Imagine the scene: you are a distinguished female scientist, a Professor and an employee of the college you work for, University College, London. You have a blameless employment record and have served your employer – and its students – with distinction for many years.
Suddenly you receive a call from a senior representative of your employer, pressurizing you about the actions of your spouse – actions you have nothing to do with, and do not understand as yet, because he is unable to speak for himself, as he is traveling back home from the far side of the world.
Your employer’s representative gives you a message for your spouse; he must resign, or he will be sacked. Your employer places you in the middle of its workplace drama with somebody else, a drama which, as a female scientist, you had nothing to do.
What a terrible, stressful suggestion – from your place of work – pass on its threat of public humiliation, without due process, to your beloved husband, an old man of 72, whom they are not allowing to come home and speak to them first.
That is what University College London apparently did to Professor Mary Collins; and the man said to have made the call is the Dean of Life Sciences, Professor Geraint Rees. Certainly he publicly tweeted about ‘taking action’ and ‘establishing facts’ on her husband before the University spoke to Sir Tim.
I don’t know if Professor Rees is in any way a superior to Professor Collins in the academic hierarchy. But why did UCL ask a woman employee to involve herself in its threats to the reputation of a member of her family? Is that not creating a hostile work environment?
I’d call that sexist, UCL. I’d call that bloody sexist. And if it happened, I don’t see how it can be either legal, or consistent with UCL policy towards paid employees.
What made this worse was that Professor Rees’s colleagues in academia, Professor David Colquhoun and Professor Dorothy Bishop*, had pre-judged Professor Collins’ husband and were actively campaigning to get him disciplined at the Royal Society and UCL – over a lie, and without fact-checking.
On Jun 7th Sir Tim Hunt was asked to say a few words at a luncheon speech in Seoul where he was supporting a conference of science journalists.
This speech included a self-deprecating joke about his own (factual) romance in the lab. It was not a joke about women scientists at all; it was a joke about his own romantic ineptitude, and it mocked sexist attitudes by saying “Now, seriously…” showing that the prior joke was irony, or sarcasm.
As is well known, Sir Tim and his wife, Professor Collins, met when she was his lab student and already married; she left her former husband for Sir Tim; they remain married – and they remain scientists.
“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 criticise them they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls? Now, seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science, despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”
In his professional life Sir Tim Hunt has an active record of mentoring and promoting women that have been his students. He has never asked for single-sex labs or advocated for them. Eminent female scientists that have studied under him, including Professor Hyunsook Lee, Professor of Biological Sciences at Seoul Unversity, have come forward to say so.
On Jun 7th, journalist Connie St Louis tweeted a partial account of Sir Tim’s words leaving out “Now seriously….” and his praise of women in science. She insisted that he was deadly serious and had not praised the role of women in science. She also stated Sir Tim had ‘thanked the women present for making the lunch because that was their role’
Some journalists present, like Deborah Blum, backed her account in tweets. Others denied it.
I shall write a separate blog on the unethical and false reporting of this event by Connie St Louis, Deborah Blum, Charles Seife, and others; but the academics come first – they are meant to be evidence-based scientists, not political campaigners.
At this point Sir Tim Hunt, who was doubtless bewildered, had made no statements to the press at all that were made public.
On June 9th, before Sir Tim Hunt had been able to speak to his university, University College London, or any statement from him had been broadcast, three Professors – two with affiliations to UCL and one to the Royal Society were – without even speaking to Sir Tim – plotting to deprive him of his honours without due process of any kind. It is VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE that they did so BEFORE his comments to Radio 4’s “Today” Show were broadcast.
They are: Professor David Colquhoun, Professor Dorothy Bishop – both of the “Diversity Committee” of the Royal Society, i understand – and Professor Geraint Rees.
[Edit – Professor Bishop has commented below and I have replied to her. She isn’t – thank God – on the Royal Society’s Diversity Committee – but she used it as the weapon for the smear campaign she waged on Sir Tim before he had said a word. As detailed here, she lobbied Professor Rees of UCL against him and she lobbied Colquhoun against him. I have removed statements that she is on the committee – she simply used the committee, via Colquhoun, demanding he be taken off his post where as her Royal Society colleague he serves. Again and again she is cited by Colquhoun for her demand that Sir Tim be forced out of the Royal Society’s committee – and UCL’s.]
Here is my evidence that all three pre-judged Sir Tim based on no evidence and without speaking to him: that they actively campaigned for the deprivation of his honorary posts.
This is unjust – and academically unsound. “Science needs women” is an ironic comment, given that “Science needs women” were words Tim Hunt also said at that lunch. Dorothy Bishop suggests “WE ask that he not be on ….committees given his views.” What views? She cannot know them; at this stage she has only an unverified tweet contradicted by other witnesses.
“Am establishing facts,” Professor Rees says. How could he do so, without having spoken to Sir Tim Hunt? “And will consider further action when known.”
But the facts were NOT known and COULD NOT have been known without speaking to Sir Tim.
“Can the diversity committee respond to this?” says one Clare Burrage, tagging in Professors Colquhoun and Bishop and showing them the tweet of St. Louis. “OMG, how very disappointing,’ says Colquhoun, tagging in @UTAFrith. “Are you referring to #Huntgate?”
Cool hashtag bro. You’re so hip.
Colquhoun immediately tweets to another person. I suggest that he is clearly lobbying: “I think we can expect statements soon from @RoyalSociety and @ucl (where Hunt has hon appt) about Huntgate.” He then links to a Royal Society statement of distance; presumably he and the “Diversity Committee” have demanded it. A woman scientist tweets to Colquhoun “Did he really say it?” Colquhoun says, tellingly “I fear he may have. We are on the job.” On the job, Detective Professor? What, without a word from the accused?
“It’s totally contrary to the beliefs of @royalsociety and @ucl… not that I speak for either.” “Good!” Colquhoun exults, RTing a Royal Society tweet to Connie St Louis saying “Tim Hunt’s comments don’t reflect our views.”
How could the Royal Society know what Tim Hunt’s comments were? But let’s get back to the busy, busy anti-Hunt campaign by powerful member of the Royal Society’s Diversity Committee, Professor David Colquhoun, UCL. “The Royal Society is quick off the mark dissociating itself from Hunt’s dreadful comments #Huntgate.”
But his fellow Royal Society member, Professor Dorothy Bishop, is not satisifed with the public shaming over a misreported joke about Prof. Hunt’s love life, and is using the Diversity Committee as her weapon. Again, at this stage Sir Tim Hunt had made NO reported comments to the press WHATSOEVER: “Not sure it’s enough. In five minutes or so Hunt has undermined all RS is trying to do on diversity. Need statement from Nurse.”
That’s Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, who joked that he wanted labs to be “marriage bureaus” and science students to fall in love and marry for visas. This wasn’t a view of the interview he discouraged: Nurse tweeted it out from the official Crick account. Can you say…… #DistractinglySexy?
But I digress… Sir Paul’s cunning and #DistractinglySexy Crick laboratory has “distracted” me from the pre-judging campaign waged by Bishop and Colquhoun against a gentle old man, their distinguished colleague, who has supported women scientists all his working life, without the courtesy of speaking to him.
We are still before any comments made by Sir Tim Hunt.
He and Bishop are a bit more open about how they are lobbying against Hunt, before speaking to him, and on the basis of a misleading, partial report, in the comments below this blog – before the Radio 4 Today Show was broadcast. Dorothy Bishop, FRS, also says of Sir Tim Hunt, FRS, at that moment, still her colleague at the FRS and still on a committee of the Royal Society, “there is no requirement you be a decent human being.”
Let’s take a pause here: Bishop says Tim Hunt is not a decent human being, before he has made any comment whatsoever.
Into the pre-judgement, no-due-process fray, we now welcome Professor Geraint Rees, Dean of Life Sciences at University College London; who obliges Professor Colquhoun’s campaign with a tweet saying UCL rejects the “alleged views”. For good measure he too tags in @RoyalSociety – I expect at the explicit request of either or both of Professors Colquhoun and Bishop, but can’t be sure.
Wooh! An “alleged”!
But Professor David Colquhoun is certainly not going to allow a little disclaimer like “alleged” spoil his fun with Tim Hunt: “Very glad to see my dean coming out swinging on the Hunt affair,” he crows.
Coming out swinging.
Nobody has heard from, or spoken to, Sir Tim Hunt.
But see! What light from yonder window breaks? Why, ’tis the Today Show on Radio Four and its producer Tom Feilden, who is has read the unpleasant comments calling Hunt not a decent human being and demanding the removal of his committee memberships before speaking to him.
‘Will you give me a call?” he asks of Bishop and Colquhoun. He also seeks comment from @UTAfrith. Amazingly, he did not ask @Demna25 to comment, as she was tweeting what a total absurdity Connie St Louis account of the event was. Feilden did not approach any defenders of Sir Tim Hunt on Twitter.
“Just called but you weren’t there,” says Colquhoun, although he obviously reaches Feilden later. Next, David Colquhoun approvingly cites as evidence of Tim Hunt’s wickedness a Buzzfeed piece that had to be retracted:
Tim Hunt did not say “Thanks to the women journalists for making lunch.” This was reported on Twitter, but was later corrected to note that it was said by a female politician. Jun. 10, 2015, at 7:59 a.m.
And in possibly his greatest hit, Professor David Colquhoun, University College London, Fellow of the Royal Society, “Diversity Committee” of the Royal Society, calls Sir Tim Hunt, 72, FRS, UCL (at that moment) a “misogynist.”
A misogynist. A person who hates women. Sir Tim Hunt.
I had a look. He’s edited it. Facebook preserves the edit history:
Yesterday saw a disaster for the advancement of women. Tim Hunt is reported to have made appallingly misogynistic comments about female scientists. The best report so far is on Buzzfeed
That would be the Buzzfeed “report” that Sir Tim Hunt “thanked women scientists for making his lunch” based on mis-read tweet which they retracted. Two days later Colquhoun added:
As a member of the Royal Society’s diversity committee, I feel pretty angry about his daft views. I’ve heard nothing like them for many decades. They have set back our work, temporarily.
In the comments underneath his post, Professor Colquhoun comes up with some KILLER evidence of what an UTTER WOMAN-HATING BASTARD Tim Hunt is:
“Here you can see Tim Hunt tipping a bucket of ice water over his (very successful) wife”
Yes, that’s right, the married scientists had entered the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. WHAT A PROPER PAIR OF [GENDERED INSULTS]!
At this point I am suspecting Professor Colquhoun doesn’t get out much.
But Tom Feilden of Radio 4 having solicited opinions only from arch-critics of Hunt has now got an interview up. I have asked the BBC many questions about this interview. I have received background partial answers which I cannot quote, and have requested on-the-record answers.
Here, however, is a summary:
In the piece, the presenter opens the segment by stating as a fact that Sir Tim Hunt said words he did not say, in an order he did not say them. She notes with sarcasm that Sir Tim had said he was joking and being ironic.
This was the first time the world had heard any statement at all that Tim Hunt was not only joking but joking ironically, that is, sending up himself, not sending up women.
However, the Today show does not broadcast Tim Hunt’s speech in his own defence, explaining what he meant by the joke and the irony of it. That is a basic, fundamental requirement of an impartial state broadcaster. It has never put those words or quotes online.
She then moves to a quote from Hunt, where he talks about emotion and crying without mentioning women at all. It ends “I only meant to be honest, really.”
Unchallenged, Connie St. Louis and Jennifer Rohn are allowed both to give negative views on Hunt and present, in the case of St. Louis, falsehoods as facts. St. Louis’s lies are so voluminous they require a separate blog, and I refer here to the lies in her account, not the lies on her CV. Rohn is the author of a “Lab-Lit” romance called “Experimental Heart” described by Science magazine’s reviewer, an oncologist, as an “accurate” portrayal of the “familiar” world of “dark-room romance.”
This broadcast, however, spliced the words “I was only being honest” away from where Sir Tim actually said them and put them after comments about crying (where women aren’t mentioned) to make it appear “I was just trying to be honest” referred to his views on women rather than about his own life. A later BBC audio of Sir Tim shows he clearly refers to his own life (as his joke did) and ends with the same words “I was just trying to be honest” – that is, about himself, not women in science.
David Colquhoun then won the victory for which he had so ardently been lobbying. Tellingly, he said it “would have been sooner” “had he not been on a plane back from Korea.” Note his use of the word “job”, something he later denies Sir Tim had (after the backlash starts).
The Today show audio was partial at best. “I was only being honest” appears to have been wrongly placed. At my university, Oxford, we were taught to examine primary sources and challenge assumptions. At the very least, it was clear on June 10th that there was more Sir Tim had told the BBC as the presenter referred to it “he claims he was joking“. But UCL did not ask Sir Tim. The Royal Society, whose President Sir Paul Nurse had made a much more #distractinglysexy joke about the Crick lab, did not ask Sir Tim.
Instead, it appears, Professor Geraint Rees, who had publicly stated he was “establishing the facts” and would take more action “when known” (they were not) – allegedly called Professor Mary Collins, an actual employee of University College London, and informed her that if Sir Tim did not resign he would be sacked. Professor Rees and UCL did not deny it when this was put to them by the Telegraph. I have given Professor Rees the chance to rebut this allegation over several days as part of public-interest journalism, and he has not. Still, if it was not Prof. Rees it was a senior colleague of Prof. Mary Collins and s/he was speaking for the employer.
This is #DistractinglySexist. This is dishonourable. This is evidence-free. This is unscientific. This is political. This is a hostile work environment for Professor Mary Collins. What had she to do with it? How will UCL explain their overtly sexist actions – not jokes, actions?
How will the Royal Society explain their actions towards Sir Tim Hunt FRS on no evidence that was tested – such as, was the Today show broadcast the full story in the right order and context?
How will they explain the pre-judgement of Sir Tim BEFORE the Today show broadcast by Professors Bishop and Colquhoun? How will the Royal Society explain their different approaches to the jokes of Hunt and Nurse?
Sir Tim Hunt’s personal decision to offer his resignation from his honorary position at UCL was a sad and unfortunate outcome of the comments he made in a speech last week. Media and online commentary played no part in UCL’s decision to accept his resignation.
In a huge amount of back-tracking and scrambling Bishop and Colquhoun have referred to this last line again and again. But “media and online commentary” is the ONLY source UCL had over what Sir Tim Hunt had said in Korea. They had no other sources, because they did not speak to Sir Tim Hunt. His words on Radio 4 could have been – and in fact had been – heavily edited. They did not check with Sir Tim Hunt to see if this was the case. Thus, they had no sources other than media and online sources. Due process did not happen.
Neither did respect for the position and rights of their actual employee – Professor Mary Collins.
UCL has a Council on 9th July. Given the evidence that Sir Tim Hunt’s resignation was forced in a sexist manner via his wife, and that two of the most powerful pushing for it had pre-judged Sir Tim EVEN BEFORE THE EDITED TODAY SHOW PROGRAMME, Fellows of UCL, or whoever judges there, should ask that his honorary Professorship be restored.
The Royal Society, on similar grounds, should restore his honorary membership of whatever committee he was on.
And because of their campaigning and pre-judgement of Sir Tim, which was evidence-free, contrary to good science, Professors Dorothy Bishop and David Colquhoun should, in my view, both be asked to resign from the Diversity Committee of the Royal Society.
And the last word on Sir Tim Hunt, described, pre-Today show, by Professor David Colquhoun as a “misogynist” and of whom Professor Dorothy Bishop (of Oxford University, I am ashamed to say) stated “You don’t need to be a decent human being” to be an FRS, should go to one of his former female science students, Hyunsook Lee, now a Professor of Biological Sciences at Seoul University, Korea:
Thank you very much for fighting cancer, Sir Tim Hunt, FRS, Nobel prize-winning biochemist. I am not a Professor of science like David Colquhoun nor a Pulitzer winner like Deborah Blum. But I am a woman and a feminist, and I am grateful for your scientific work and your life-long mentoring of, and support for, women.
* I called her “Deborah Bishop” when her name is “Dorothy Bishop.”