The #TimHunt hashtag has been kept alive on Twitter by the sheer doggedness of Louise Mensch, who has made it her crusade to clear the good name of Sir Tim Hunt for those ‘sexist, misogynistic remarks about women in science’ allegedly made during a speech in Seoul. Twitter was used initially to prompt a media and social media backlash against Tim Hunt, following a crudely reported smear, but Louise has used the same weapons to call out his critics.
Why has Louise been so outspoken on this matter? Simply because the whole affair was misreported and a very highly respected British scientist has had his lengthy, and most definitely successful, career soured in the twilight of his life. Louise has shown her investigative journalism skills to be worthy of note, with her dissection of this false story and how it came to light.
Who is this Tim Hunt fellah?
A spritely 72-year old, Sir Tim Hunt has been at the forefront of ‘cell cycle regulation’, a branch of medical science, throughout a long and very illustrious career. The pinnacle of his career came in 2001, with a shared Nobel Prize for his ‘cell division’ work being loudly applauded by anyone involved in Cancer Research.
His long list of awards include:
- Fellowship of the Royal Society (1991)
- Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1998)
- Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2001)
- Royal Medal (2006)
- Knight Bachelor (2006)
Tim is married to fellow scientist Mary Collins, a professor of Immunology at University College London.
That ‘joke’ and his subsequent fall from grace
On 9th June 2015, at the World Conference for Science Journalists in Seoul, Tim Hunt was asked to make an impromptu speech at a lunch event. This speech included a reference to women in science, which was taken completely out of context & used as the basis for malicious reporting, resulting in the complete destruction of an illustrious biochemist’s career.
I’ll not go into all of the details here, no point in reinventing the wheel, but I would urge you to read the following articles from Louise Mench’s Unfashionista blog, laying out the facts and taking those to task who misreported them:
- The Royal Society’s ‘Diversity Committee’ Pre-Judged #TimHunt. Now UCL Should Give Him Due Process
- The Tim Hunt Reporting was false. Royal Society, please give him due process.
- Will the New York Times correct its misreporting on Tim Hunt?
- The “silence of the shams”: #WCSJ2015 falsely reported Sir Tim Hunt
- “A Misogynist Pig” – How the BBC smeared Sir Tim Hunt
- The Myth of the Tim Hunt “Transcript”
- ABSW: Complaint against Connie St Louis over Tim Hunt, Erika Wright and her CV
- ABSW: Complaint against other Board members over Tim Hunt
- How MIT’s Deborah Blum misreported “Schroedingers” Tim Hunt
Those who have been proven most guilty of spreading the malicious and false accusations against Tim Hunt have yet to acknowledge their mistakes, yet it does seem (in no slight response to the determination of Louise) the mainstream media have all but pulled back from any further harassment of a great man.
Why should all this matter to me or you?
Why this #TimHunt saga is important to all of us is complicated, but it should not be ignored.
Firstly, the man himself. This is a truly great Briton, a mind which has allowed leaps forward in Cancer Research as part of his chosen field of ‘cell division’ (I refer back to Cancer Research, but there are many other applications, this being one which is closest to my own heart).
This is a man who, even at 72 years old, is promoting science (and Britain, since we can pinch some of his glory when reported worldwide) across many continents.
This is an elderly man, let’s face it, now being smeared and his legacy destroyed by what can only be described as nobodies who are using a misrepresentation of facts to grope for a spotlight to shine on their own careers – careers which are very dull in comparison to the great man they chose to destroy.
Hunt is under no illusions about the consequences. “I am finished,” he says. “I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but I cannot see how that can happen. I have become toxic. I have been hung to dry by academic institutes who have not even bothered to ask me for my side of affairs.”
Nor has Collins fared well. “My relations with University College have been badly tarnished,” she adds. “They have let Tim and I down badly. They cared only for their reputation and not about wellbeing of their staff.”
UCL and the Royal Society were far too quick to believe the initial reports and way too slow to recognise their mistakes. They allowed the toxicity of his reported ‘sexist remarks’ and the resulting Social Media backlash, followed by poor media reporting, to tarnish this great man and no apology or reinstatement could ever clear the bad taste this will leave Tim Hunt and his wife for the remainder of their lives.
Social Media can create a storm in a very short period of time, and anything which can be reported as ‘sexist’, ‘misogynistic’ or ‘anti-feminist’ is particularly volatile among the online crusaders who await every spark to ignite their disgust and that of their offendatron followers. Sir Tim Hunt, again I’ll refer you to him being 72 years old, is a kindly, elderly gentleman raised in a different age to many of those noisiest on Social Media. There is simply no tried and trusted method to defend oneself against such an attack, especially being of noble stature and so far up in years as Tim Hunt.
The lack of basic respect in the UK for those who excel in their profession is becoming all too apparent. We see UK news reporting daily on some scandal or other surrounding UK ‘celebrities’, whether it be politicians, business giants, sporting heroes, actors, scientists, charity bosses, etc. What irks me most is that obvious smears are routinely reported, with little or no investigation into their source or authenticity. How lazy journalists get around this is to quote the Tweets or Facebook postings of whoever is levelling the accusations, thereby shifting the blame for any misdirection onto them. This leads to systematic destruction of an existing career, but how many people does it put off from striving to be the best in the future?
The militant side of the feminist movement has a very loud voice online, one which may not previously had such a wide reach before the advent of Social Media. It has caused the rise to prominence of some strange, very determined, characters searching for signs of ‘misogyny’ or ‘sexism’ everywhere, usually not obvious to the eyes of us mere mortals. The very suggestion that a white male has said something which could be construed as ‘sexist’ will almost undoubtedly result in a backlash on Social Media, with little regard to fact or context. The days of giving someone the benefit of the doubt are gone, everything good they ever did is immediately overlooked, in favour of spite and blind hatred towards the unsubstantiated claims against them.
How does one look his/her child in the eye, asking them to strive to be the best they can be, when we know that there is a whole army of detractors awaiting one slip to make them fall from grace the moment they reach any pedestal in their chosen career?
So, does Tim Hunt matter to me, or you? Of course he does. The lack of respect for our elderly, for our truly greats, for someone who craves not money or fame, but advancements in his scientific field which can affect the health of generations in the future is a source of disappointment we all should feel.
The fact that so much publicity and credence can be given to an obvious smear against a once-in-a-century British scientist should send a shiver down the spine of any right-thinking UK citizen who recognises that the best among us need to be looked up to, respected, defended and supported. It is they who are noticed throughout the world, they who remind the world of the greatness of Britain, they who improve our status by encouraging investment into the UK as a source of excellence.
I can only applaud Louise Mensch for her determination to have the truth told and for the reputation of a great man to be restored. We all need to be thankful there are still academics like Sir Tim Hunt with the capability to effect global change in medical science, but specifically proud that this one is a Brit!
It is a further source of disappointment to me that it’s more likely to be the voice of the haters that reaches Sir Tim’s ear, not the voice of the masses in the UK who hold the man in very high regard.