The Myth of the Tim Hunt “Transcript”

Contemporary eyewitness accounts, plus a partial transcript, of what Sir Tim Hunt said during his brief toast in Seoul:

Thank you. I say something about the importance and value of women in science [acc Deborah Blum]. I also pay tribute to the capable female scientists I know, including name and name, by saying some nice things about them [acc Deborah Blum]. And I now acknowledge the contribution made by female science journalists. [acc Shai Panela]. It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women 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? But if we had separate labs, men would be the worse off for it! [acc Shiow Chin Tan] 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. So, congratulations, everybody, and I hope – I hope – I hope – I really do hope there is nothing holding you back, especially not monsters like me.” Laughter, clapping[acc: a recording by Natalia Demina: literally the only words for which there exists an actual transcript] 

 

If there is one thing my reporting on the Connie St. Louis scandal in Seoul has taught me, it is that eyewitness memory is fallible.

And ‘fallible’ is putting it kindly.

As the Tim Hunt story passes into its final stages, with Sir Tim cleared, and his reputation restored – he’s no sexist, he’s a lifelong supporter of women – there is one little bugbear I have to try my best to clear up.

There is no transcript of Sir Tim Hunt’s remarks in Seoul.

Of the two dueling versions of his brief joke – Connie St. Louis’ and the EU observer, who, allow me to tell you all now, sat at Connie’s own table with Ivan Oransky – it is, perhaps, a sign of general public anger at the obvious misreporting of Blum, Oransky and St. Louis that has allowed the “EU transcript” to seep into public consciousness. It’s cited BTL in comments on Sir Colin Blakemore’s resignation over ABSW’s refusal to investigate St. Louis; it’s cited in Tim Hunt’s Wikipedia entry – it’s cited everywhere.

But it’s wrong. And that is fundamental. It is closer to the truth than St. Louis’ version, sure, but that doesn’t make it true. Why does this matter? Because journalism studies, and scientists, think that they can judge Hunt fairly if they take as read that what he said is what was reported by the EU observer – who was more favourable to him by not only reporting half of his toast.

But, again, that is not the case. And it speaks to my fundamental point about what happened when Sir Tim Hunt made a joke against himself at a lunch in Seoul. Nobody recorded it in full; nobody can be quite sure what he said; the accounts contradict; there is no proof of a goddamned thing except for the photographs and audio of the very end of the speech.

So when you have no proof of any specific words said, many conflicting accounts, and a lot of provably false embellishments – then you shouldn’t act in a hasty way and demand his resignation from all that matters to him, in order to virtue signal your own commitment to liberal values.

Because that is, in fact, not liberal. It is not feminist. It is not truthful. It is not just. It is not evidence-based. It is not, to quote Deborah Blum’s vicious Daily Beast pack of lies, “kind”.

Compared to some of my other Tim Hunt blogs this one will not be that long. I have not touched the Tim Hunt wikipedia entry. I am biased. I support Sir Tim Hunt. I can see my bias. I have a POV. It is that a great injustice has occurred. I scorn to pretend to objectivity in my viewpoint.

But in this post I hope to offer up some objective facts, so that, perhaps, somebody else will alter that goddamned wikipedia entry and in the end, get rid of that wrong “transcript.”

The Various Accounts

  1. The CSL /DB/IO version of Hunt’s toast.

Nobel scientist Tim Hunt FRS says at Korean women lunch “I’m a chauvinist and keep ‘girls’ single lab

At #WCSJ2015 President lunch today sponsored by powerful role model Korean female scientists and engineers. Utterly ruined by sexist speaker Tim Hunt FRS @RoyalSociety who stood up on invitation and says he has a reputation as male chauvinist [sic]., He continued “let me tell you about my trouble with girls” “3 things happen when they are in the lab; you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize [sic]them, they cry” not happy with the big hole he has already dug he continues digging “I’m in favour of single-sex labs” BUT he “doesn’t want to stand in the way of women. [sic, no close quotes] Oh yeah! Sounds like it? [sic] let me tell you about my trouble with girls three things happen in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry! So as a result, he’s in favour of single-sex labs but he doesn’t want anything to stand in the way of women. Really does this Nobel Laureate think we are still in Victorian times??? [sic]

Readers will note that this account uses a description plus actual quotes.

Next, we have the EU “transcript” which has entered into the “Tim Hunt canon”. Around the internet one will find supporters saying “But this is what Tim Hunt actually said”

“It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women 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.”

The key words in this version are, of course, “Now seriously…” which mean that the preceding remarks were sarcasm or irony, negating, rather than affirming, the sentiment expressed.

The words in the CSL transcript, are, broadly speaking, in this transcript too – it just puts them in a context that makes it clear Hunt was being sarcastic, mocking himself, not women.

BUT THAT TRANSCRIPT ISN’T RIGHT EITHER.

The problem is the word “transcript”. It was used by both DB/CSL/IO and the EU official but with key and always omitted qualifiers. To his former intern Cat Ferguson at Buzzfeed, Oransky called the quotes “a post-hoc transcript.” In his report, the EU observer said it was a transcript “as best as I can remember.

Here is the audio snippet of the end of the toast, with laughter, recorded by eyewitness Natalia Demina:

So, that is the only true thing that we can transcribe.

‘So, congratulations, everybody, because I hope – I hope – I hope – I really hope there is nothing holding you back, especially not monsters like me.” Laughter – start of applause.

The words “congratulations, everybody” appear in neither account, and, logic dictates, must have been preceded by some warm sentiment towards women in science. It is impossible that CSL/DB/IO version is correct; there is nothing in it, either the quotes or the report, that could possibly have been followed by “congratulations, everybody.”

The other primary written data is the only contemporaneous report in existence, the tweet of Shai Panela

Nobel laureate Tim Hunt acknowledging the contribution of female science journalists

I think it is important to note that there was NO tweet or social media post criticising Hunt until Connie St. Louis posted her tweet. Nobody, but nobody, thought whatever Hunt had said was bad enough to write or tweet anything, on Facebook or Twitter, in the three hours after the lunch until CSL gave her interpretation. Aside from Panela’s tweet, the only other contemporaneous social media post was this photo by Timothy James Dimacali, simply captioned “Tim Hunt” for several days, until the media storm caused him to change his caption:

joking tim

Now let us look at the other eyewitness accounts about the content of the speech which are a day or so later. In this blog, I am specifically looking only at accounts of what Tim Hunt actually said, that are near contemporary. Shai Panela said two days later ‘but at least he’s honest that he’s known for being sexist!’ which accords with CSL/DB/IO tweet.

Crucially, however, Shiow Chin Tan, a science editor from Malaysia, tweeted in a series of tweets that I have storified, before the Today Show was even broadcast:

Sorry to butt in, but I was there, and IMO, he was joking.

Tan is shown St. Louis tweet above, the CSL/DB/IO transcript. She replies to it:

He did add that if single-sex labs were implemented, men would be the worst off for it. And both men and women were to blame for the falling in love bit. But I suppose this is one of those matters of perception.

Woah!

And wait, what’s this? Normally, I would not include any late accounts of Hunt’s speech, knowing what I know now about the utter fallibility of memory. But as it comes from his chief accuser Deborah Blum, I do wish to include it:

Hunt began also by paying tribute to the capable female scientists that he knew.

Surprisingly (nb: that is irony, it is not at all surprising) the account that Deborah Blum said that she verified and co-authored with St. Louis (without admitting it at the time)

As St. Louis recounted yesterday, she, Oransky, and I sat down, and compared our notes to make sure we had an accurate account.…we decided to keep it simple. Connie would tweet the event; Ivan and I would retweet her.

But this is extraordinary. Blum says she wanted to be sure she had an “accurate account” but she also stated that Sir Tim Hunt began his speech by “paying tribute to the capable female scientists he knew.”

Where is that tribute to the “capable female scientists” in the Connie St. Louis tweet – or, for that matter, the EU account?

It is nowhere.

I also looked again at Blum’s earlier account in her fallacious Storify:

I talked about the importance and value of women in science. And Sir Tim also said something like that

Well now! That is again different even from what Deborah Blum would later write in the Daily Beast, where she said:

Hunt began also by paying tribute to the capable female scientists that he knew.

Those two things aren’t the same; paying tribute to individual women scientists – I would guess, to Korean Professor Hyunsook Lee, whom he had mentored for twenty years (not present) and others – Mary Collins, perhaps? His wife? and talking of the ‘importance and value of women in science.’ Remember this is Deborah Blum’s own sodding account. Where the hell was it in her fauxtraged tweet?

Another throwaway line in Blum’s Storify verifies the account of Shiow Chin Tan:

These included the fact that 1) women scientists fall love with male scientists 2) vice versa 3)

That “vice-versa” accords exactly with Shiow Chin Tan saying

And both men and women were to blame for the falling in love bit.

So, Blum and Shiow Chin Tan including the same detail makes Shiow Chin Tan’s other notation, that men would be the worse off for it if labs were segregated, all the more believable.

So here is my hodge-podge version of all the accounts on the record. This isn’t a “transcript” – nothing like. It’s a rough inclusion of all that people who were there said at the time that Tim Hunt said (not weeks later post-storm).

Thank you. I say something about the importance and value of women in science [acc Deborah Blum]. I also pay tribute to the capable female scientists I know, including name and name, by saying some nice things about them [acc Deborah Blum]. And I now acknowledge the contribution made by female science journalists. [acc Shai Panela]. It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women 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? But if we had separate labs, men would be the worse off for it! [acc Shiow Chin Tan] 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. So, congratulations, everybody, and I hope – I hope – I hope – I really do hope there is nothing holding you back, especially not monsters like me.” Laughter, clapping[acc: a recording by Natalia Demina: literally the only words for which there exists an actual transcript]

Again, what I include in this post are accounts by witnesses, that are contemporary, of what Sir Tim Hunt said – not their characterisations of what he said: a joke, not a joke, deathly silence, a faux pas, a warm and funny speech, sexism incarnate, etc: I will sum those up in a later post. Here, I am not interested in recording what people thought of what he said (Shai Panela, very criticial, I misused her tweet, ugh; Shiow Chin Tan, said she laughed and applauded throughout, etc) but rather recording what they said that he said.

The Non-script above, the compilation album if you like, fits better the other piece of real, hard data that we have on Hunt’s toast; photographs. The WCSJ took photographs, Natalia Demina took photographs, and Timothy Dimacali took one photograph. All of these had different device or camera clocks, so one needs to compare like with like. Based on a series of photos by Natalia Demina, including her photo of Deborah Blum speaking before Tim Hunt, and her audio file recorded on the same device, I can state with certainty, having pulled the metadata, that Hunt’s toast lasted between two and three minutes. I will include all the known photos at the end of this post. The Non-script above, which includes all the accounts of contemporary witnesses of the words said, better fits a 2-3 minute toast than any of the other versions in isolation.

What then are we left with?

We are left with the fact that Sir Tim Hunt was asked – last minute, he had not prepared anything – to make some short remark at a lunch honouring women scientists, which he had agreed to attend as a guest of honour, on a trip for the ERC where he was showcasing two female scientists.

We are left with the fact that he spoke for two-three minutes (three minutes is the outer possible limit).

We are left with the fact that until CSL/DB/IO tweeted, there was no negative mention anywhere on social media.

We are left with the fact that Sir Tim opened this short toast with talking about the importance and value of women in science, and with praise of women scientists, paying tribute to them, so says his accuser Blum; then acknowledged the contribution of female science journalists; made a joke about his romantic trouble with women in the lab (he married his former lab student, the distinguished immunologist Professor Mary Collins); the rest of his short toast is disputed; he however, as a fact, closed his remarks with the words “so congratulations, everybody, because I hope, I hope, I hope, I really do hope there is nothing holding you back, especially not monsters like me,” and then his audience laughed and applauded.

Those are the facts. Those are the only facts. A two-three minute toast was given, by a last-minute request, at a lunch to honour women which Tim Hunt had happily agreed to grace as guest of honour; as part of a trip he made in order to help to showcase women scientist grantees; a toast that opened with the praise of women in science, and closed with congratulations to women in science, and was received with laughter and applause.

Everything else is disputed.

If you wish to argue that Hunt was appallingly sexist, you may. But you have to argue that he was so in between praising women scientists and women science journalists when he began, and congratulating them and wishing them well when he finished.

And you have no proof of the alleged sexism. For it is disputed.

Here are the photographs. I cannot resist pointing out that Deborah Blum repeatedly, most recently as a source in a non-fact-checked article in Wired Science by Sarah Zhang, stated that this was a ‘room of women scientists.’

where he joked to a room full of female scientists

what rubbish. And Blum was a speaker – she saw the audience.

You think it’s harmless to say to a roomful of women scientists (17 percent of Korean research population)

It wasn’t. It was invite-only for science journalists in receipt of travel grants and the heads of #Scicomm journalism associations. As you can see, at best, 50-50 m/f.

prelunch

 

DSC_0805

Paik thanking

Hee Young Paik of Kofwst who “thanked the women for making the lunch,” a sentiment bullshit fauxporters would blame Hunt for; a sentiment Scott Watkins of Australia told me was so sexist it caused groans at his table:

DSC_0802

Deborah Blum regales us with “kindness”. Her “remarks” were a minute long. Everyone looks riveted.

hunt up

th 2 tim 1th 3

joking tim

This, above, is Timothy Dimacali’s photo. Note that not only does St. Louis have her translator earpiece still in her ear, she is looking down.

hunt jokes

This photo, by Natalia Demina, is the last I have of the lunch. He looks deadly serious, no? “Not joking at all” as Connie St. Louis would lie on Radio 4? One more listen to how that little toast went down, words NOT in the “transcript” in the canon:

So here is my hope, citizen journalists, Wikipedia editors et al: you can say whatever you want about Tim Hunt, but there’s no transcript and no proof of anything he said except the end of his speech; and he opened and closed warmly towards women in science.

Let’s hope both “science” and “journalism” can, next time, look at, as Professor Dame Athene Donald puts it, “the importance of evidence.”

Because, as Sir Tim Hunt has said, ‘science needs women.’ And women in science need allies like Sir Tim Hunt. Guys who mentor women, appoint women, give women places at Cambridge, promote women, and get creches installed in their workplaces.

How many of the fauxtrage monsters have ever done a scintilla as much?

MLeptin J

11 comments

  1. Daran · October 23, 2015

    perhaps, somebody else will alter that goddamned wikipedia entry and in the end, get rid of that wrong “transcript.”

    It’s a wiki. Why don’t you alter it yourself?

    • Louise Mensch · October 23, 2015

      Because I am as biased as hell and unlike Hilda Bastian I don’t pretend otherwise

      • Daran · October 24, 2015

        Wikipedia’s “neutral point of view” policy refers to the articles, not to the editors personally. You’re not allowed to edit articles about yourself, but while you have been a part of the story, I don’t think you’re foreclosed from making a factual correction which isn’t specifically about you.

      • louisemensch · October 25, 2015

        Thanks Daran,

        I suppose I think that if I made a correction it would be deleted as non-factual and I have not the time to get into edit wars. I will ask Natalia Demina if we can upload her sound file to wikipedia. It is not my copyright or I would have done so already.

        I would love that audio to sit in that article as the single non-disputable fact out there.

      • Daran · October 28, 2015

        Ah, copyright…

        First, if you make any edit (and warrant that you have the authority to so distribute it) under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. If I recall correctly the GPL-FDL might also apply in certain circumstances. (If it is important, then check this. It might be outdated info or I might have misremembered..)

        Uploaded media must either be licensed as above or justified on fair-use grounds. The latter would be the appropriate option for the sound clip, because I doubt Demina has a valid copyright in it, while Tim Hunt surely does.

        I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Warranty limited to the price you paid for it.

      • louisemensch · October 29, 2015

        Don’t be silly; copyright lies with the maker of the recording (Ms. Demina) not its subject, and a highly valuable piece of 13 second audio has no ‘fair use’, it is wholly hers.

  2. Jim Roberts · October 23, 2015

    Wikipedia has rules of evidence that are vigorously enforced on contentious topics. It is not enough to be right. In order to fix the article this stuff needs to be vetted by a publisher.

    • louisemensch · October 25, 2015

      well, that’s why I have never posted on the article. I lay out my evidence with links and I ask others to assess it and correct. to be fair last time I looked, they had.

    • Daran · October 28, 2015

      Wikipedia has rules of evidence that are vigorously enforced on contentious topics. It is not enough to be right. In order to fix the article this stuff needs to be vetted by a publisher.

      Their rules don’t require it to be “vetted” by anyone. Rather the facts have to be attested to by a published source which they consider reliable. Blogs don’t count. Mainstream news media does, which is ironic under the circumstances.

  3. Ray Noble · October 23, 2015

    Thank you Louise Mensch for putting this together and demonstrating true journalism and not the shabby kind that condemned a good man.

  4. Pingback: Should UCL have asked Tim Hunt to resign? – Politics, Perception, Philosophy. And Physics.

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