Most people assume that in order to be a Nobel Prize winner, you have to have accomplished something in the field in which you won and be fairly intelligent. Sir Tim Hunt is challenging the second piece of criteria by making comments that can only be described as poorly thought out at best. Hunt himself has apologized for making the comments, but has decided to stand by them.
“Three things happen when [women] are in the lab,” said Hunt, at a Women’s Convention on science and journalism in Seoul, “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.” Yeah, these are things said by an actual grown adult who has been knighted, won a Nobel Prize for discoveries in biology, and has a freaking PHD from Cambridge University. He also added that he believes that men and women should work in gender segregated labs to avoid such issues.
The comments are troubling for a number of reasons. First, to say that women being present in labs is problematic implies that scientific research is for men only and that women are somehow interlopers in the field. Women represent fewer than 13 percent of scientists in Hunt’s home country of the United Kingdom.
Second, the implication that somehow just being in proximity to women will suddenly make male scientists all twitterpated, and vice versa, should be offensive to scientists. Somehow they are the only profession in the world whose workers lack a modicum of self-control when working closely with members of another gender? And what of gay and lesbian scientists? Should they be segregated from one another, as well, so as to avoid catching the dreaded disease of emotion?
Third, the implication that women instantly get the vapors and break down crying anytime somebody gives them criticism is so flatly sexist that it shouldn’t even require a response. Hunt is saying, essentially, that women are incapable of exerting control over their emotions, or he is saying that having emotional reactions in general is a feminine trait and thus inherently bad. It also implies that men don’t, and shouldn’t, cry either, lest they lose their masculinity, and therefore credibility, by doing so. In other words, it’s so blatantly incorrect on several levels that it’s utter nonsense.
Finally, he also implies that if, somehow, the women in the lab manage to sucker the men into falling in love with them that it would inherently impede their work. A former Nobel Prize winning female scientist, Marie Curie, and her husband Pierre easily shoot that theory down.
In the end, it seems that Hunt is simply an old school kind of guy who is so extremely awkward being around women that he’d rather the entire scientific community segregate them than have to develop any sort of maturity or social skills. Sadly, when someone of his standing makes such comments it can have a very detrimental effect on young scientists, male and female alike. The young men who look up to him may find themselves taking his comments seriously and seek to separate women from men, and some young women may find themselves looking into other fields that are more welcoming.
Sadly, many of them may actually cry because of his comments, not because they’re women and thus incapable of controlling their emotions, but because somebody who they used to consider a hero is belittling their abilities simply based on their gender.