Drivel from sexist scientist drives me to distraction

Sir Tim Hunt resigned after his conference gaffe caused outrage and ridicule. Picture: PA
Sir Tim Hunt resigned after his conference gaffe caused outrage and ridicule. Picture: PA
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ANOTHER good man cut down in his prime. A victim of the “feminazis” or that vile political correctness Jerry Seinfeld has been beating his gums about recently. I mean really, what’s a Nobel prize-winning biochemist to do? He makes a few “light-hearted” comments about women scientists to an audience of, ahem, women scientists (and journalists) and the next thing you know, he’s out of a job. A man’s world? That’d be right.

At least, that’d be what you’d think if you’d been brave enough to look BTL (below the line) at the comments beneath the news about the resignation of Sir Tim Hunt. Hunt, who won the Nobel prize in 2001, stood down from his position as honorary professor at the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences last week. His problems began when he gave a speech at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul in which he suggested that laboratories should be single sex because lady scientists (he didn’t call them that, but I know he would) are “distracting” to their male colleagues.

He’s got a Nobel prize, for pity’s sake, but he really did say that. And as far as I can ascertain he was not drunk, nor had he been loitering in the fume cupboard. Even though the “what? I was only kidding” defence was duly trotted out, it was clear that Hunt’s girl trouble gaffe was not part of a surreal comedy monologue in which outrageous falsehoods and hoary old stereotypes were lampooned in a postmodern melange of self-reflexivity and irony. No, he seems to believe the nonsense he was speaking. In fact, he said, “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.”

To be fair, or rather, scientific, evidence shows that he has experienced the first two – he met his wife, eminent immunologist Professor Mary Collins, in a laboratory where presumably they had, prior to this, found each other distracting. But a single anecdote does not an evidence base make. As for the crying bit, it strikes me as only too possible that Collins shed a tear of frustration when she learned what her husband had said.

I can’t squeeze out so much as a tiny tear over the ignominious end of Hunt’s career. Or even summon up a half-hearted harrumph. Imagine working in a lab with him. Imagine the drivel that must’ve spewed forth for decades if “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls” was all he could come up with for a prestigious international gathering to which he’d been invited.

The best responses to the whole hoopla were the funniest ones. An endless stream of selfies online of women working in labs wearing protective suits and goggles, or out in the field, dusting off fossils or collecting fecal matter, all labelled with the hashtag #distractinglysexy.

Calling out attitudes such as Hunt’s isn’t about being humourless, it’s about reminding people, even smart ones, that although change can be difficult to accept, it’s a lot easier than trying to keep hold of people’s respect when you reveal yourself to be hopelessly, idiotically, out of touch.

Why I’m Fonda Jane

EVERYONE knows Jane Fonda from Barbarella, or Cat Ballou, or those terrifying aerobics videos that littered charity shops in the 1990s. But I know her from Barefoot In The Park. It was the first film I saw her in and I loved it and I loved her. Robert Redford, her uptight husband, was beautiful but Fonda was funny and beautiful. So what a treat to be wiring my way through the sitcom Grace And Frankie on Netflix only to discover that, at 77, Fonda remains both funny and beautiful. Lily Tomlin is also amazing and Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston great too, but there’s something magnetic about Fonda. And the fact she has just written an article for the Huffington Post about opposing Arctic drilling only makes me love her more. What a woman. «

Underneath the Arches’ troubles

WHEN the First Minister’s stunt double, John Swinney, said at FMQs last week that the Scottish Government would “look in all ways that we possibly can do to assist in safeguarding the future of what I recognise as a significant cultural venue in the city of Glasgow and a venue that contributes a great deal to the cultural life of Scotland” my heart sank. He was talking about The Arches, that magnificent, subterranean cathedral to the arts which, it was announced last week, has gone into administration. That 130 jobs are at risk is bad enough, but the closure deals a brutal blow to Scotland’s cultural landscape. Artists are speaking out for a place vital to so many people; former employees reminiscing about the good old days, punters remembering the amazing gigs and shows they witnessed. My connection to The Arches is probably similar to that of loads of people who’ve lived in Glasgow. I’ve danced there, had my tea there, been to gigs there. I’ve seen Beckett plays in dank spaces and much dodgy cabaret. Closing a venue with a global reputation which has been the launch pad for some of the best creative work Scotland has produced in recent years is an act not just of heavy-handedness, but of wanton cultural vandalism. It seems disproportionate, draconian. I don’t know if there is a way back, but every possible attempt should be made to find one. So stilted language aside, I hope Swinney is as good as his word.