Will the New York Times Correct Its Misreporting on Tim Hunt?

Dear New York Times,

please correct this Sir Tim Hunt article of 11th June.

It contains a number of serious errors. The reporter has stated as fact things that were merely alleged and now are proven to be false. There has also been a lack of basic fact-checking unworthy of the New York Times.

1. ‘Within minutes…’

In fact, Ms. St. Louis, by her own account later given, took 3 hours to compose and send her tweet. Prior to that there were no mentions on social media of Sir Tim’s speech that were negative, according to a search on Topsy. It is factually false that there was an immediate negative reaction. There was no negative reaction til Ms. St. Louis tweeted.

2. ‘Within minutes, the comments, which were greeted with stony silence and no little anger at the conference, spurred a global backlash.’

stony silence NYT J

The comments were not greeted with stony silence. The testimony of multiple eyewitnesses has long been out on this matter, but the New York Times has failed to correct the record. The Times newspaper this past weekend has published new audio of Sir Tim’s toast being greeted by warm laughter from his audience of female scientists and science journalists. Although the snippet of recording does not include the applause that followed the laughter, multiple eyewitnesses have gone on the record to state it was sustained applause.

The reporter took Ms. St. Louis’s words at face value and reported them as fact without an ‘alleged’. He is London based, according to his Twitter profile, and seems to have lifted the phrase ‘stony silence’ from Ms. St Louis’ accounts on BBC radio and television where she used the words ‘deathly silence’ and ‘stony faced’ respectively, as well as saying ‘Very clearly, nobody was laughing.’ 

3. ‘He elaborated on his comments that women are prone to cry when confronted with criticism.’ and ‘saying that female scientists should be segregated from male colleagues.’ 

This is unsupported by the quote that follows, where Sir Tim refers to people and not to women. Contemporary eyewitness accounts of his brief joke (an apparent reference to the distinguished immunologist Professor Mary Collins, his own wife, whom he met when she was his lab student) say that in his toast Sir Tim applied his comments about emotion equally to men and women. A Malaysian editor present was quoted in the Times as saying that Sir Tim had said ‘men would be the worse off for it’ if laboratories were segregated. This also means, of course, that the reporter’s opening statement ‘saying that female scientists should be segregated from male colleagues’ is false. Whilst the accounts of Ms. Chin and Ms. St Louis are duelling in this regard, your reporter should not have simply stated as fact what Ms. St Louis merely asserted was true.*

Although your reporter had no access to these contrary accounts, the New York Times reported as a fact what Ms. St. Louis had said was true, without any qualifying ‘alleged’ or ‘reported’. Ms. St. Louis account is now proven false in the important respect of ‘deathly silence’ greeting the toast; your wrong phrase is ‘stony silence’.

4. Lastly, and as a matter of style, your report throughout refers to Sir Tim Hunt as ‘Mr. Hunt.’ Whilst sources say that Sir Tim and Professor Collins are liberal in their politics and unlikely to be snobby, Sir Tim was awarded his knighthood precisely because he won a Nobel prize in 2001. His title is not ‘Mr. Hunt.’ It is ‘Sir Tim Hunt’. This matters in respect of your report, in that it illustrates how very little, if any, fact-checking your reporter did before producing it.

I request a correction.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Mensch 

*[readers wishing to join me in requesting a correction should email nytnews@nytimes.com. The blog text in italics was not in my email; I have just realised this error; I will write again suggesting this too be corrected,]

13 comments

  1. Dr Chris Westwood · July 20, 2015

    Best of luck. My guess is that they would prefer to let the issue pass without further comment. The current edition of the THES summed it up well by asking why are those who criticised Hunt now so silent. Not a word yet from Uta Frith or Dorothy Bishop. These are senior academics who should explain their actions. Colquohoun just argues that Hunt is condemned still by his BBC interview. If people like this remain on any committee promoting diversity then diversity is lost at sea. As an aside, were you aware that the two American academics in league with CSL were in fact on the conference organising team. So they rubbished their own conference by going public rather than resolving any issue with Hunt at the time.

    Congratulations on what you ave achieved so far.

    • Morten Dahl · July 21, 2015

      Should you be interested in reading more about the conference organising team, it is elaborated in “Less Than Full Disclosure in the Tim Hunt Scandal”

      http://secondlanguage.blogspot.dk/2015/07/less-than-full-disclosure-in-tim-hunt.html

      CSL in fact refers to Oransky as “a friend of mine”. Oransky and Bloom invited Tim Hunt as a keynote speaker. Thus it is strange that CSL´s first reaction to Tim Hunt´s remark was “who is this man?”.

      On the blog there is also a video of CSL speaking at a conference. She cleary express that the most important goal of science journalism isn´t a critical approach to the scientific process and results as you might expect, but “finding the hole in the armor” of the scientist. Go for the man. In my mind this clarifies her motivation for going after hunt. I guess the only thing CSL and her fellow social justice warriors extract from this saga is not that they have been proven wrong by facts and dats but only that they didn´t succed in “finding a hole” in Tim Hunts armor. The still know he´s a sexist.

  2. benjaminhuish · July 20, 2015

    Hear hear!

  3. Tom · July 20, 2015

    I believe the “Ms. Chin” you refer to is Tan Siow Chin, in which case her name is possibly Ms Tan. Malaysian names can be tricky – I know I check facts for a proper newspaper!

  4. Dr Chris Westwood · July 21, 2015

    How are you progressing with the BBC interview with Tim Hunt. I gather it was doctored. They have form here. Remember they reversed the order of events in the royal household way back to create a scandal. If you have an issue with BBC you could not find a better time than this.

    • Paul Matthews · July 21, 2015

      I believe Louise has said that she has a blog post on the BBC in the pipeline.
      Firstly there is the BBC’s ‘doctoring’ of Tim Hunt’s tape discussed here by Alex Cull in which the same “I’m really, really sorry” phrase was stuck on to two different statements. As you say, the BBC has form for this – Alex Cull mentions another example.
      Secondly, the BBC has the same issue as the NYT. They broadcast a piece on June 10th on the Today Programme at peak time in which listeners were told twice that there was a “deathly silence”. We now know for certain that this is not true. The BBC Today Programme has a duty to correct the error.

      • Dr Chris Westwood · July 21, 2015

        I hope Louise makes progress here ASAP. Most of that loathsome bunch of senior academics who attacked Hunt are just saying nothing as though it never happened. They were happy to destroy Hunt out of professional jealousy and sheer spite. David Colquhoun, however, is still attacking Hunt on the basis of the BBC interview. I would like to see that particuar rug pulled from under him. I have no wish to see CSL or any of this disgusting bunch sacked over this. That would be stooping to their particularly low level of nastiness. But they should be made to face up to what they have done, and how they have destroyed Hunt’s reputation. Does anyone know if Louise is talking to the people in Korea? They must realise by now how they have been used. They should be given the opportunity to decide if CSL and her partners should apologise, because they are also acting as though nothing has happened.

  5. Michael Pyshnov · July 21, 2015

    See this. I don’t know what is this:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/2015/20150707_io
    Three of them, the witnesses, talked and then decided to make a false case?

  6. Pingback: The Silence of the Shams: #WCSJ2015 Falsely Reported Sir Tim Hunt | Unfashionista
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  8. Pingback: Why should the Tim Hunt saga matter to an everyday Brit? - UK Rants

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