English biochemist Sir Richard Timothy 'Tim' Hunt  (Photo: CSABA SEGESVARI/AFP/Getty Images)
Opinion

Lab Rats: How the Misogyny Police and Sloppy Journalists Smeared a Top Scientist

Sir Tim Hunt’s troubles began when Connie St. Louis, a science journalism lecturer at London’s City University, tweeted that a luncheon for female scientists at the World Conference of Science Journalists had been “utterly ruined by sexist speaker Tim Hunt.” According to Ms. St. Louis, Dr. Hunt started out by admitting that he had a reputation as a male chauvinist and then continued, “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 criticize them they cry.” She also quoted Mr. Hunt as saying he was “in favor of single-sex labs.”

A more careful look would have shown that Mr. Hunt was referring to a specific point—the part about his own experience of falling in love with “people in the lab” and having them fall in love with him, and finding it disruptive to scientific work. (He also said his remarks were meant as “lighthearted [and] ironic.”) Yet both British and American media outlets reported that Hunt “stood by his comments,” and his downfall was seen as a misogynist’s just deserts.

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