Notes and Comment Blog

Church fires in the South

Jun 28th, 2015 11:07 am | By

The SPLC reports:

In what may not be a coincidence, a string of nighttime fires have damaged or destroyed at least six predominately black churches in four southern states in the past week.

Arsonists started at least three of the fires, while other causes are being examined in the other fires, investigators say.

The series of fires – some of them suspicious and possible hate crimes — came in the week following a murderous rampage by a white supremacist who shot and killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

The most recent fires occurred early today at the Glover Grover Baptist Church, in Warrenville, S.C., and at the Greater Miracle Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Fla.

Federal agents have been brought in to assist local officials in determining the unknown cause of the fire at the Glover Grove Baptist church. In Tallahassee, fire officials say the fire that totally destroyed the Apostolic Holiness Church may have been caused by a tree limb falling on overhead electrical lines.

While those investigations continue, arson was determined to be the cause of three fires earlier in the week at other predominately black churches in the South.

The first arson fire occurred in the early morning hours of Monday, June 22, at the College Hills Seventh Day Adventist Church, home to a predominately black congregation, in Knoxville, Tenn.

In that one the arsonist set multiple fires all around the building.

The following day, Tuesday June 23, an arsonist was blamed for a fire in the sanctuary s at God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.

“Right now we are investigating as if it was a set fire,” said Sgt. Ben Gleaton, an arson investigator for the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department, told the Macon Telegraph.

The third suspected arson fire occurred in the predawn hours of Wednesday, June 24, at the Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.

That fire, reported at 1 a.m. EDT, caused an estimated $250,000 in damage, destroying an education wing in one of four buildings that make up the Briar Creek Road Baptist Church complex in east Charlotte, authorities said. The church’s sanctuary and gymnasium sustained heavy smoke damage.

Setting fires at night – it’s what the Klan does.

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

“Nothing wrong with witty satire”

Jun 28th, 2015 10:35 am | By

The Tim Hunt War continues. It could have been over in 24 hours, but now it’s become the site where the issue of sexism in STEM is getting a thorough airing, so I’m just going to keep on reporting on it.

Dawkins is still digging that hole deeper and deeper.

1.2 million followers on Twitter, remember. Gets his letters published in the Times. Large megaphone; conspicuous platform. Influencer.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 8 hours ago
Am I naive to be disconcerted by a lack of kindness, of empathy, on Twitter? There’s so much unforgiving, merciless, even cruel condemnation

Isn’t it interesting that he’s saying that now? After responding to a tweet that called Tim Hunt “a shitty person”? Isn’t it interesting that he didn’t say that in 2011 or 2012 or 2013 or 2014? Isn’t it interesting that he’s ignored the relentless harassment and bullying of women on Twitter, much of it by his fans defending his every word, but is upset when it’s addressed to someone like him? I think it’s interesting.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 8 hours ago
Yes, of course it’s easy to be cruel when you are anonymous. But why should anyone WANT to be cruel, whether anonymous or not?

Yes of course there are many kind people on Twitter. I’m not saying cruel ones are a majority. Just puzzled why anyone WANTS to be cruel.

Nothing wrong with witty satire. Well-aimed ridicule has a point: to change minds /raise consciousness. But what’s the point of cruel abuse?

It’s embarrassingly easy to tell what he’s thinking there – that he does witty satire and well-aimed ridicule, that changes minds for the better and has no harmful side effects, while people who are angry at Tim Hunt do cruel abuse, period. Sadly, his “witty satire” often isn’t.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 8 hours ago
Tweet today called a Nobelist, whose work could 1 day save her life, a “shitty person” because he told a joke. So DISPROPORTIONATELY vicious

You know what else is DISPROPORTIONATELY vicious? Accusations of “witch hunts” and “lynch mobs.”

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 8 hours ago
If you think somebody is wrong, say so and say why. Don’t just call them a shitty fucking douchebag, it’s not a convincing argument.

See above. Don’t call them witch hunts and lynch mobs, either. It’s not a convincing argument.

Why do I care? Because our circles overlap. Because he is perhaps the most conspicuous face of atheism in the anglophone world. Because he also speaks out for secularism and humanism. Because I don’t want atheism and secularism and humanism to be bastions of entitled anti-feminist bullies, and because I don’t want feminist women to be bullied out of atheism and secularism and humanism. Because I want him to stop doing damage. I have little or no hope that he ever will, but that’s what I want.

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

The elite closes ranks

Jun 27th, 2015 6:23 pm | By

Another one for the reading list: Chocolate and Vodka.

[W]hether or not Sir Tim was joking is ultimately irrelevant. He should never have spoken those words in the first place. As a Nobel Laureate, a professor and a Knight of the British Empire, Sir Tim definitely has power, influence and authority. He therefore has a responsibility to think very carefully about the words he uses in his public and professional lives.

People in Sir Tim’s position have an obligation to use their power to help, support and inspire others, not to denigrate a group of people — in this case, women — who are already at a disadvantage. Sir Tim failed in that obligation. He did not take his responsibilities seriously. Instead, he abused his position of power and has either refused to or been incapable of understanding the impact his words have had, or how he is supporting the institutional sexism rife in academia, and particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths).

That’s an interesting point. It’s a strange mentality, one that is happy using power, influence and authority to express lofty contempt for a large set of people. I have a hard time imagining being happy doing that myself, if I had that kind of power, influence and authority – not because I’m so sweet, which I’m not, but because it would just feel all wrong. Wrong like bending a joint the wrong way.

I suppose that’s what I never do get about people who do this kind of thing – people like Tim Hunt and Richard Dawkins and people like the social media harassers. I never do get why it doesn’t make them intensely uncomfortable. Maybe having power, influence and authority tends to dull people’s capacity to feel…in the wrong. They’re important, so everything they decide to say must have worth, because they’re saying it.

Even when his failure was pointed out to him, instead of reflecting on what he’d said, he doubled down and, as far as I am aware, is yet to produce a full and proper apology.

And worse, we’ve now seen a raft of people, men and women alike, in positions of significant influence and power in academia and public life have come out to defend Sir Tim and in the process belittle the concerns that women, and many men, have about sexism in science.

And we’ve seen David Colquhoun doing the other thing, which helps.

And then there are the comments of Boris Johnson, Professor Brian Cox and Professor Richard Dawkins, also in support of Sir Tim, and also failing to adequately address the serious issue of sexism in science.

What really disturbs me about this is that the British academic (and political) elite appear to be closing ranks around a man who has made sexist comments and who is refusing to deal with the repercussions of those comments. Sir Tim’s words are indefensible. Describing oneself, apparently quite comfortably, as chauvinist, making demeaning comments about women, and then refusing to properly apologise for those remarks is not a slip of the tongue and it is not acceptable. It is not something that senior scientists should be supporting.

The message this sends to women is that British academe is still sexist, still does not know how to recognise sexist behaviour, has no desire to tackle sexism, and, indeed, will even support men who make sexist comments.

Well at least the message is accurate.

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

Guest post: Do you really expect us to unravel the work of more than a century in order to knit you a comfort blanket?

Jun 27th, 2015 5:57 pm | By

Originally a comment by Maureen Brian on Charles Seife is telling the same story.


You don’t sound as though you’re old enough to have been around in the ’60s and ’70s but believe me we achieved a hell of a lot then. There is no need to go back and do that work again. It is done.

Achievements included, depending upon where you are, anti-discrimination laws and the codes of practice in place in most institutions and big companies, a means of redress for discrimination, direct or systemic, access to better education, equal pay (in theory) – the list is too long but we’ve got the works in law and in policy at least on paper.

Yet by about the end of the ’90s those of us who achieved such things – in the face of the sort of mindless antagonism you display – noticed as rational beings that progress had sort of ground to a halt. So we looked for the reasons why the pay gap was still there, all aspects of computing where women were once well represented had become sterile male ghettos, women with good degrees in STEM subjects and apparently promising careers were dropping out at an astonishing rate.

And what did we find? This may amaze you but the backlash which Susan Faludi described on the basis of actual evidence in 1991 was not merely still with us, it was gaining ground. So different women worked on different aspects of this problem, gathered even more evidence and took action to both assist understanding and to make a course correction. Anita Sarkessian is just one among many – addressing a specific problem the most effective way she can.

Do you really expect us to unravel the work of more than a century in order to knit you a comfort blanket? Get real! And do stop whining, please.

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

Nothing less than the silencing

Jun 27th, 2015 4:23 pm | By

If nothing else, at least I’m finding some brilliant people to read the blogs of which, and to follow on Twitter and all that good stuff.

Like Richard P Grant at the Guardian’s Occam’s corner.

[W]hat is happening now is nothing less than the silencing of voices that should be heard. Voices of people who took issue with what was said in Korea, who highlighted the sexism, and who said that such comments were harmful and should not go unchallenged.

Again, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with those voices, or which side you are on; what matters is that respectable academics still low down on the career ladder are being silenced by those who hold positions of real power.

Yes. Those Nobel laureates, and Dawkins – they’re doing their best to silence people who are trying to fix a very flawed work environment.

These people are not slinging mud to wreck someone’s reputation in the absence of even the slightest hint of truth. They want to make reasoned comments and have an open debate about the issues. But they end up saying things like, “I’m afraid to tweet this”:

Is there not one senior academic, one Nobel Laureate, who will stand up and in unflinching language decry sexism and the support of sexism that we are currently seeing from so many leading figures? This isn’t about Sir Tim anymore. This is about an inability amongst senior scientists to understand and take seriously the responsibilities that their power has bestowed upon them.

I’m betting they don’t agree that they are responsibilities.

It’s not just that we have the usual horde of spotty teenage scuzbuckets threatening violence and rape to any woman who dares to have an opinion – such behaviour is sadly almost de rigeur. No, it’s comments from Nobel laureates, and others who might have some influence over your career, that scares academics into silence.

Nobel laureates – almost the definition of ultimate power in academic science – claim that their liberty is under threat, and that they find the response to their sexist comments to be “frightening”. They claim, in fact, that other people calling them out for stupid remarks in some way threatens their own academic freedom.

Well the whole point of academic freedom is to be able to say sexist shit when it pops into your head over lunch.

But why, as a (female, academic) friend asked earlier, are these Nobel laureates so frightened by “a bunch of girls”? Is it that the world is changing, and casual sexism is no longer acceptable? Is that so much of a threat?


Yes. Why? I guess because people who have been used to dominating for a long time find it gross and shocking that anyone would expect them to learn to share.

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

It’s not all about him

Jun 27th, 2015 3:18 pm | By

To counteract the bad taste left by Dawkins’s interventions (and if you want to feel even sicker you can always check out Louise Mensch on Twitter, who is in a positive lather of bullying), there is the very intelligent discussion on Athene Donald’s blog. She defends Hunt, but she does it reasonably as opposed to shoutingly. (Although she does use the phrase “lynch mob,” which I really wish people would stop doing.) In particular she says making a fuss about Tim Hunt is easy, and everyone should be doing the less easy things too. She gives a list:

We should all be pro-active, not look the other way. Here’s an easy list to help people make that commitment. Everyone should be able to find one they are in a position to carry out.

  • Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimised;
  • Encourage women to dare, to take risks;
  • Act as a sponsor or mentor (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act);
  • Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or acting to exclude anyone;
  • Seek out and remove microinequities wherever you spot them;
  • Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of female invited speakers;
  • Consider the imagery in your department and ensure it represents a diverse group of individuals;
  • Consider the daily working environment to see if anything inappropriate is lurking. If so, do something about it.
  • Demand/require mandatory unconscious bias training, in particular for appointment and promotion panels;
  • Call out teachers who tell girls they can’t/shouldn’t do maths, physics etc;
  • Don’t let the bold (male or female) monopolise the conversation in the classroom or the apparatus in the laboratory, at the expense of the timid (female or male);
  • Ask schools about their progression rates for girls into the traditionally male subjects at A level (or indeed, the traditionally female subjects for boys);
  • Nominate women for prizes, fellowships etc;
  • Tap women on the shoulder to encourage them to apply for opportunities they otherwise would be unaware of or feel they were not qualified for;
  • Move the dialogue on from part-time working equates to ‘isn’t serious’ to part-time working means balancing different demands;
  • Recognize the importance of family (and even love) for men and women;
  • Be prepared to be a visible role model;
  • Gather evidence, data and anecdote, to provide ammunition for management to change;
  • Listen and act if a woman starts hinting there are problems, don’t be dismissive because it makes you uncomfortable;
  • Think broadly when asked to make suggestions of names for any position or role.

Hilda Bastian in particular (no permalink to comments, sorry) says useful things:

It was what happened after he spoke that brings us to the crux of the problem, and why there has been a strong reaction. He had the opportunity to retreat from the position he had taken: he was, however, undeterred and continued to expand on these themes. And people have defended him by arguing, in effect, that demeaning speech is [not] only [not] unacceptable, but not harmful.

Exactly. The incident itself could have been over quickly, but the nested backlashes have caused it to go on and on. I’m more fascinated and appalled by the backlash than I am by the original pedestrian “jokes.”

This has not been an over-reaction to some regrettable gaffes: it’s about his, to use his word, “honest”, beliefs. Those views, and expressing them can do harm, whether or not he personally has discriminated against individual women. They can be hurtful to anyone exposed to them, they can encourage those who do discriminate (and worse) to think it’s socially acceptable to demean women, and they can encourage women to believe the climate in science is one where demeaning remarks are socially acceptable. As Zen Faulkes wrote, career choices can “hang on narrow threads”.

Bolding mine. Again, that item is what makes Dawkins’s behavior so revolting: the way he’s encouraging those who do discriminate and stalk and harass to think it’s socially acceptable – indeed brilliantly clever – to do so. He’s a role model to people like that, and he’s being a horrifically bad one.

The wording here seems to imply that unless it can be proven that there were harmful consequences to particular individual women, then he is not sexist. But many of us see someone speaking about women scientists as “the crying kind” or not when he’s discussing us is sexist behavior, and it’s not the consequences that determine whether or not it is.

All the space devoted to the discussion is not devoted to “demonising” Tim Hunt. It’s largely to debate the issues this raises – how people feel about this climate, about women having pride in themselves and their contributions to the scientific workplace, and about the ugliness unleashed by all the people airing often misogynistic views.

It’s not all about him, even though his comments are the catalyst for a discussion it seems to me more and more clear we need to have. It seems we do indeed have to have a discussion about whether or not demeaning remarks do damage. The concrete list of actions you delineate are fantastic – but we won’t get far if we don’t address the “mountain made up of molehills”, as Virginia Valian put it: “The effect of schemas in professional life is to cause us to slightly, systematically overrate men and underrate women.”


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

Charles Seife is telling the same story

Jun 27th, 2015 2:04 pm | By

Then again…

Charles Seife ‏@cgseife 17 hours ago
.@guyadams Don’t find @connie_stlouis trustworthy? I’m telling the same story. Ad-hominem away.

Guy Adams is the reporter who wrote the Daily Mail piece about Connie St Louis. Charles Seife is the guy who asked the EU official if he’d provided an actual transcript and got the answer “no.”

Charles Seife ‏@cgseife 17 hours ago
.@guyadams And, speaking of accuracy, I’m another journalist who’s given a “detailed account of the toast.” Your own paper quoted me.

And then:

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 13 hours ago
Devastating dissection of the credentials of the only journalist still denying Tim Hunt’s “Now seriously . . .” …

Charles Seife @cgseife
.@RichardDawkins Now you’ve crossed the line into intellectual dishonesty. You know quite well that she’s not the only such journalist.

And so the quest to be treated as equals ground on into another decade…

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

Obama sings

Jun 27th, 2015 12:05 pm | By

Bloomberg has the whole text of Obama’s eulogy. I watched it all over again on CNN last night.

Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived, that even from a young age, folks knew he was special, anointed. He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful, a family of preachers who spread God’s words, a family of protesters who [worked to] expand voting rights and desegregate the South.

Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching. He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth nor youth’s insecurities. Instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith, and purity.

As a senator, he represented a sprawling swath of lowcountry, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America, a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment—a place that needed somebody like Clem.

We have a lot of places like that in this country. Shamefully many.

Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.

No wonder one of his Senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us, the best of the 46 of us.” Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of AME Church.

That last sentence was one of the places where he heated up a little bit – expressed more emotion and energy, and got more response. It was a call to AME Church, and it got a response.

As our brothers and sisters in the AME Church, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation but the life and community in which our congregation resides.”

He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words, that the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week long, that to put our faith in action is more than just individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation, that to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity, but the imperative of a just society.

If only it didn’t include the god part…

(By which I mean – that’s a beautiful passage, but I can’t fully share it, because to me the concept of god is tyrannical.)

Preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith.

And then to lose him at 41, slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God—Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.

Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people.

I hope not. I hope they didn’t fear god.

I know the phrase doesn’t literally mean that any more, not the way it’s used there – but still, the literal meaning is certainly available.

People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, who persevered, people of great faith. To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African American life … a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah,” rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.

That part made me tear up big time.

They have been and continue to be community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means—our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.

The line about children is another place where he heated up, and got a response. It was a very emotional line and got an emotional response. His “and taught that they matter” was almost shouted. Yeah.

There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church … a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes.

Big response there.

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherers, services happened here anyway in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.

A sacred place, this church, not just for blacks, not just for Christians but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country, a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.

That’s what the church meant.

More passion, more response. Moving as hell.

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history, but he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress … an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas. He didn’t know he was being used by God.

And there was the big peripeteia. That “oh, but” went with a little chuckle. It’s very churchy, evangelical stuff, but moving all the same, even to an atheist. It probably helps that I’d had a secular version of the same thought – that this has gone very badly from the point of view of the racist who did the killings. This isn’t what he had in mind. All this mourning and feeling aren’t what he was aiming for.

Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley, how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond not merely with revulsion at his evil acts, but with (inaudible) generosity. And more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

That. That obviously was not what the killer had in mind.

Obama talks about god’s grace, and how it’s not earned but freely given, and how we don’t deserve it but we got it anyway. And then…

But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens. It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise … as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.

For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression … and racial subjugation.

We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.

It would be a step, but only a step.

For too long, we’ve been blind to be way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias.

That we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.

Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin. Or the station into which they were born and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American. By doing that, we express God’s grace.

Lots of responses now. He starts the next bit, about guns, with “For too long” which got another big response, echoing him.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says, “We have to have a conversation about race.” We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.

None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy. It will not. People of good will will continue to debate the merits of various policies as our democracy requires—the big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates.

Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.

To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

At the end he did a solo of Amazing Grace.

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

Make Ramadan a month of disasters for the infidels

Jun 27th, 2015 11:21 am | By

Meanwhile yesterday there was that triplet of terror-murders in Tunisia and Kuwait and France.

In a matter of hours and on three different continents, militants carried out attacks on Friday that killed scores of civilians, horrified populations and raised thorny questions about the evolving nature of international terrorism and what can be done to fight it.

On the surface, the attacks appeared to be linked only by timing.

In France, a man stormed an American-owned chemical plant, decapitated one person and apparently tried to blow up the facility. In Tunisia, a gunman drew an assault rifle from a beach umbrella and killed at least 38 people at a seaside resort. And in Kuwait, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque during communal prayers, killing at least 25 Shiite worshipers.

I dispute the three continents claim. Eurasia is one continent, not two.

Earlier this week, the spokesman for the Islamic State, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, greeted the group’s followers for Ramadan, telling them that acts during the Muslim holy month earned greater rewards in heaven.

“Muslims, embark and hasten toward jihad,” Mr. Adnani said in an audio message. “O mujahedeen everywhere, rush and go to make Ramadan a month of disasters for the infidels.”

In other words go out and murder as many people as you can because it’s holy month.

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

A member of the Royal Institution

Jun 27th, 2015 9:59 am | By

Now for the Daily Mail article itself. It’s damning.

On the other hand it – of course – makes some mistakes of its own, such as the headline for instance:

A very flawed accuser: Investigation into the academic who hounded a Nobel Prize winning scientist out of his job reveals troubling questions about her testimony

Nobody hounded him out of his job. He didn’t have “a job”; he’s retired; he had honorary positions.

Then there’s this in the body of the article:

Then, early this week, the simmering dispute took a further, seismic twist.

It came courtesy of The Times newspaper, which revealed the contents of a leaked report into Sir Tim’s fall from grace compiled by an EU official who had accompanied him to the Seoul conference.

This individual, who has not been named, sat with him at the lunch and provided a transcript of what Sir Tim ‘really said’.

No. He didn’t provide a “transcript.” He provided an account from memory, just as the account by Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky and Connie St Louis was from memory. There is no transcript (so far).

Supporters of Sir Tim felt he had been vindicated. Among them was Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, who said the leaked memo’s contents showed Sir Tim to be ‘the reverse of a chauvinist monster’.

But Dawkins took a side on this issue years ago, and he clings to it as if it were a life raft in the Bering Sea.

However, Sir Tim’s critics remained unmoved and disputed the EU report’s contents. Importantly, given how the scandal had originally emerged, they were led by Connie St Louis.

She stood by her remarks and told the Mail that she explicitly denied that the scientist’s toast ever contained the words ‘now seriously’.

As a result, this explosive controversy now rests on a single, straightforward question: which of these two, first-hand versions of events is true? Either the anonymous EU official is telling the truth, in which case Sir Tim is a hapless victim, guilty of nothing more than telling a misjudged joke. Or Connie St Louis, the architect of the witch-hunt against him, is in the right. In that case, many will continue to argue that he got what he deserved.

No, it doesn’t. That’s ludicrous. The possibility that it was hamfisted “humor” was there all along, and changes nothing. Sexist “jokes” are still sexist. Racist “jokes” are still racist. Homophobic “humor” is still homophobic. Women are very very familiar with “jokes” that are really veiled aggression. So very familiar.

But we’ve been around this dance before; on to the substance about St Louis.

Perhaps, therefore, we should ask two other related questions: who exactly is Connie St Louis? And why, exactly, should we trust her word over that of a Nobel laureate?

A good place to start is the website of London’s City University, where St Louis has, for more than a decade, been employed to run a postgraduate course in science journalism.

Here, on a page outlining her CV, she is described as follows:

‘Connie St Louis . . . is an award-winning freelance broadcaster, journalist, writer and scientist.

‘She presents and produces a range of programmes for BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service . . . She writes for numerous outlets, including The Independent, Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, BBC On Air magazine and BBC Online.’

The reporter Guy Adams dug, and found that all those claims are exaggerated or worse.

For one thing, Connie St Louis does not ‘present and produce’ a range of programmes for Radio 4.

Her most recent work for the station, a documentary about pharmaceuticals called The Magic Bullet, was broadcast in October 2007.

For another, it’s demonstrably false to say she ‘writes’ for The Independent, Daily Mail and The Sunday Times.

Digital archives for all three newspapers, which stretch back at least 20 years, contain no by-lined articles that she has written for any of these titles, either in their print or online editions. The Mail’s accounts department has no record of ever paying her for a contribution.


Elsewhere on the City University web page, readers are led to believe that St Louis has either become, or is soon to become, a published author.

‘She is a recipient of the prestigious Joseph Rowntree Journalist Fellowship to write a book based on her acclaimed two-part Radio 4 documentary series, Raising Ham,’ it reads.

But that is not the full story. In 2005, St Louis did, indeed, receive the liberal organisation’s ‘fellowship’. She was given £50,000, which was supposed to support her while she wrote the book in question.

However, no book was ever published. Or, indeed, written. An entire decade later, the project remains a work in progress.


Earlier this year, she stood, successfully, in an election to become a board member of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ). As part of the election process, St Louis was required to present a detailed CV to voters.

This document, which stretches to six pages, is still on the WFSJ’s website. It contains several deeply questionable statements.

In an early passage, she for example writes: ‘I am a regular contributor to ABC News Worldview TV programme.’ Yet ABC News Worldview has not aired for roughly five years. Factiva, an online search engine which carried transcripts of it, suggests that the last recorded contribution by Connie St Louis to the show was on May 31, 2006.

In another early passage, St Louis writes that she has a second career working for quangos.

‘In November 2002, I was invited and subsequently appointed by the Minister responsible for media, sport and culture to be a board member of UK Sport (the former UK Sports Council) . . . My term of office ended last year but I continue to serve on the audit committee as an external member.’

UK Sport describes things differently. A spokesman says St Louis was appointed to the board in November 2002 but she left in 2005.

St Louis did not respond when asked by the Mail how she can, therefore, claim, in a CV published in 2015, to have been a board member of UK Sport until ‘last year’.


Elsewhere in the six-page CV is a section devoted to ‘Qualification and Training’. In it, St Louis trumpets the fact that she is ‘a member of the Royal Institution’.

Again, very prestigious. Or so it seems, until a spokesman for the Royal Institution told me: ‘Anyone can be a member. It’s simply a service you pay for which entitles you to free tickets to visit us and gives you a discount in our cafe.

‘It’s like having membership of your local cinema or gym.’

Why would someone include such a thing on their CV?

‘Actually, that’s a bit of a problem,’ the spokesman added. ‘We have heard of a few people using membership on their CV to imply that they have some sort of professional recognition or qualification. But it means nothing of the sort. It’s very, very odd to see this on a CV.’

St Louis did not respond when the Mail asked why she cited this membership as a ‘qualification’.

You know what that reminds me of? The Templeton Foundation, which likes to create “Institutions” and the like in places like Cambridge and Oxford so that the unwary will think Templeton’s creations are part of the universities. It also reminds me of the “Global Secular Council.” It’s funny, in a way, but it’s also disgusting.

Connie St Louis appears to be indefensible. Does it follow that Tim Hunt did not make sexist “jokes” at that lunch? No, it doesn’t.

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

Yes, it’s the Daily Mail, but

Jun 27th, 2015 9:25 am | By

The desperate reaction continues.

The Daily Mail did a piece exposing major holes in Connie St Louis’s CV, and Dawkins is claiming that that means Tim Hunt has been “the victim of an injustice.” Of course it doesn’t mean that. If St Louis were the sole source for the story of what Tim Hunt said, then the Mail piece would throw everything in doubt – but she’s not, so it doesn’t.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 8 hours ago
Yes, it’s the Daily Mail, but it’s the most thorough account I’ve seen of the Tim Hunt affair. Detailed & convincing. …

Devastating dissection of the credentials of the only journalist still denying Tim Hunt’s “Now seriously . . .”

Admittedly it’s the Mail. But interesting dissection of the journalistic credentials of Tim Hunt’s main accuser. …

Three tweets in a row, all saying the same thing. Dude’s excited.

8 hours ago
Please, no reverse witch hunt against Tim Hunt’s accusers. But it’d be nice if UCL reinstated him & the affair closed …

No, it wouldn’t. It would not be nice if UCL did that. The provost and president of UCL explained why yesterday. He explained it carefully, with sympathy for Tim Hunt and Mary Collins and respect for both of them, while still saying that “reversing that decision would send entirely the wrong signal.” Dawkins would say the Mail story changes that – but he would be wrong, because St Louis is not the only source.

Dawkins concludes that sequence with a truly infuriating claim.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 8 hours ago
I am a social justice warrior: hate misogyny, all forms of bigotry & injustice. Tim Hunt’s silly joke made him the victim of an injustice.

No. No he’s not and no he doesn’t. He wants to have it both ways, and he can’t. He wants to claim to hate misogyny while still flying into rages when women push back against sexism and misogyny. He can’t do both. It’s not honest and it doesn’t work.

Note that I’m not defending Connie St Louis.

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

With colleagues like him…

Jun 26th, 2015 6:21 pm | By

Jacques Rousseau also thinks Dawkins is mistaken in his response to the Tim Hunt issue.

As with “shirtgate”, where Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor was in the news for wearing a shirt depicting naked women, the Tim Hunt case has prominently featured Richard Dawkins, telling us how to understand feminism and the issue of sexism in science.

It has, yes, and that’s unfortunate, because he’s not well informed about feminism nor is he sympathetic to it.

In his letter to The Times (paywalled, so – sorry – I’m linking to the Daily Mail‘s quotes of the letter), Dawkins says:

Along with many others, I didn’t like Sir Tim Hunt’s joke, but “disproportionate” would be a huge underestimate of the baying witch-hunt that it unleashed among our academic thought police: nothing less than a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness.

‘A writer in the Guardian even described it as “a moment to savour”. To “savour” a moment of human misery – to “savour” the hounding of one of our most distinguished scientists – goes beyond schadenfreude and spills over into cruelty.’

One might hope that Dawkins is demonstrating “disproportionateness” via example, but he’s no doubt serious in this one-sided portrayal of events.

Well I suppose one of these days he could burst out laughing and tell us it’s all been an elaborate hoax, but it seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to for a joke.

When the speaker of the offensive remarks has felt the need to apologise, fully acknowledging that the remarks were inappropriate, seeing a senior male scientist like Dawkins describing reaction to those as a “feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness” is unlikely to reassure anyone who has concerns regarding perceived or actual sexist treatment of women in the workplace.

Indeed it is and that is why it would be so nice if Dawkins would just stop. But he won’t. He apparently likes being the darling of the anti-feminists, so that will be part of his legacy.

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

Empowering empowerment

Jun 26th, 2015 6:03 pm | By

From the Onion, all the way back in 2003.

OBERLIN, OH—According to a study released Monday, women—once empowered primarily via the assertion of reproductive rights or workplace equality with men—are now empowered by virtually everything the typical woman does.

San Diego women empower themselves by eating dinner unaccompanied by men.

“From what she eats for breakfast to the way she cleans her home, today’s woman lives in a state of near-constant empowerment,” said Barbara Klein, professor of women’s studies at Oberlin College and director of the study. “As recently as 15 years ago, a woman could only feel empowered by advancing in a male-dominated work world, asserting her own sexual wants and needs, or pushing for a stronger voice in politics. Today, a woman can empower herself through actions as seemingly inconsequential as driving her children to soccer practice or watching the Oxygen network.”

If a woman does it, that’s a woman having agency, and having agency is empowering, therefore it’s empowering. Game over, everybody go home!


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

Satan will pee on your hair

Jun 26th, 2015 5:50 pm | By

I was reminded of the dirty fly-blown women metaphor by Iram Ramzan’s post about Hanna Yusuf’s creepy “my hijab is a feminist statement!” video.

Hanna goes on to say that the hijab “resists commercial imperatives that support consumer culture”. It is true that in the world we live in, capitalism has made consumers of us all – including Muslim women.

In fact, Muslims comprise one of the fastest growing consumer markets in the world! The ‘halal’ industry is huge. Everywhere you go there will be an Islamic store selling you all sorts of ‘Islamic’ goods including hijabs and hijab accessories for women. Far from sticking two fingers up to Western consumerism, Muslim women are embracing it, matching their hijab with the latest trendy garments on offer in British high street stores and offering tutorials for other Muslimahs to follow.

Hanna wants us to respect her choice to wear hijab while denigrating women who don’t wear it, suggesting they’re slaves of the western fashion industry. So what does your decision to wear hijab make you, Hanna?

Someone who thought of a cool way to escape consumerism and the fashion industry all by herself, by independently inventing a way of wrapping up the head and neck in a manner that just happens to look like a familiar religious garment. What a free spirit! And the lacy dress and makeup are her own invention too.

And, correct me if I am wrong, there are no countries in the world that make the wearing of a bikini mandatory unlike the hijab, which is compulsory in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Women in those countries are flogged if they disobey the strict dress code. What happened to their choice? It is easy for Hanna, a privileged Western woman, to insist it’s her choice, but about the rights of her sisters in Muslim countries? They do not have that luxury.

If wearing the hijab is a feminist symbol of rejection of western objectification of women as sex objects then does that mean wearing the full Afghan style burqa or Saudi style niqab is a stronger feminist statement, as both garments remove all identifiers of the woman as a sexualised individual?

No. Unless Hanna Yusuf decides in the future to wear a burqa or abaya, in which case yes. (But if she does she will have invented the burqa or abaya herself. It won’t be the one that’s already been invented.)

When I was nine years old, I was taught in mosque that if I did not cover my hair, Satan would urinate on it. No wonder it looks great, I hear you say. Jokes aside, imagine hearing that as a young child. Not only was it terrifying but the concept of shame was instilled in me at a young age, something which is the case for many young girls around the world. Many Muslim women who do not wear the hijab are constantly made to feel guilty about it.

Well, you know…flies…

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

Using disgust

Jun 26th, 2015 5:38 pm | By

That wrapped/unwrapped candy metaphor…

How compelling can it be when it applies only to women? If women get all fly-blown and filthy because their heads are naked, why don’t men? If women with fly-blown hair are gross and disgusting, why aren’t men?

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

The idea that human dignity is innate

Jun 26th, 2015 4:10 pm | By

Clarence Thomas’s dissent is getting a lot of attention, all of it in the form of incredulous derision. (I hang with a rough crowd.)

It starts on page 78.

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the
Constitution, but with the principles upon which our
Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been
understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement
to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty.
Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a
“liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to
the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect.


How is it to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect? Which liberty? Just liberty in general? I can’t see it. He must mean our liberty to take things away from people we consider oooky in some way.

Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of
Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests
instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion
of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts
the relationship between the individual and the state in
our Republic. I cannot agree with it.

Oh good grief, how childish. Cue Gary Cooper standing strong-jawed and knocking down a building, because Freedom.

On to page 93 and his already-notorious claims about human dignity.

Human dignity has long been understood in this country
to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration
of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred
to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image
of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which
this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity
cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not
lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity)
because the government allowed them to be enslaved.
Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity
because the government confined them. And those denied
governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity
because the government denies them those benefits. The
government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it

Oh gawd. That’s such an appalling thing to say. He’s taking the thought that oppressed people use in order to hang on to their own inner sense of dignity under horrible conditions, and treating it as a true claim about reality. It’s not a true claim about reality – it’s a huge lie about reality. Of course slaves lost their dignity because the government allowed them to be enslaved, and that was one of the many outrages against them. Slavery stole their dignity from them.

Government can take dignity away so easily and so thoroughly. Imprisonment, torture, death, denial of rights – all are ways to take dignity away. It’s great if people can feel they still have their dignity inside despite that, but that does not take the onus off government.

George H W Bush has a lot to answer for.

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

Supreme confusion

Jun 26th, 2015 3:04 pm | By

The Supreme Court IS NOT the Supreme Being, says Mike Huckabee. No, it’s not, and neither is the supreme being.

That is, the imagined tyrant in Mike Huckabee’s head does not exist and has no authority over us, no matter how ardently Mike Huckabee insists it does and it has.

Mike Huckabee thinks he gets to treat his god as the boss of all of us, even those of us who pay enough attention to realize that Huckabee’s projected god is just a fantasy. Mike Huckabee is wrong. He may some day be able to do it by force, but he has no right to.

Mike Huckabee doesn’t get to say that because his imaginary Big Bully hates same-sex marriage, the law should forbid same-sex marriage. Nobody elected Mike Huckabee’s Big Bully.

If you can’t negotiate with it, it’s not a legitimate authority.

Away with it, into the attic with the rest of the junk.

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

Vote for the theocrat!

Jun 26th, 2015 2:53 pm | By

Quoth Mike Huckabee:

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

Remember the nine

Jun 26th, 2015 11:13 am | By

It’s a good day, with the ruling, but it’s also the day of Clementa Pinckney’s funeral.

There’s live video of the funeral service.

And live updating by the Guardian.

The pastor is singing – Ship of Zion. Quite impossible not to be moved by it.

The Obamas and Biden have arrived. Everyone is singing “It is well in my soul.” There are a lot of pastors in purple on the…stage? Podium? The raised place in front, facing the congregation. It occurs to me that they can all be thinking, “I could have been one.”

“Put his eyes to the telescope of eternity.”

This song I actually know.

The Guardian is transcribing live for me, so I don’t have to.

The president is speaking now.

“The bible tells us to hope and persevere,” he began.

Obama went on to say that while he did not know Pinckney well, he did meet him when they were both young – when Obama had fewervisible grey hairs.

Obama said Pinckney came from a family of preachers and a family of protesters who fought for the right to vote and helped desegregate the South.

As he speaks, you can hear murmurs of agreement from the crowd.

Pinckney was a good man, Obama says, adding: “You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man.” According to Obama, that js all one can hope for when eulogizing anyone – that after all the résumés are read, that the person be a good person.

Obama names all nine people shot dead last week: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr, Reverend Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson.

“To the families of fallen, the nation shares in your grief. The church is and always has been the center of African American life. A place to call our own in often hostile world. A sanctuary from many hardships.”

It’s very very churchy and goddy. It had to be.

The Black church is our beating heart, says Obama.

“There is no better example of this than Mother Emanuel.”

Obama says that it is not known if the suspect in the shooting knew the history of the church he targeted, but says he probably sensed its meaning.

“[It was] an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepend divisions that track back to our nation’s original sin,” says Obama.

“God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas. He didn’t know he was being used by God.”

He said the mysterious ways part with a preacherly little chuckle. It was a peripateia – he set up the tragedy and then turned it.

To great applause, Obama says that “the alleged killer” was blinded by hatred; that the alleged killer could not see the grace around Pinckney and the bible study group as they opened the doors of the church to him.

He could not see, the president says, that the families of victims would respond with words of forgiveness or that the nation would respond not with revulsion but with a retrospection and self-examination that we so rarely see.

And now he’s talking directly about race and racism. The Guardian has paused in its transcribing for the moment.

“For too long” – that gets a stir of applause and murmurs.

“We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut – we don’t need more talk.”

“An open heart” – that’s what we need now, he says.

The dude is singing.

That’s it.

The Guardian has caught up:

Obama says that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s remarks calling for removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol were worthy of praise.

Obama says that the “flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride” – a remark which is greeted by great applause.

“For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of system oppression and racial segregation,” Obama says.

Removing the flag is not an act of political correctness, Obama says, but a sign that the cause for which the Confederates fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.

That got a lot of applause.

Here’s the part where he got into it:

Obama says we all must think about conscious and unconscious racial discrimination in our every day lives. Not just about racial slurs, but also about how we want to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal.

We have to begin by treating every child equally no matter their race or the station they were born into, he says.

Obama also says we need to open our eyes to the mayhem of gun violence.

“Sporadically our eyes are open,” he says, as when people are shot at an elementary school, at a movie theatre, or in the basement of a church.

We should also not forget about the 30 lives lost to gun violence every day, he adds. Or the survivors, who are crippled by guns, or children now fearful and communities overflowing with grief.

Every time another act of gun violence occurs, someone says we need to talk about race, says Obama.

We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.

Pinckney “understood that justice stems from recognition … that my liberty depends on you being free too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice,” says Obama.

Instead, he says, history must be used as a manual to break the cycle.

It was powerful.

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

Our support for women in science was and is the ultimate concern

Jun 26th, 2015 10:38 am | By

The provost of UCL has issued a new statement.

Does he apologize and offer to reinstate Tim Hunt as an honorary professor?


UCL was the first University in England to admit women on equal terms to men. Equality between the sexes is one of our core values, yet this past fortnight our commitment to women and to women in science has been challenged, our reputation put under pressure and we have been part of an intense and uncomfortable media storm.

The trigger for this was remarks about the place of women in science made by Sir Tim Hunt. I don’t intend to repeat or re-analyse who said what, where or when, and thereby provide more fuel for media speculation. I will simply restate that when on the 10th June Sir Tim sent in his resignation from his honorary position with UCL, as Provost I sanctioned acceptance of that resignation in good faith on the basis that it was his personal choice as the honourable thing to do.

First let me say that I do regret that my acceptance of that resignation, and our announcement of it, has led to so much personal difficulty for Sir Tim and also for Professor Mary Collins, who is a highly respected and valued senior member of staff at UCL. I met with Mary last week and also spoke to Sir Tim by phone. Some regrets were expressed in both directions.

There has been a great deal of comment, but I would point readers of this article to two very high quality blogs on this subject by eminent women scientists, one written by Dorothy Bishop that is supportive of UCL’s position and one, for balance, that is less supportive from Athene Donald.

For both of these blogs it is worth reading the comments sections to see just how divided society and the world of science is about this problem. My own inbox has been full of that divided opinion both external and internal to UCL and after discussing the whole issue with our heads of departments and other leaders earlier this week, I felt that it was now important for me to make my views known to our UCL community and the world at large.

What good can come of this episode and what ultimately is the big picture that UCL should now focus its energies and efforts on? Equality, diversity and the greatest good for the greatest number are enshrined in our Benthamite origins. Those values hold true to this day and we constantly try to live up to them.

To a significant extent, we, like many other universities, have failed to achieve the level of equality and diversity that we aspire to. We have been self-critical in this regard and have identified the need to do better as a key part of our strategy, UCL 2034. We are making slow (some would say glacial) progress on gender equality and are working hard to tackle racialised inequalities (perhaps an even more complex issue) head on. Women now make up 33% of the senior academic and professional staff in grades 9 and 10.

Because we are not satisfied with this level of progress, we have adopted the Athena Swan methodology widely across the institution and have now achieved more Athena Swan Silver awards than any other University and have just submitted our application for an institutional Silver award. We are also one of the pilot universities in the Race Equality Charter Mark scheme and have just submitted that too. Every faculty and professional service has an equality action plan that is being implemented and all members of the Senior Management Team have personal objectives with respect to equality and diversity.

In other words Equality and Diversity is not just an aspiration at UCL but informs our everyday thinking and our actions. It was for this very reason that Sir Tim’s remarks struck such a discordant note. Our ambition is to create a working environment in which women feel supported and valued at work. To be frank, a reputation for such helps us attract the very best women to UCL, including women in science. Athene Donald’s blog contains some excellent practical suggestions for what we should actually do to improve things for women in science, all of which I agree with.

There have been many calls for me to reverse my decision to accept Sir Tim Hunt’s resignation from his honorary post at UCL, but there have also been very significant representations to me not to do so, including, but not only, from women in science. Our view is that reversing that decision would send entirely the wrong signal and I have reason to believe that Sir Tim would also not want that to happen.

An honorary appointment is meant to bring honour both to the person and to the University. Sir Tim has apologised for his remarks, and in no way do they diminish his reputation as a scientist. However, they do contradict the basic values of UCL – even if meant to be taken lightly – and because of that I believe we were right to accept his resignation. Our commitment to gender equality and our support for women in science was and is the ultimate concern.

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost

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