Friday, December 18, 2015

Correcting the Guardian, again

I didn't find Sue Nelson's statement agreeing to Athene Donald's ceasefire very gracious. I hope that what she meant is that she never wants to hear Tim Hunt's name sullied again, since that sullies her name too through her involvement in the story. As I said in my comment to my last post, this ultimately shows that this was a bad story that should never have been told. It's a controversy that nothing good came of.

A good example of how sullied Tim Hunt's name is because of the controversy, is the coverage of Mary Collins' decision to move to Japan in the Guardian. I'm working towards a time when the Seoul episode is no longer written about in that way. The story should be remembered something like this, which I would suggest as a correction to the Guardian's article if I thought it would help:

Hunt, who won the Nobel prize in 2001, lost his honorary post at University College London after he spoke at a lunch for female science journalists in South Korea. His wife, Professor Mary Collins, a prominent immunologist, also at UCL, was enraged by the way UCL treated her husband. She said that the university had behaved in “an utterly unacceptable way”. She has since left UCL for a position in Japan.

Hunt became embroiled in controversy after it was falsely reported on Twitter that he had called for separate laboratories for men and women and had suggested that women cried when they were criticised. The reports failed to point out that Hunt had been joking at the time in the context of a lighthearted toast that was highly supportive of women in science. “I really do hope there is nothing holding you back," he had quipped, "especially not [chauvinist] monsters like me.”

Hunt immediately regretted the easily misinterpreted remark, and apologized for the offense that the interpretation caused, but he was nonetheless mercilessly ridiculed on Twitter for finding women scientists "distractingly sexy" and became, for a time, the public face of sexism in science. His forced resignation from UCL was a major factor in his loss of reputation, contributing unwarranted credibility to the initial and now discredited reports.

This provides a much better framing of Collins' departure from UCL (though her motives are of course entirely, and rightly, left to speculation). And it resolutely avoids dragging Tim Hunt's name back into the mud from which Louise Mensch has recovered it.

The attempted destruction of Tim Hunt's reputation caused a lot of "collateral" damage and came at a great cost also to the reputations of those who "called him out". The two sides that are now enjoying the peace of a Christmas ceasefire are those (like me) who believe Connie St Louis caused the controversy, and therefore the damage, and those (like Connie St Louis) who believe that Tim Hunt caused it. I would still like to debate this question with Sue Nelson, even accepting her version of the facts. But I will wait for her to engage if she chooses.

Update: The Daily Mail's framing of this story, its obvious slant notwithstanding, is much closer to how I think history will, and certainly should, remember this episode.

Update 2: There's a much better piece in the Observer. I respect Mary Collins' view that the move to Japan is driven by her own career choices, not the events surrounding her husband's remarks in Seoul. But in making these decisions, it seems to me, one is always comparing one's current employer with the prospective one. UCL failed, in my eyes, to retain Collins as a member of their faculty, which is a loss to her colleagues and her students.


richard.jowsey said...

Very well expressed, as always, Thomas. Thank you. Merry Christmas, and happy New Year. It's been fun.

Thomas said...

Thanks. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too.

Debbie Kennett said...

Well said Thomas. There's more context about their departure to Japan in this article:

Hermann Steinpilz said...

While I agree that Connie St Louis is to blame for starting the controversy, it is also worth examining the cultural climate in which the lies and smears by such a disreputable "science journalist" could be taken as scripture and amplified a thousand-fold -- without any proper investigation -- against the word of an eminent scientist with a stellar reputation. Isn't this extraordinary? I believe it is a symptom of the cancer in our society, and especially in academia, that is identity politics.

Identity politics is practiced and propagated by people who are commonly labelled Social Justice Warriors. Of course, the term 'warrior' is sarcasm. They are the opposite of warriors. What they do is little else but language policing, witch-hunting on Twitter, and smearing their opponents. They do almost nothing to actually promote social justice, because they are mainly interested in signalling their own righteousness, not in changing the economic status quo. Like any cult-like or quasi-religious group, they also cherish a good number of dogmas. And these, I think, hold the key to understanding the Tim Hunt debacle.

Here are some SJW articles of faith:

1. Listen and believe (also known as Shut up and Listen). The words spoken by a member of an oppressed minority should not be questioned. As a black woman (or a WoC -- a Woman of Colour -- as an SJW would put it), Connie St Louis should not be challenged. You do not ask for evidence when a WoC asserts something. You listen and believe.

2. Punching up. A member of an oppressed minority (which in SJW world includes women) is entitled to behave in a nasty way, by virtue of being oppressed. Such behaviour is called 'punching up'. Connie St Louis can lie and smear to her heart's content; she is just punching up.

3. Check your privilege. Privileged people have an undeserved advantage in our society. So it is only reasonable to take them a notch down. Tim Hunt's status as a celebrated scientist has given him enormous privilege; this made him fair game.

4. White males are inherently privileged. In a just world they should not have this privilege. Therefore, white men must be vilified at every opportunity. Even other white males (especially 'feminist allies') will engage in this pastime. This explains why some of the loudest critics of Tim Hunt were men as white and privileged as he. They were signalling their ally status to the other SJWs. They were saying "Yes, we are white men, unfortunately, but we are fighting on the right side."

5. The Patriarchy is real. People like Tim Hunt represent the Patriarchy. The Patriarchy must be destroyed. You can't create an omelette without breaking eggs. Even if Sir Tim proved to be a decent fellow, the destruction of his reputation was in the interest of a good cause, and therefore defensible.

6. Members of an oppressed minority cannot be sexist or racist. SJWs have invented the convenient notion that sexism or racism are to be defined as "prejudice + power". Oppressed minorities lack power, therefore they cannot be sexist or racist. QED. On the other hand, almost anything even slightly critical uttered by a white man about a member of an oppressed minority is labelled sexism or racism. At the very least, he is punching down (the opposite of punching up, therefore bad).

7. Criticism is victim blaming. Criticizing members of an oppressed minority for not doing enough to improve their own situation is victim blaming.

8. Criticizing SJWs is harassment. When SJWs are attacked for their lies and smear tactics they will immediately curl up and play the victim. They will label the attacks as harassment.

9. Doubling down. If you do not immediately accept criticism from the SJWs, if you dare to object, you are 'doubling down'. If you do that, you are wrong, because SJWs are always right.


It is my contention that the behaviour of the more rabid critics of Tim Hunt is perfectly explained by the assumption that they are SJWs who adhere to these dogmas.

Johan Fynbo said...

Here is another recent brief reference to the case again with the perspective on the story that this is an example of sexism in science and part of the reason for a perceived lack of equality in science:

Debbie Kennett said...


Thanks for your illuminating insight into identity politics. I was oblivious to this dangerous way of thinking prior to the Tim Hunt debacle but it does explain a lot. I can't understand how this thinking ever caught on, and why there are still people who blindly follow this ideology. I am personally offended by the implicit suggestion that women are so pathetic and helpless that we need special treatment to achieve anything in life. I wonder what would happen if these people had their way. The inevitable conclusion of their logic is that we would end up with a privileged matriarchy who can do no wrong. They would then have to redefine their thinking to defend the oppressed males!

Hermann Steinpilz said...


Now that Maoism and Fascism are out of fashion, the kind of people who are attracted to such movements have to find something else. And they have found it in the form of identity politics. These are people who, like the Maoists and fascists before them, only think in terms of social groups. You are not an individual, you are first of all a member of a particular group.

After the Twitter storm, Tim Hunt was no longer a person to them. He had been classified as a sexist white male, and that was final. No appeal possible. Overnight he had become a despised figure whose accomplishments as a scientist counted for nothing. An un-person.

The identitarians think that is perfectly fine. Make an example of someone, even when this is unjust; it's all for the greater good.

You are quite right to ask what would happen if these people had their way. History has shown what the consequences are when a movement of authoritarian zealots gain power. The most ruthless sociopaths among them always take over. If you observe the SJWs long enough you will find that there are some truly horrible people among them.

We need to keep pointing out their dishonesty and resist their calls for censorship. We must mock them wherever we can. They must never get their way. What happened to Tim Hunt was only a minor foreshadowing of what they are capable of.

old bones said...

If you are someone who, as Hermann puts its, only thinks in terms of social groups, and not of individuals, it informs your view not only of those you oppose, but also those whose side you are on. I think I understand now why Sue Nelson believes Connie St Louis is opposed primarily because she is black and a woman. It simply doesn't occur to her that St Louis can be objected to as a particular individual who has acted in accordance with her own particular judgements. The generic has an extraordinarily deterministic hold over some people's thinking.