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.’
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.
*[readers wishing to join me in requesting a correction should email firstname.lastname@example.org. 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,]