As I wrote in my last Newsday column, while Sir Tim Hunt’s “girls in the lab” jokes at a women in science luncheon at a conference in Seoul were tacky and dumb, the savaging to which the British Nobel laureate has been subjected — which includes being forced to resign from the University College of London and from several prestigious science committees, including one he co-founded — is not only absurd but utterly disgraceful. Even The Guardian, which faithfully toes the feminist party line these days and which initially ran a gloating response to Hunt’s resignation, followed up with two sympathetic articles by the paper’s science editor Robin McKie.
But now, along comes Salon, where Scott Eric Kaufman slams evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins for defending Hunt in a letter to the Times in which Dawkins criticizes Hunt’s joke but quite rihtly deplores “the baying witch-hunt that it unleashed among our academic thought police: nothing less than a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness.” The headline on Kaufman’s piece refers to Hunt as “misogynistic.” While Kaufman doesn’t use that word in the text, he implies that Hunt actually is in favor of gender-segregated labs and insists on treating Hunt’s clumsy initial attempt to explain his remarks in a comment to BBC Radio 4 as an admission that they reflected his actual views (i.e. that “girls in the lab” are trouble because you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and they cry when you criticize them). Yes, Hunt “admitted” that love in the lab had happened to him and had been disruptive; it sounds like he was more self-deprecating than anything else. (He later told The Guardian that his comment to the BBC was a recorded message after midnight, when he had just found out that his remarks had caused outrage.)
What Kaufman does not to mention is that Dawkins is far from the only scientist to speak up on Hunt’s behalf. His other defenders include prominent female scientists such as Cambridge physicist Dame Athene Donald, who has described him as “immensely supportive” of initiatives to promote gender equality in science; biologist Ottoline Leyser, also of Cambridge, who has said she was quite certain that Hunt was “not a sexist in any way”; and physiologist Dame Nancy Rothwell, who has pointed out that he had “trained and mentored some outstanding female scientists.” Nor does Kaufman see fit to acknowledge that Hunt’s wife and colleague Mary Collins, an immunologist who describes herself as a feminist, has said she is “extremely angry” about the backlash, which has “badly tarnished” her own relationship with University College.
What a dishonest hit piece.