Saturday, December 05, 2015

Waddell and Higgins Jump the Shark

"The narrative seems to have shifted."
Paula Higgins and Dan Waddell*

This morning I noticed a puzzling tweet by Dan Waddell that made me have a closer look at the piece about Tim Hunt that he and Paula Higgins recently published at Byline. They argue that the December 2 correction of a June 10 Guardian story does not weaken, but actually strengthens, the case against Hunt: "far from exonerating Hunt, The Guardian statement appears to reinforce ... the idea that he was speaking about women in the lab generally." I happen to disagree with them about this point, but that disagreement isn't the subject of this post. What puzzled me was an exchange on Twitter that Waddell had with Fred Wyropiquet, which ended with the following tweet by Waddell:

As far as I can tell it's supposed to be a sort of reductio ad absurdum of Wyropiquet's reading of Hunt's comment to the Guardian. But it feels more like a non sequitur. Nothing in what Wyropiquet said seems to me to imply it, even at a stretch, but since literally no one has accused Hunt of having this kind of "trouble with girls" it can only be taken as a way of following out a line of argument to its most absurd conclusion.

I had already found myself smiling a little at Higgins and Waddell's condescending suggestion that Hunt's defenders are "shifting" the "narrative" about what he had meant in Seoul. After all, the burden of a plausible narrative about his remarks falls not to his defenders but his accusers. And if there's a narrative that's been "shifting" since Connie St Louis' original tweet, it is the narrative that tries to make a scandal of his toast. It has gone from being an earnest statement of his views about women to an inappropriate sexist joke, from a clear expression of his misogyny to a bungled manifestation of his stupidity. The idea seems to be that if you keep spinning the story it'll remain upright. To defend Hunt, meanwhile, we don't need a coherent narrative at all, just a little charity of interpretation. Because of the absolute paucity of evidence, we just have to propose a plausibly innocuous intention and give him the benefit of the doubt.

Even Hunt's attackers, I thought, now mostly grant that Hunt isn't much of a an actual sexist. His remarks were, at worst, an unfortunate expression of ambient sexism in Hunt's environment, and he could at most be accused of not properly restraining his poor taste in front of an audience of apparently very vulnerable women that might be "harmed" by his words. So this suggestion that an argument in defense of Hunt might commit one to the idea that Hunt's actual and admitted failing in the lab was "his inability to keep his hands off the lasses in his lab" came out of left field for me. Was there something I had missed about the current state of the case against Hunt? Had the narrative, if you will, shifted again?

So I returned to Higgins and Waddell's piece and did indeed find a rather stronger condemnation of Hunt than I thought was current among his attackers. At the end of their piece they suggest the following interpretation:

It seems clear, from both Hunt’s BBC Today interview and his statement to The Guardian, that among the 'shortcomings' about which he was ‘being honest’ in his Seoul toast, is his belief that women in the lab are more likely to cry when faced with this type of criticism, thus bolstering the damaging sexist stereotype that they are over emotional, and his view of the lab as a highly sexualised or emotionalised space that is terrible for science.

I don't agree with Higgins and Waddell that it's "clear" that Hunt believes that women are likely to cry when criticized, but I recognize and understand the argument for interpreting his toast in Seoul that way. (I think the balance of the evidence shows that he's not seriously concerned about the ability of women, as a gender, to deal with criticism.) I think the idea that he traffics in "damaging sexist stereotypes", by contrast, is directly contradicted by his record of respectful collaboration with women throughout his career. I thought maybe the word "bolster" was supposed allow that his toast only unintentionally offered support to those stereotypes, but the next part of the sentence unmistakably attributes a "view" to Tim Hunt that is so ridiculous that I think we have to conclude that Higgins and Waddell have, as they say, jumped the shark.

Actually, the sentence is a bit difficult to parse. It's not clear whether they are saying that (a) Hunt's view (that labs are "highly sexualised or emotionalised spaces") is "terrible for science" or that (b) Hunt's [the] view is that highly sexualized and emotional spaces are terrible for science and that labs with women (and therefore much sex and emotion) in them are therefore terrible places to do science. Both interpretations are of course utterly ridiculous.

[If I'm not mistaken, they are here attributing to Hunt the view that highly sexualized and emotional spaces are terrible for science, which is of course not too controversial. But they are also saying that Tim Hunt believes that merely putting women (with all their sexiness and emotion) in labs turns them into such unscientific spaces. And this is of course utterly ridiculous.]**

To defend Hunt against these charges would, indeed, be almost as ridiculous as defending him against the charge that Hunt chose to use his toast in Seoul to admit that he has trouble "keeping his hands of the lasses in the lab". If this is where the prosecution has decided to stand, if this is where their narrative has shifted, the defense can safely rest. But I think it's really just an indicator that Waddell and Higgins do not represent the strongest case that can be made against Hunt and are therefore not worth paying much attention to. I've suspected this for some time.

*Out of habit (and no doubt some latent misogyny someone is about to explain to me I suffer from), an earlier version of this post mistakenly reversed the order of the authors. Waddell and Higgins have worked as a team on the Tim Hunt case and I put them in the order I had them in when talking about their "Saving Tim Hunt". I know Higgins is a bit touchy about standing in Waddell's shadow, so I've ensured that she comes first in this post now in all cases where I'm referring to the Byline piece. When talking about them simply as the Hunt-smearing duo they are in general, I've put Waddell's name first by, I guess, tradition.

**Update: I don't think the sentence is as ambiguous as I first thought. I've rewritten the paragraph to reflect what I think is the most plausible interpretation.


Unknown said...

Executive summary: Waddell proves to be a vile smear monger of the sleaziest kind. I can't say I'm surprised.

Mayor para el fútbol-7 said...

"HSD" (Hunt-smearing duo) may suffice from now on. Both short and "non-genderizable".

Unknown said...

In case you are wondering from what sewer Dan Waddell and vermin like him have emerged, you must understand the recent phenomenon of the rise of the Social Justice Warriors. Much has already been written about SJWs and their pernicious influence on contemporary culture. Basically, SJWs are people who have made a religion, even a cult, out of Political Correctness.

Like all religionists, they have their own dogmas and sins. They have tactics to win converts, and techniques to punish those they deem sinners. They pretend that they are standing up for oppressed minorities, and in their zeal they will even go so far as to defend islamists who intimidate people (google the words Maryam Namazie Goldsmith). What they are really after is the power to control the discourse. They are authoritarians through-and-through.

Their language is a curious mix of pseudo-scientific jargon ("intersectionality", "axes of oppression") and slang ("shut up and listen", "intent ain't magic", "punching up"). This is because they want to signal among their peers that they are well-educated, and at the same time reassure the simpler oppressed folk that they speak their language (which is of course the language of the street).

They are the most disgustingly self-righteous people in the world (worse than the sleaziest televangelists), and they use smearing and dishonest rhetorical tricks as their weapons of choice (google "kafka trapping" and "motte-and-bailey doctrines").

They will accuse their opponents of all kinds of sins ("you're a *-ist"), but foremost of misogyny, sexism and racism; in most cases based on ridiculous exaggeration. They will also claim that the very fact that you use the term SJW proves you to be a conservative reactionary. The latter is in fact a fairly typical specimen of their rhetorical tricks (google "thought-terminating cliché").

In short, Sir Tim Hunt had the misfortune of drawing the attention of a mob of SJWs. They wanted to make an example of him. As you will have noticed, SJWs have no problem with lying for The Cause. Someone like Connie St. Louis will make up stuff about a "deathly silence" meeting Sir Tim's little speech, or that he thanked "the women" for making lunch, just to show him in the least favourable light. Dishonesty doesn't bother these people.

And when the evidence turns against them (an audiotape and a report from an EU official demonstrate that Ms. St. Louis had lied), the SJWs will shift the goal posts as fast as a school of herrings can shift direction. "It doesn't matter that he was joking." And if that fails, they will not shy away from inventing and spreading vicious, baseless rumours, as we see in the case of Dan Waddell.

One tip, in case you ever have to deal with an attack by SJWs: never, ever apologize for some trangression that they acuse you of. Not only will the apology most likely be dismissed as a not-pology, it will also be taken as an admission of guilt, a confession that will forever be used against you.

Sir Tim's main mistake was not that he made a joke that fell flat, but that he apologized for it. Decent people make blunders like that (unnecessarily apologizing, I mean), and SJWs will ruthlessly exploit it.

tl/dr: Beware of the SJWs.

Mayor para el fútbol-7 said...

Just in case Philip reads this, I'm @efeprat. ;)

Anonymous said...

As a female scientist who cried once in front of a male supervisor, I interpreted Dr. Hunt's comment about women crying not so much as a statement that women cried more frequently than men but as an admission that on the one or more occasions on which a female student or postdoc had cried in his presence, he hadn't known how to respond. I know my male supervisor sure as hell didn't.

Mayor para el fútbol-7 said...

Hi, anonymous. Maybe you are going to think, from my silly coments before, that I'm not really interested in your case, but I am. As a teacher, I have suffered (yes, I suffer too) from female students crying after failing an exam. How should I respond, in your opinion?