Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TL;DR #TimHunt

Louise Mensch has now written a very detailed set of closing arguments for the defence of Sir Tim Hunt, or the prosecution of his attackers, as you will. I agree with almost everything she says, except, I guess, that there is no more work to be done. We still have to find out how this happened. But that's not what this post is for. I want to attempt to make a simple statement about just exactly what happened to centre any further investigations of how.

[Update: I had intentionally left the controversy around what Tim Hunt actually said out of this summary. David Kroll has now offered what I think is the most concise and accurate statement I've yet seen. Like him, I am "reasonably certain that his words on women in science were self-deprecating ... and that his overall message was to congratulate the Korean women scientists in attendance for their ability to perform at a level that becomes all the more impressive in the face of outdated attitudes about women in science as exemplified by his self-parody." Indeed, I think that that is all anyone who wasn't in the room that day, and who carefully considers the evidence, can be, i.e., reasonably certain that that's what Tim Hunt was trying to say.]

At this point it seems clear that two members of the program committee of this year's World Conference of Science Journalists, namely, Ivan Oransky and Deborah Blum, along with Connie St Louis, a newly elected member of the executive board of the conference organiser, namely, the World Federation of Science Journalists, deliberately set out to humiliate one of their own conference speakers, and, in order to do so, found themselves having to egregiously misrepresent both what he said and how it was received. When they went public with their accusations, they made no mention of their close connection to the conference at which Sir Tim had been invited to speak, nor their close ties to the federation that organised it. As far as I know, to this day, neither they nor the WFSJ has acknowledged this relationship, and their defenders continue to believe that they were merely intrepid journalists reporting a story.

Though the accusation of Tim Hunt's sexism was contained in a single poorly-worded tweet, the BBC uncritically adopted the framing suggested by St Louis, Blum and Oransky, as did University College London, where Tim Hunt was very quickly forced to resign his honorary position based on his hastily formulated apology (immediately misconstrued as confession) to the BBC. In accepting his resignation, UCL's president and provost, Michael Arthur, made a specific point of saying that Sir Tim Hunt no longer brought "honour" to the position. The UCL council subsequently supported Arthur, saying that the resignation had been accepted in "good faith" and Hunt would not be reinstated. The tail, that is, had wagged the dog.


Debbie Kennett said...

What does the TL/DR stand for?

Thomas said...

"Too long; didn't read." It's an expression people sometimes use to balk at the very idea of getting into the details. (Sort of the updated version of K.I.S.S. maybe.) It's now also being used to signal a summary, as in "Here's the TL;DR version: Hunt is not sexist", or just "TL;DR: Hunt is not sexist" at the top of a long post going through the evidence.

I think I'm using it correctly here. This post is an attempt to state my position on the case plainly for people who don't want to read my admittedly verbose contributions to this discussion.