Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Meet Tim Hunt, A Nobel-Winning Biologist With Opinions On Girls In Laboratories

I love these foot-deep-in-the-throat stories, especially from those people whom the world has coddled and revered to such an extent that they now believe their utterances about everything is of great value.  Not just their utterances about the area of their expertise, mind you, but about everything.  It's a bit like Echidne criticizing opera singers or explaining to you in excruciating detail how to make a perfect souffle.

In other words, a joke.  And Dr Hunt did tell us that he was joking when talking like this at the World Conference on Science Journalists in Korea:

In remarks yesterday before writers, scientists, and engineers attending the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, Hunt stood and after thanking the women journalists “for making lunch," and warning attendees that he had a reputation as a male chauvinist, offered up his groundbreaking ideas on women in the field.
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” Hunt said, according to science journalist Connie St Louis, who tweeted the most disgusting points in his unrecorded speech. “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.” He continued that while he was in favor of single sex laboratories, he didn’t want to “stand in the way” of women.
Mmm.  I laughed, because the joke is so good.  Whether it's the joke Dr Hunt intended is an open question.  For instance, I immediately saw that to avoid those falling-in-love problems we need to separate not only women from men but gay men from all other men and lesbians from all other women.  Put the gay guys with the women and the lesbians with the men!

Oops.  That wouldn't stop the heterosexuals from developing crushes on the gays and lesbians.  The horror!

Not that I assume the crying problem could be solved that simply.  Those feminine waterworks are soooo annoying, right?  I personally prefer an open threat of having my face punched in after I criticize someone, or even a very, very red face and bulging eyes when the person sits there stewing in anger.  Or walks out slamming the door.  Or many of the other ways flawed and ordinary human beings fail to take criticism in the right way.  And, believe it or not, some men cry, too, when criticized. 

Though it could be that Dr Hunt, given his awkwardness with this speech, just has had general trouble with how to frame criticism.  Did he go on about the uselessness of women, say?  How the person will have no career, ever, but should rapidly learn to make packed lunches for male scientists?

I wouldn't put it past him. 

This is such fun. A bad effect of the online debates I follow is that my warped sense of humor gets regular feedings. 

But of course Dr Hunt doesn't really mean any of this.  He means that girls can't do science.  

And some of the comments attached to stories about this agree.  Even though reading most online comments is just another form of slow suicide, sometimes we can learn a bit from them. 

Take that crying argument.  When it's brought up, the assumption is that women cry far too easily when criticized and that this is very awkward.  The implicit assumption here is that men behave ideally when criticized (no yelling, no red faces, no threats of violence), and that's why the solution is the exclusion of women only*.  But in reality many people don't react to criticism terribly well, if by such a reaction we mean the perfect humility of a poor subordinate when being yelled at by his or her boss. 

If you follow the gender role debates long enough you will start seeing that they are almost always about assumed female weaknesses, not about assumed male and female weaknesses, and pretty seldom about assumed male weaknesses**.

Thus, the views about women's assumed emotional flaws color the discussion and are presented as the reason why Women Can't Have Nice Things and so on, whereas the stereotypical views about men's assumed emotional flaws are notable by their absence from this debate.

The Royal Society hastened to state that Dr. Hunt's opinions are his very own and not shared by the Society, and Dean Burnett in the UK Guardian wrote a rather humorous parable about old men in science, though at the cost of expanding the ridicule to a large demographic group consisting of many utterly innocent and even supportive individuals.

That's the general problem with overgeneralizing about vast groups of people, sigh.

*It's worth pointing out, by the way, that crying doesn't necessarily signal just grief or sorrow.  Many people cry when they are very angry.  That's worth pointing out, because anger appears to be an acceptable reaction to rude criticism, say.
**Sometimes weaknesses are used to explain why some groups should get a free pass.  For instance, conservative women have argued that women shouldn't be in the military because women are frail and need protection.  Likewise, some writers have argued that men shouldn't be expected to clean or cook or launder because they are so bad at those tasks.