barriers.”

There. He said that. Exactly so. And that was what Anne Perkins was saying with her “Yet this is a moment to savour” that Dawkins, cluelessly, took to mean she was relishing Hunt’s plight. Nonsense: she was relishing the fact that his comments have brought to the surface the prejudice against women in science. Here’s what she wrote, in context:

Even the response of the Royal Society suggests that the great institution doesn’t entirely get it. Science needs everyone regardless of gender, they said as they frantically pedalled away from one of their leading lights. How about, sexism is wrong, full stop?

Yet this is a moment to savour. Hunt has at last made explicit the prejudice that undermines the prospects of everyone born with childbearing capabilities. It is not men who are the problem, it is women! Women are distracting. They provoke emotions. Worse even than that, they express emotions.

And Hunt said the upshot of all this “should be that the scientific community starts to acknowledge this anger, recognise the problem and move a lot faster to remove the remaining barriers.” He said the scientific community should start to acknowledge this anger – which means it should not gasp in horror and call the anger “witch hunts” and “lynch mobs.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



The nature of the bubble

Jun 21st, 2015 8:53 am | By

Someone’s been arguing with me about Tim Hunt on Twitter on and off since yesterday. He started off a little aggressively but it became a conversation after that. He cops to some empathy for Hunt because he cringes at things he said himself ten years ago. Ok, but that’s not a reason not to criticize what Hunt said, or a reason to call that criticism “witch hunts” or “lynch mobs.”

His latest pair of tweets, last night, is interesting.

Atticus_of_Amber ‏@Atticus_Amber 13 hours ago
@OpheliaBenson Super successful people often live in a bubble. Their own fault; but they’re often unaware of it until they get a rude shock.

@OpheliaBenson My view is that we should be administering more of these bubble-breaking “rude shocks”, but the shocks should be less lethal.

Well the shock wasn’t actually lethal – Tim Hunt is still alive. He lost three honorary positions – and yes that is a steep price to pay, but at the same time, such positions are based on merit, just as non-honorary ones are. They are awarded for reasons. They’re not a right, and they’re not a permanent unconditional possession. His Nobel prize is a permanent unconditional possession, if I understand it correctly, and that wouldn’t be withdrawn unless he were exposed as a fraud or similar. But the honorary position at UCL and the one at the Royal Society and the one on the European Research Council’s science committee were all merit-based and, clearly, not irrevocable. They were revoked because Hunt was seen as not meeting their criteria in some way. They’re allowed to have criteria. The positions did not come with tenure – they were not tenure-track positions. Academics of all people know the difference between tenure and no-tenure. Hunt didn’t hold those three positions as some sort of permanent right, and he lost them because he publicly expressed contempt for women in his field, women per se, women as women. If he’d expressed contempt for other races, or Jews, or Muslims, I doubt we’d be hearing about lynch mobs.

But the more interesting point is the one about the bubble. What is that bubble exactly? What is that bubble that super successful people live in?

It’s the bubble in which people don’t say anything when you talk sexist or racist shit. That bubble.

That means it’s the bubble in which everyone else who has to live in that bubble – the one where super successful men get to talk sexist and/or racist shit – are left to put up with it, because people don’t want to challenge Mr Sir Professor Important FRS.

That’s a bad bubble. That bubble sucks. It’s a very pleasant bubble for Mr Sir Professor Important FRS, but it sucks for everyone else. It sucks hard for the underlings – the people of the wrong gender and the wrong race and the wrong nationality.

So a shock to that bubble is a good thing. That bubble needs a shock – and not a mild soft gentle shock. Of course the shock should not be literally lethal, but then this shock hasn’t been that, so that’s ok. But should it be forthright, and warm? Yes, it should.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



For the toolbox

Jun 21st, 2015 7:32 am | By

Well this is a useful thing to have.

bibbidy bobbidy fuck

Via Hayley Stevens

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