Sir Tim Hunt says he is 'finished' and has been 'hung out to dry' after making sexist comments


Doug Bolton
Sunday 14 June 2015 10:50 BST
Sir Tim Hunt said made sexist remarks about women in science at a science journalist conference in South Korea.
Sir Tim Hunt said made sexist remarks about women in science at a science journalist conference in South Korea. (CSABA SEGESVARI/AFP/Getty Images)

A leading Nobel laureate scientist who lost his job after making comments that were widely seen as sexist has said he has been "hung to dry".

Sir Tim Hunt, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, made the controversial comments at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea on 9 June.

He said: "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."

Hunt faced a backlash over the comments, which culminated in him resigning from his role as honorary professor at University College London faculty of life sciences, and The Royal Society distancing itself from his comments.

After speaking at the conference, he said he was sorry if he caused any offence, but added he "just meant to be honest" and that he "did mean the part about having trouble with girls."

In an interview with The Observer, his first major interview since the conference, he said he feels he has been treated unfairly, and that he was not given a proper chance to give his side of the story following the backlash.

Speaking about his comments at the conference, he said: "I was very nervous and a bit confused but, yes, I made those remarks - which were inexcusable - but I made them in a totally jocular, ironic way. There was some polite applause and that was it, I thought. I thought everything was OK. No one accused me of being a sexist pig."

His wife, Professor Mary Collins, told the paper: "You can see why it could be taken as offensive if you didn't know Tim. But relly it was just part of his upbringing. He went to a single-sex school in the 1960s. Nevertheless he is not sexist. I am a feminist, and I would not have put up with him if he were sexist."

Although he was making a joke, his comments were met with an immediate backlash, especially online. Some called for him to lose his job, and many women working in science begain posting pictures of themselves in the lab with the hashtag #distractinglysexy in response.

He said that he has been a victim of a "rush to judgement", and told the paper that he is "finished".

He said: "I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but I cannot see how that can happen. I have become toxic. I have been hung to dry by academic instititues who have not even bothered to ask me for side of affairs."

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