The Thinking 

British Scientist Calls for Segregated Labs

June 10, 2015


A Nobel-winning British biochemist has come under fire for expressing his views about the integration of men and women in science labs. According to The Guardian, Tim Hunt was speaking to a conference of science journalists in Korea, when he fantastically argued in favor of single-sex labs. He made the following insensitive and dehumanizing comments:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … 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.”

Hunt did not criticize the performance or work of female scientists. He did not say, for instance, that the science world got along perfectly well for most of Western history with but a small number of women, and most of them were in the role of support staff, not scientists. He did not say that almost no women have made important scientific discoveries. He did not say that very few women in history have even wanted to make important scientific discoveries. He said none of this, but he has still come under heavy  attack. The Royal Society, of which he is a member, has, of course, disavowed him. And,

David Colquhoun, emeritus professor of pharmacology at University College London, said Hunt’s comments were a “disaster for the advancement of women”.

Hunt’s words have also been roundly criticised by female scientists on Twitter. One woman, a postdoctoral researcher, tweeted: “For every Tim Hunt remark, there’s an extra woman in science that takes an interest in feminism. Ever wonder why there are so many of us?”

Hunt must be a psychopath. To have thought he could get away with saying that men fall in love with women and, even worse, that women fall in love with men shows he is totally disengaged from the real world and living in his own self-made Middle Ages. He even says, in his formal apology, that women have fallen in love with him. No more.

I’m sure there is a study out there somewhere that shows that men and women cry at the same frequency in science labs. In sum, this man cannot scientifically prove anything he said.

[UPDATE, June 11, 2015: Hunt has predictably resigned from his teaching position at the University of London.]

— Comments —

WF writes:

If a woman had made the same comments about men, her opinion would have been sought out on how to change men so they would be more compatible with women in the science labs. She would be hailed as a clairvoyant and would be on CNN.

Hurricane Betsy writes:

Basically, what I hear is, this teacher is implying that he is so attractive that the girls can’t help falling in love with him, and then disruption ensues. Is this some kind of joke? Wherever males and females are together, you are going to have attractions to each other, not just science labs. What did I not grasp? Was something left unsaid?

Laura writes:

He’s a renowned scientist. No, I don’t think he was bragging. He was apparently pointing to the simple common sense fact you mention and saying that this is disruptive. Labs are places where people work closely side by side without a lot of other people around. I could see how it would be a problem.

I doubt he was serious about segregated labs. That seems unrealistic and quite silly.

While there are few famous women scientists, women have significantly contributed to science in modern times as workers in labs. (But feminists think that’s not good enough. Women must be performing at the exact same level as men.) However, more importantly, women have created scientists and nurtured the stable societies in which serious science can occur.

Peter J. writes:

I remember my grad school days in engineering about a decade ago. Yes, there was quite a bit of boinking going on. Yes, I do remember girls crying when they were pressed on rigour.

Paul C. writes:

Hunt is half right. He is correct that women in laboratories, which require close quarters, are a big distraction to men. I learned a valuable lesson when I was in my early twenties while working in a petroleum testing laboratory. After a year or more, we acquired a gorgeous, tall-for-a-female (but my height) blond lab tech (not a chemical analyst as I was). She could have been a model. She did not have a degree and did not have the knowledge of chemistry that I did. So I had to train her. She was my age. I adored her beauty and she was friendly but not talkative. Everyone was male, which included the many roughneck inspectors who brought us the samples out of blistering heat and freezing cold at all hours of the day and night.  One inspector in particular could be quite crude in her presence; I would cringe when he was around, fortunately rarely.

I knew I could not ask her out because I knew my typical behavior, which was to enjoy the companionship and then get bored.  I did not want to create a problem.  So I burned with desire and the irrational idea that she was ignoring me.  Of course she was.  She had a boyfriend, and men are expected to make the first move.  It was tortuous at times; but I was busy, so it was not a distraction at work.  But it bothered me after hours.  I did not suggest we go out until the day I left to start law school the next week.  She said, “It might be nice.”  I never asked because I was obsessed with success and money and had plunged into a bizarre and difficult but rewarding career, where I remain alternating between agonizing decisions and success.

The lesson is it is best to keep men and women segregated when close quarters are required.  I know there are successful exceptions, but I followed that lesson’s implications after my torture.

Jacqueline writes:

People – several of them female scientists – took to social media, namely twitter, to start a new hashtag called #distractinglysexy, posting ironic pictures of scientists that so happen to be female, to mock the supposed sexist comments. I am not sure if this is some sort of ‘proof’ that “women can do whatever men can do,” but it all comes across as juvenile; the female scientists that responded seem to have blindly bought the media’s narrative, instead of investigating the issue themselves. Ironic.

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