Imagine a world where a guy dedicates his life to science, and then in his golden years he’s professionally executed after making a joke about how dangerous love in the lab can be. What kind of crazy world would allow online mobs to run a scientist out of town over a single joke? You can now stop trying to imagine that world, because the sad truth is that we’re living in it. Just ask Nobel laureate Tim Hunt.
Mr. Hunt said the following while speaking at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, 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 criticize them, they cry.”
That joke caused female scientists on Twitter to ironically cry like babies. They threw a giant temper tantrum and Mr. Hunt was forced to resign his position at University College London (UCL).
When Mr. Hunt sought to clarify his remarks during a radio interview with The Guardian, the paper’s editors thought the only part worth printing was that he “did mean the part about having trouble with girls.” Here is the full quote, in context:
“I mean it is true that I have fallen in love with people in the lab and that people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it is very disruptive to the science. Because it is terribly important that in the lab people are on a level playing field, and I’ve found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult. I’m really sorry I caused any offense. That’s awful. I just meant to be honest, actually.”
Should a man lose his job over that? Should he be dragged like a suspected witch to the Twitter town square and thrown into the fire? Is it unforgivable to say that falling for a coworker is often a bad idea? The answer is “No.”
Mr. Hunt and his wife — who is also a scientist — were understandably angry with the way UCL hurried to throw them to the curb. They told The Guardian June 13:
What he said was wrong, he acknowledges, but the price he and his wife have had to pay for his mistakes has been extreme and unfair. “I have been hung out to dry,” says Hunt.
His wife, Professor Mary Collins, one of Britain’s most senior immunologists, is similarly indignant. She believes that University College London — where both scientists had posts — has acted in “an utterly unacceptable” way in pressuring both researchers and in failing to support their causes.
Certainly the speed of the dispatch of Hunt — who won the 2001 Nobel prize in physiology for his work on cell division — from his various academic posts is startling. In many cases this was done without him even being asked for his version of events, he says. The story shows, if nothing else, that the world of science can be every bit as brutal as that of politics.
The Guardian has it wrong — it isn’t science that is “brutal.” It is the ideology that so many academics subscribe to that is scary. It can take a man who dedicated his life to ridding the world of cancer and serve up his professional corpse within 24-48 hours if he upsets the sensitivities of his field’s rabid feminists.
Staff at University College London should be ashamed. A man was fired for acknowledging a simple truth: When two people fall in love — in a work setting — professional criticism becomes exponentially harder to deliver without tears.
Every time an institution tries to placate the Twitter mob, it only makes the mob hungry for more bodies. These people would try to end a zombie apocalypse by throwing the diseased some of the last remaining healthy humans.
The only thing University College London proved by firing Mr. Hunt is that while it may be a place of science, it is also occupied by a bunch of spineless academic back-stabbers.