Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

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

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

As long as she lives, she will not be silenced

Jun 20th, 2015 5:33 pm | By

This is from April. I didn’t see it then. I’m glad I didn’t – I was freaking out enough as it was. It’s the Daily Mail:

There is no hint of fear in her eyes as feminist writer Taslima Nasreen tells Mail Today that Bangladeshi terror group Ansarullah Bangla Team is plotting to cross over to India and then travel to the Capital to kill her.

The group takes its ideology from Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based al-Qaeda activist, and has been involved in the murders of America-based writer Avijit Roy and blogger Washiqur Rahman last month for “criticising Islam”.

Taslima, if Indian intelligence agencies are to be believed, may very well be their next target.

“Members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team are so brazen that they post online hate messages before they attack,” says Taslima.

“They had done that before killing Avijit and Washiqur and now they are posting hate messages targeting me. It is scary. But as long as I live, I will not be silenced.”

That’s Taslima.

One of the reasons why Washiqur was attacked was for wishing Taslima on her birthday. On his Facebook page, Rahman also reposted a cartoon depicting Prophet Mohammed from French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. 


“Washiqur’s murderers are madrasa students. They were brainwashed by the Ansarullah Bangla Team. They were ordered by their madrasa teacher to kill Washiqur,” says 52- year-old Taslima

“Madrasas and mosques are breeding ground for terrorists. But governments still continue to build more madrasas and mosques all over the country to get votes from ignorant masses.

“I am not surprised when I hear freethinkers are getting murdered in Bangladesh.”

Jugantor newspaper in Dhaka reported on April 2 that Dhaka Mahanagar police detective department has come across startling revelations while interrogating Washiqur’s killers.

They have reportedly confessed that members of the Ansarullah Bengali Team are infiltrating into India with a plan to assassinate Taslima in Delhi.

I’m glad she’s out of there.

It was such a joy to see her again last week. We hugged and hugged and hugged.

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

Mezon, who hopes to be a journalist one day

Jun 20th, 2015 5:11 pm | By

This is a nice change from surly pig-headed anti-feminist science dudes – A Mighty Girl on another mighty girl.

Dubbed the ‘Malala’ of Syrian refugees, 16-year-old Mezon Almellehan goes from tent to tent each morning to encourage girls in her camp to go to school. “We have the right to attend school and I feel I have a responsibility towards the community,’ Almellehan told the Malala Fund. ‘As a girl, I can find friendly ways to convince a girl to continue with her studies.'”

Today marks World Refugee Day, an annual observance to raise awareness of the plight of the nearly 60 million refugees in the world today — more than any time in recorded history. Like four million of her fellow Syrians, Mezon fled from her war-torn country with her family and now lives in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. According to the UN, half the world’s refugees are children like Mezon.

Last year, Mezon had the opportunity to meet Malala Yousafzai during the girls’ education activist’s visit to the Zaatari refugee camp where Mezon was living at the time. Malala was so impressed by Mezon’s passion for education that she invited her to be one of her guests when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway last December.

Mezon, who hopes to be a journalist one day, faces many obstacles — such as the fact that her school lacks electricity — but she remains undaunted in her pursuit of education and her efforts to encourage other girls to continue their studies. Malala has also been a major inspiration to this determined Mighty Girl: “To me, Malala is a big hero because she suffered a lot and she almost died of her injury. For me, as a refugee, this means I do not have to give up hope, which means I can get an education.”

To read more about Mezon on the Malala Fund blog, visit

Nearly two million Syrian refugees like Mezon live in camps run by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency — to help support their efforts to save the lives of these families fleeing war, visit


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


Jun 20th, 2015 4:22 pm | By

Originally a comment by MrFancyPants on But we have to wait.

A related personal anecdote.

My mother’s family is Estonian, with a tradition of Saturday evening sauna baths. It starts in the early afternoon, with the women of the family preparing a large meal while the men do whatever. Just about the time the meal is being finished, the men go into the sauna and spend 30-40 minutes there. It’s a wet sauna, so they enter into a warm, dry, very comfortable sauna room, and proceed to get the benches very wet. After the hot sauna, we men then wash up in a connected anteroom, getting that room soaking wet as well, and then get dressed and begin the untouched meal that the women had set out while the women proceed down to the sauna. The men then finish their meal, and retire to have coffee (also preprepared by the women) in the adjacent room. The women then finish their sauna to come up to what is left of the meal, and then they clean up the dishes and join the men. The next day, they cleaned up the sauna.

Growing up, I thought this was just normal. Nobody complained, and it had always been done that way. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that (1) going into a sauna second, after it has already been used by another group, is not anywhere nearly as nice as entering the warm dry room initially, (2) the women did ALL the work, from food preparation to cleanup of both the dishes and kitchen as well as the sauna, (3) the men considered it their day of relaxation (which it was, because all they did was relax!), while for the women it was just another day of work.

I once suggested that the roles be reversed, and that the women use the sauna first, while the men prepared the meal. One of my uncles is a very good cook, and I’m not shabby myself, so it’s not like it was undoable. The very idea was met with incredulity–we ALWAYS did it this way before, why should I want to change it now, they asked.

I haven’t been back to participate in that “tradition” ever since, but from what I hear, my much younger cousins (and their wives) are continuing it exactly as before. Mind you, this is in Sweden, where my mother’s family has lived since fleeing the invading Russians in WWII. Sweden, which is not exactly known for being grossly unfair to women, and where my cousins were born and have lived their entire lives, making them basically culturally Swedish. It’s not even possible to make the argument that the women did the housework while the men earned incomes, because—being Sweden—both the women as well as the men hold jobs for pay. They just do all the housework and come second, too.

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


Jun 20th, 2015 4:03 pm | By

Rick Perry called the terrorist shooting at Emanuel AME church an “accident” while complaining about Obama’s suggestion that unrestricted availability of guns is not a fabulous idea.

The former Texas governor was asked about the mass shooting at Emanuel AME church during an interview with the conservative NewsmaxTV. A spokesman for Perry later clarified that the Republican presidential candidate meant to say “incident,” but the soundbyte drew immediate attention and backlash.

Hi, just an ordinary citizen here, but I think “incident” is a pretty callous word to use too. That was no incident, that was a racist mass murder.

In addition to steering the conversation away from race and terrorism, Perry also accused Barack Obama of trying to take firearms away from the American people by pushing for stricter gun laws in the wake of mass shootings like the one in Charleston.

“This is the MO of this administration, any time there is an accident like this, the president is clear. He doesn’t like for Americans to have guns and so he uses every opportunity, this being another one, to basically go parrot that message,” Perry said.

Right. Obama probably told Roof to kill those people, just so that he could be harsh about guns. Let’s not forget, this is America, where the right of white men – not black anyone, don’t be silly – to have all the guns they want is way more important than the right of black people to go on living.

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

Guest post: Atheism in Zambia

Jun 20th, 2015 11:18 am | By

Guest post by Leo Igwe.

Like other countries in Africa, Zambia is a very religious nation and has the dubious of distinction of being officially declared a Christian nation by President Federick Chiluba in 1996. One need not look far to see where Chiluba got the political will to establish this Christian nation. Eighty seven percent of the population is Christian and only twelve percent profess other faiths. The number of non-believers is too low to measure. Apparently, Zambia is 100 percent religious and theistic.

But recently, the country’s religious demography has begun to change. Atheists are leaving their closets and are starting to organise. Atheists in Zambia are becoming assertive and are making their voices heard. They are standing up and identifying as atheists in public. An atheist group has just been formed in Zambia and a Facebook page has been created. It is called the Atheists in Zambia. This group is the first of its kind in the country and signals a bright and promising future for freethought in this Southern African country.

It is not clear why the members of this group chose to identify as atheist, rather than sceptics, freethinkers, humanists or rationalists. Why didn’t they choose other labels which engender less stigma?

Their eagerness to state unambiguously that they are people without God speaks volumes for the group’s vision, passion and conviction. Members want to tell the world that there are godless people in the ‘Christian state’ of Zambia. The situation in Zambia is not too different from that found in Nigeria or Ghana where almost the entire population self-identify as God believers yet atheist groups exist and are active.

Atheism is not really a recent development in Zambia. What is new is organised atheism. There have been non-religious and non-theistic people in the country for years. Atheism in Zambia may actually be as old as the country itself.

Over a decade ago I worked to establish an African Humanist Alliance and in the course of building the network I corresponded with a Zambian atheist and activist, Wilfred Makayi. He was based in Solwezi and later relocated to the capital, Lusaka.

Makayi worked and campaigned to promote humanism and freethought in the country. He organised events to discuss humanist and freethought issues. In one of his mails, he told me it was difficult for him to get his humanist articles published in the local media. Makayi made little progress in terms of building an organisation and in bringing a humanist and sceptical perspective to issues. But this was before the Internet was introduced.

Today the Internet has brought a lot of changes and opportunities for atheism. It provides atheists with an alternative space for meeting, community building and finding an audience. Hence I am optimistic about the future of this new group of atheists in Zambia. The Internet has made organisation and mobilisation very much easier. If atheists in Zambia cannot meet physically, they can meet online and they can remain in touch via their Facebook page and other digital services.

The main problem is that many atheists in Africa have remained in the closet because of the social and political pressures on people to identify as religious even when they do not believe in God. Africans born into Muslim families cannot renounce their faith because there are penalties for apostasy up to and including death. Consequently, they are forced to pay lip service to Allah. Of course, this is no longer religion or exercising religious freedom. It is more akin to forced mental slavery.

In most parts of Africa, atheism is taboo and being identified as an atheist is a form of stigma. The public perception of atheism is strongly negative—a prejudice that is deeply embedded by the indoctrination and brainwashing which most Africans receive from cradle to grave. Atheists are perceived as people without morals and who cannot be trusted. Many atheists are forced to conceal their atheism when they are in relationship or running for political office. Many atheists find it difficult to come out to their family and friends because they fear persecution and discrimination. Some atheists do not come out to their employers because they could be sacked if they did so.

So there are few atheists out there who are prepared to withstand the pressures and weather the religious storms from theistic family members, friends, employers and state and non-state actors.

This concern has held back atheism in Africa and contributed to the bloated religious demography in many African countries. Fortunately, the situation is beginning to change. Atheism is becoming increasingly visible in many African countries, including those countries once categorised as religious strongholds. People are beginning to realise the positive and enlightening possibilities of atheism, particularly as a resource in combating superstition and religious extremism.

The wind of atheist emancipation is blowing across Africa.

Atheists in Zambia have their job cut out for them in terms of changing attitudes towards atheists and atheism. But more importantly, they need to tackle superstition and religious fanaticism that is destroying lives in Southern Africa. Zambia is a very superstitious society. Atheists need to start a conversation with other Zambians on the existence of God, Satan, witches, demons, the potency of ritual sacrifice etc. Many people in Zambia believe witchcraft is real. Recently there have been reports of witch killing, the killing of Satanists, of albinos and the murder and mutilation of persons for ritual purposes. While atheists in Zambia fight to de-stigmatise atheism, they need as a matter of urgency, to put in place programs and activities that can help reason Zambians out of superstition, encourage critical thinking and eradicate religious and cultural practices that darken and destroy the lives of people in the country.

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

Strange fruit

Jun 20th, 2015 10:43 am | By

Dawkins called the women scientists who object to Tim Hunt’s contemptuous remarks “lynch mobs.” He should read – and pay attention to – this piece from a few weeks ago by Charles Blow.

Last week, the Baltimore police union president, Gene Ryan,compared those protesting the death of Freddie Gray to a “lynch mob.”

Freddie Gray was the 25-year-old Baltimore man who died of grave, mysterious injuries after being taken into police custody. Gray’s family, citizens of Baltimore and indeed those of the nation have questions. And yes, there is a palpable frustration and fatigue that yet another young person of color has died after an encounter with police officers.

So, there have been protests.

Aaaaaaaand of all things not to call them, you would think “lynch mobs” would be right at the top of the list. It’s not police officers who have been the historic victims of lynch mobs, is it.

So, there have been protests. But protests are not the same as a lynch mob, and to conflate the two diminishes the painful history of this country and unfairly slanders the citizens who have taken to the streets.

Because lynch mobs have been a real thing in this country, and Baltimore cops have not been their chief targets.

Maybe Mr. Ryan does not appreciate the irony that it was not the officers’ bodies that video showed being dragged limp and screaming through the street, but that of Mr. Gray. Maybe Mr. Ryan does not register coincidence that actual lynching often damages or cuts the spinal cord, and according to a statement by the Gray family’s attorney, Gray’s spine was “80 percent severed at his neck.”

And this is not the first protest of the killing of people of color where “lynch mobs” have been invoked.

Fox News’s Howard Kurtz accused “some liberal outlets” of “creating almost a lynch mob mentality” in Ferguson.”

Possible presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also compared Ferguson protesters to lynch mobs, as did Laura Ingraham, FrontPage magazine and an opinion piece on The Daily Caller.

In 2013, after almost completely peaceful protests the weekend after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Newt Gingrich said that protesters were “prepared, basically, to be a lynch mob.”

So this is a popular right-wing trope that Dawkins is using. He’s become the worst kind of hectoring reactionary shouter, shaking his fist at feminists and other “PC” types.

These “lynch mob” invocations are an incredible misuse of language, in which the lexicon of slaughter, subjugation and suffering are reduced to mere colloquialism, and therefore bleached of the blood in which it was originally written and used against the people who were historically victims of the atrocities.

“Lynch mob” is the same ghastly rhetorical overreach that is often bandied about in political discussions — including in this column I wrote seven years ago. It was a too-extreme comparison then, and it’s a too-extreme comparison now.

Nothing that political partisans or protesters have done — nothing! — comes remotely close to the barbarism executed by the lynch mobs that stain this country’s history.

Clarence Thomas notoriously did the same thing – as he was being considered for a Supreme Court seat he was drastically underqualified for.

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

Dawkins complains of a lynch mob

Jun 20th, 2015 9:57 am | By

The great man is still on the job.


Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins
Tim Hunt. Eight Nobel scientists condemn “lynch mob” … “Chilling effect on . . . academic freedom” #ReinstateTimHunt

There is no lynch mob, not even in scare quotes. Tim Hunt hasn’t been harmed. He hasn’t been beaten or stabbed or dragged behind a truck or thrown in a river or hanged from a tree. He hasn’t lost a job. He lost honorary positions, and respect.

On the other hand Dawkins later tweeted a different thought:

Young woman at Doctor Who Cares asked me whether she should go into science. Yes yes yes yes YESS. Please do. We need more women scientists.

That’s nice, but it’s also very easy. He says yes yes yes, but at the same time he calls women in science who protest against Tim Hunt’s public contempt for them a “lynch mob.” He calls them baying witch-hunters. He says yes women should go into science, but he also says no women should not publicly protest public contempt from senior male scientists. He says if they do he will call them names, not just on Twitter but also in letters to the Times.

Those are arduous conditions, and they’re unfair. “You can work here, we want you to work here, but you have to put up with a hostile work environment. We want you to work here, but only if you smile politely when we up here at the top feel like throwing some shit down at you. We want you to work here, but only if you accept that we consider you our inferiors. We want you to work here, but if you talk back we will use our power to make your lives shitty.”

Put it this way: “We need more women scientists” and “#ReinstateTimHunt” don’t go together.

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

But we have to wait

Jun 20th, 2015 9:35 am | By

I’m seeing this in a few places on Facebook:


What a horrible “tradition” to come up with – all these ways of separating people into the favored ones who get the good things first, and the others, who don’t.

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

Looking north

Jun 20th, 2015 8:54 am | By

For a spot of refreshment – Taslima tweeted me one of the landscape photos she took on Sunday. It’s a view of the gorge, looking north toward Lake Ontario – I think that might be the lake in the distance, but I’m not sure. I loved this view.

It had rained like hell most of the afternoon, but had stopped at this point.

Embedded image permalink

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

UCL has a commitment to gender equality

Jun 20th, 2015 8:49 am | By

It seems timely and necessary to post UCL’s press release about Tim Hunt’s resignation.

10 June 2015

UCL can confirm that Sir Tim Hunt FRS has today resigned from his position as Honorary Professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, following comments he made about women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists on 9 June.

UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality.

See that? That’s important. The people squawking about witch hunts and packs of baying women with pitchforks seem to think that UCL pushed Tim Hunt out to punish him for expressing his contempt for “girls.” That’s fatuous. UCL didn’t want to keep an honorary professor who had expressed his contempt for “girls” to a group of women scientists at a professional conference. Of course it didn’t! If UCL had kept him on then it would have seemed to endorse, or at least refuse to reject, his publicly professionally expressed contempt for “girls” in the lab. That would be an abysmal outcome.

The title of UCL Honorary Professor is reserved for individuals who are closely linked to one of UCL’s academic departments (or Institutes) and who are from a non-UCL academic/research institution. The appointee should be of an academic standing equivalent to that of Professor at UCL. It does not carry a salary, and does not ordinarily involve teaching or research at UCL, with activities undertaken in consultation with the relevant Department.

Updated statement – 15th June 2015

Sir Tim Hunt’s personal decision to offer his resignation from his honorary position at UCL was a sad and unfortunate outcome of the comments he made in a speech last week. Media and online commentary played no part in UCL’s decision to accept his resignation.

Sir Tim held an honorary position at  UCL. He was not, and never has been, employed by UCL at any stage of his career and did not receive a salary from UCL.

That’s important too. It was an honorary position. UCL didn’t fire him; he didn’t work for UCL.

UCL sought on more than one occasion to make contact with Sir Tim to discuss the situation, but his resignation was received before direct contact was established.

UCL accepted his resignation of his honorary position in good faith, and in doing so sent a clear signal that equality and diversity are truly valued at UCL. We continue to be open to engagement and dialogue on how we can best deliver on our commitment to these values.

I think the part about “in good faith” must mean that they’re not happy about the way he’s whining and complaining now.

UCL did the right thing. Tim Hunt is acting like an entitled petulant baby.

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

They warned of a chilling effect on academics’ freedom to speak their minds

Jun 20th, 2015 8:11 am | By

More from the “can’t somebody make those women shut up?” campaign, via the ever-reactionary Telegraph.

Eight Nobel prizewinners have come to the defence of Sir Tim Hunt, the scientist at the centre of a sexism row following his comments on the “trouble with girls” in laboratories.

They warned of a chilling effect on academics’ freedom to speak their minds after Sir Tim was forced to resign his honorary post at University College London amid pressure from social media users.

UCL has said that social media users had nothing to do with it. The Telegraph doesn’t exactly say they did – “amid” is a very handy word for that purpose – but it certainly means the reader to get that impression.

And then, this “freedom to speak their minds” shit. Nobody needs academics to feel free to say things like “we don’t want any Pakis in our labs” or “black people can’t do science anyway” or “girls are a nuisance in our labs.”

Nobody needs academics to feel free to give bad comedy routines at professional conferences and nobody needs them to feel free to disparage and belittle groups of people who are below them on the stupid antiquated retrograde Great Chain of Being hierarchy that we need to get rid of. Academics have responsibilities as well as freedoms, and one of their major responsibilities is equal treatment. Academics who feel they desperately need freedom to “speak their minds” about the inferiority of Other races or genders or classes or ethnicities or orientations are doing academitude wrong. Universities are not there to be gentlemen’s clubs.

Sir Andre Geim, of the University of Manchester who shared the Nobel prize for physics in 2010 said that Sir Tim had been “crucified” by ideological fanatics , and castigated UCL for “ousting” him.

No he wasn’t. There was no cross. No torture, no execution, no stigmata, no death. And it’s not ideological fanaticism to object to a senior male scientist telling a group of women scientists at a professional event that he thinks “girls” are a problem in the lab.

Sir Andre told The Times: “The saddest part is probably the reaction by the UCL top brass who forced Tim to resign. So much for the freedom of expression by the very people who should be guardians of academic freedom.”

Bollocks. What if Tim actually had said all that dreck about “Pakis”? Would the eight Nobel laureates be defending him then? I can’t know the answer to a conditional, but I suspect they wouldn’t – because the not-okness would be too glaring even for them to miss. But when it’s just “girls”? That’s different. Why is it different? I guess it’s because women just don’t matter, plus if they get too comfortable in the labs maybe they won’t make the Nobel laureates’ dinner any more.

Jack Szostak, of Harvard University, a Nobel prizewinning medical biologist, said that it was “frightening to see how one stupid comment can ignite a global firestorm of criticism”.

Well dry yourself off, Dr Szostak, and deal with it. Put your big boy pants on. Stop crying every time someone criticizes you. If you really need to make stupid comments about women and other underlings, just save them for social occasions. Don’t barf them out in talks at professional conferences. That’s really not asking all that much.

The other Nobel laureates who criticised the college’s treatment of Sir Tim included the medical academic Randy Schekman, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Sir Anthony Leggett, professor of physics at the University of Illinois.

Avram Hershko, an Israeli scientist who won the 2004 Nobel prize in chemistry, said he thought Sir Tim was “very unfairly treated.”

All the women discouraged and turned away by remarks of the kind Sir Tim made? Oh they don’t matter – they’re just peasants, and girl-peasants at that.

In conclusion – no, we are not going to shut up.

H/t Jennifer Phillips

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

Guest post: Women have to tiptoe around men

Jun 20th, 2015 7:43 am | By

Originally two comments by guest on His claims work to identify women as caste-inferiors.


@1: It just occurred to me that the difference between the kind of interaction you describe, which is both common and useful, and Tim Hunt’s peculiar reaction to criticism in this situation is that men don’t like to be criticised by women. I know in my own work I have to be very cautious, and have developed all sorts of elaborate roundabout ways of expressing criticism, to make sure my points are heard and the men I’m criticising don’t have emotional meltdowns instead of engaging and learning as you’ve described. And this is particularly interesting in light of Hunt’s ‘women just cry when you criticise them’ thing.


After writing that comment I realised something that I’m going to share here, because it’s only just occurred to me how important it is to me. A year or so ago I was in a room with a female client and a male engineer. The male engineer physically attacked us when the female client pointed out, in a perfectly calm and rational way, that he had not demonstrated how his proposals met the requirements she’d stated in her project description. I’ve only just realised that this incident has had a significant effect on my career prospects–both I and my boss are now reluctant to assign me to any project he’s involved in, and it turns out that the projects he works on are ones that I’d be interested in doing and would excel in. I’m planning to leave this job, and leave STEM, imminently, and have literally only just realised that the fact that this man threatened me, and is now indirectly keeping me from being assigned to work I’m well suited for and could use to demonstrate my skills, is part of the reason.

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

Solar power

Jun 19th, 2015 6:20 pm | By

I’ve been meaning to get to this for days. You’ve known it for days, but I want to post about it anyway, just because. I’m talking about the fact that Philae woke up.

The European Space Agency (Esa) says its comet lander, Philae, has woken up and contacted Earth.

Philae, the first spacecraft to land on a comet, was dropped on to the surface of Comet 67P by its mothership, Rosetta, last November.

It worked for 60 hours before its solar-powered battery ran flat.

The comet has since moved nearer to the Sun and Philae has enough power to work again, says the BBC’s science correspondent Jonathan Amos.

They thought it might, but they thought it might not.

An account linked to the probe tweeted the message, “Hello Earth! Can you hear me?”

On its blog, Esa said Philae had contacted Earth, via Rosetta, for 85 seconds on Saturday in the first contact since going into hibernation in November.

Esa’s senior scientific advisor, Prof Mark McCaughrean, told the BBC: “It’s been a long seven months, and to be quite honest we weren’t sure it would happen – there are a lot of very happy people around Europe at the moment.”

Philae was carrying large amounts of data that scientists hoped to download once it made contact again, he said.

“I think we’re optimistic now that it’s awake that we’ll have several months of scientific data to pore over,” he added.


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

The hell with the Southern way of life

Jun 19th, 2015 5:39 pm | By

Why is there even “debate” about the slavery flag?

The conflict over the banner of the Confederacy has been raging for decades between those who feel it is a symbol of free speech, and others who see it as a symbol of white supremacy.


Who the hell sees that rag as a symbol of free speech? Of course it’s not – it’s no such thing. (The Confederacy outlawed lots of kinds of speech, because it had to, because it held people in slavery. It couldn’t afford free speech. It was a tyranny keeping a majority in chains – does that sound like a home of free speech to you?) If you see the Confederate flag you don’t think ah yes, free speech. It’s a symbol of the Confederacy, and slavery. That’s it.

Cornell William Brooks, national president of the N.A.A.C.P., said on Friday that those who said the flag was “merely a symbol of years gone by” had it all wrong. The flag, he said, is an “emblem of hate” that should be banished from public life.

People have been watching too much Gone With the Wind if they think that. If they want years gone by they can get some Shaker furniture, or read Dickens, or listen to Mozart. They don’t need a damn white supremacist flag.

Elsewhere, writers and academics found fault in the argument that the flag was meant to preserve a Southern way of life. In a post for The Atlantic titled “Take Down the Confederate Flag — Now,” Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that the argument that the flag preserves a heritage of racist behavior was what motivated Mr. Roof to attack black people.

“More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded — with human sacrifice,” Mr. Coates wrote.

Edward E. Baptist, a professor at Cornell University who specializes in the history of slavery, said in a series of posts on Twitter that the flag had been used as justification for attacks on blacks since the Civil War.

Yes but days of yesteryear. Magnolia. Miss Scahlet.

A post published Friday on League of the South, a niche website defined as a “neo-Confederate” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the flag should not be taken down. Calling it “the most recognizable historic flag of the South,” the league said the Confederate flag “stands for the heroic effort our people made 150 years ago to avoid the fate were are experiencing today.”

What fate is that? Climate change? The internet, on which League of the South has a website? Frequent flyer miles? Gluten-free orange juice?

At least the people at League of the South weren’t shot to death a couple of days ago. Lucky fate.

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

No words

Jun 19th, 2015 5:10 pm | By

All nine.

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

His claims work to identify women as caste-inferiors

Jun 19th, 2015 4:48 pm | By

Janet Stemwedel takes a different view of the reactions to Tim Hunt from that of Professor Richard Dawkins FRS. Her view is pretty much the opposite of his.

The vigorous reactions to remarks by biochemist Tim Hunt about women in science on social media and elsewhere are being cast as “internet shaming.” That’s a mistake. The reactions are, in fact, exactly part of the way scientists engage with each other to build knowledge.

Tim Hunt, winner (with Paul Nurse and Leland H. Hartwell) of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicinemade news last week for remarks he made to members of the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations at a luncheon at the 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists…

…Asked to clarify his position, Hunt asserted that he “meant the remarks to be humorous” but affirmed that he “just meant to be honest.” In the wake of the public criticism, Hunt resigned an honorary post (one with no salary, teaching responsibilities, or lab space) at University College London (UCL), though there are conflicting accounts of whether this resignation was voluntary or not. Now, the vocal criticism of Hunt’s remarks is being characterized using hyperbolic terms like “lynchmob,” “witch-hunt,” and “disemboweling.”

Stemwedel cites Robert Merton’s “norms of science,” in particular universalism (everybody can contribute to science and social status is beside the point) and organized skepticism (is what Hunt said a crock of shit?).

There’s another facet of the situation worth considering in the context of the norms of science: the content of Hunt’s controversial claims seem to reveal him to be falling short on the norm of universalism.

Merton wrote about instances where members of the scientific community failed to live up to the norms of science, usually due to pressures from the larger societies in which the scientists were embedded. Writing in 1942, when pressures from the Nazi regime on German scientists were likely on his mind, Merton noted:

Scientists may assimilate caste-standards and close their ranks to those of inferior status, irrespective of capacity or achievement. But this provokes an unstable situation. Elaborate ideologies are called forth to obscure the incompatibility of caste-mores and the institutional goals of science. Caste-inferiors must be shown to be inherently incapable of scientific work or, at the very least, their contributions must be systematically devalued. [3]

It’s hard not to see Hunt’s remarks about “the trouble with girls” in the lab as suggesting that women as a group are inherently incapable of scientific work because of their emotions, or their tendency to provoke emotions in men (who are assumed to be capable of scientific work). His claims, in other words, work to identify women as caste-inferiors rather than to recognize them as equal members of the scientific community.


But preemptively characterizing women scientists as a group as likely to cry, as Hunt did, falls down on universalism, writing them out of the knowledge-building conversation before they’ve even had a chance to be heard. (Writing women off like this is ironic in light of the contributions women made to the research for which Hunt shares a Nobel Prize with two other men.)

Professor Richard Dawkins FRS please note.

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