Justice

Nobel Scientist Tim Hunt Resigns After Sexist Comments

Tim Hunt, the 2001 Nobel Prize winner for medicine, has just resigned from his position as Honorary Professor with the University College London (UCL) Faculty of Life Sciences following comments he made about women posing distractions to men in labs. 

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls," Hunt said at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. "Three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Hunt faced some serious backlash on the Internet after these remarks spread like wildfire online, leading to his resignation from UCL. 

"UCL can confirm that Sir Tim Hunt FRS has today resigned from his position as Honorary Professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, following comments he made about women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists on 9 June," UCL's website reads. "UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality."

Hunt said in a later interview with BBC Radio 4 Today that he's sorry for hurting anyone's feelings but not for claiming women can pose scientific disruptions in labs. He added that calling for separate labs was a “very stupid thing to do in the presence of all those journalists," as his "light-hearted, ironic comment” had been “interpreted deadly seriously by [his] audience." He continued:

“I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that I have fallen in love with people in the lab and that people in the lab have fallen in love with me. It’s very disruptive to science, because it’s terribly important in the lab that people are on a level playing, and I’ve found that these emotional entanglements have made life difficult. I’m really really sorry that I caused any offense, that’s awful. I just meant to be honest, actually ... Science is about nothing but getting at the truth and anything that gets in the way of that diminishes, in my experience, the science."

University College London cell biologist Dr. Jennifer Rohn seemed to understand Hunt's attempt at a joke had gone terribly wrong, saying in the same radio interview, “I think it was clear he was trying to be funny. But people will interpret his comments as having a kernel of truth underneath. And as a Nobel laureate, I know he’s a human being, but he does have some sort of responsibility as a role model and as an ambassador for the profession.”

The intended humor, it seems, wasn't well-received. Hunt's comments drew some "light-hearted" but honest criticism on the Internet, particularly from female scientists: