After the reaction to a reported “sexist” speech made by Nobel-prize winning biochemistry scientist Sir Tim Hunt, 73, forced him to resign from his honorary Professorship post at University College London (UCL), a newly released recording now reportedly shows it to have been a joke as Sir Tim claimed all along. And, more importantly, that the laughing audience took it as one.
Of course, misinterpreting jokes or joking actions is not new, as the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has sadly found out after recently discovered footage revealed her making fun of the Nazi salute at the age of eight. In Sir Tim’s case it was his jestful “sexist” comments which included a notion that female scientists were more apt to fall in love or burst into tears that were taken seriously and resulted in a “politically correct” campaign to have him removed from his post. The authorities at UCL, led by economist and former Bank of England adviser, Dame DeAnne Julius, acceded to the demand and forced Sir Tim to resign over this “sexist outrage”. Sir Tim also subsequently resigned from the European Research Council’s science committee.
However, with this recording evidence, it has now become apparent that there had been serious misreporting by three journalists of the speech’s nature and its effect on the audience. In other words, it should be they who should have been asked to resign rather than Sir Tim. It was a rare mistake by the otherwise admirable DeAnne Julius not to have waited until all the evidence had come in, and a clamour is rising that she and her committee should reappoint Sir Tim without delay.
On the subject of bursting into tears which also sort of defeats Tim Hunt’s jestfully sexist notion, it was, of course, a similar “politically correct” internet mob that caused the tears of the normally jolly male ESA scientist, Dr Matt Taylor, after he wore a slightly risqué Hawaiian shirt during a televised interview about the Rosetta-Philae mission in November 2014.
While “political correctness” is well meaning and has its heart in the right place, the bullying fascism on display in both these events is simply unacceptable. Effectively a mob of self appointed humourless guardians of what is right in the world, is making individuals all too fearful of expressing their own views. This is putting a halt to the thing that prevents the true fascisms of inequality, injustice and evil: the Right of Free Speech.