Sir Tim Hunt, who was awarded the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2001, reportedly told a conference in South Korea: “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.”
He apologised for any offence and resigned from his position as honorary professor with the faculty of life sciences at University College London (UCL).
But Sir Tim says he was not given an opportunity to explain his statement.
“At no point did they ask me for an explanation for what I said or to put it in context,” he said. “They just said I had to go. There has been an enormous rush to judgment in dealing with me.”
He said he had been “hung out to dry” and added: “I have been stripped of all the things I was doing in science. I have no further influence.”
His remarks sparked a social media furore as female scientists around the world shared “distractingly sexy” photos of themselves in response to Sir Tim’s comments
Thousands of #distractinglysexy tweets mocked his suggestion that science would benefit from “single-sex labs”.
One scientist, Danielle Spitzer, posted a picture of herself in full science lab gear, writing: “It’s just really hard working in a co-ed lab because I’m too distracting to the male scientists #distractinglysexy”.
In response to Sir Tim’s defence of his remarks, a UCL spokesman said: “UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality.”
Sir Tim insisted his remarks were intended to be funny, but reflected that it had been a “very stupid thing to do” in the presence of many journalists.
“I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that people – I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.”
Defending his remarks, he added: “It’s important that you can criticise people’s ideas without criticising them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth.”
Sir Tim reportedly described himself as a “chauvinist pig” at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul.