Sir Tim Hunt's claims that remarks on girls in science were 'not sexist' are backed by leaked EU report

His claim that they were clearly a joke and followed with praise for women in science has been supported by a new transcript from the conference

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 25 June 2015 07:47 BST
Sir Tim Hunt made the remarks about women in science at a science journalist conference in South Korea.
Sir Tim Hunt made the remarks about women in science at a science journalist conference in South Korea. (CSABA SEGESVARI/AFP/Getty Images)

A leaked European Commission report has supported Sir Tim Smith’s claims that apparently sexist comments about the “trouble with girls in science” were meant as a joke.

The Nobel Prize laureate resigned from prestigious posts at University College London, the Royal Society and European Research Council (ERC) amid outrage over his remarks earlier this month.

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” he said to 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 criticise them they cry.

“Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls?”

The remarks prompted female scientists to share pictures of themselves in a Twitter trend (Danielle Spitzer/Twitter)

Outrage over the comments sparked the #distractinglysexy trend celebrating female scientists on Twitter and institutions Sir Tim worked with swiftly distanced themselves from him.

Within days, the 72-year-old had resigned from as Honorary Professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, the Royal Society's Biological Sciences Awards Committee and ERC.

But a leaked EU report seen by The Times supports Sir Tim’s claims that his remarks were an “idiotic joke” and not meant to be taken seriously.

A European Commission official who was at the lunch for women journalists and scientists offered a differing transcript from the account compiled by three reporters present.

The official included previously unreported comments that came directly after Sir Tim’s controversial remarks, the Times reported.

He allegedly continued: “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.”

Professor Brian Cox said the response to Sir Tim's remarks was 'disproportionate' and criticised 'Twitter mobs' (Handout)

Sir Tim mentioned the second part of the comments in an interview prior to the leak, insisting that he had attempted to make the joke clear.

“The words ‘now seriously’ make it very clear that I was making a joke, albeit a very bad one, but they were not mentioned in the first reports and I was deluged with hate mail,” he told The Observer.

The development comes amid calls for Sir Tim to be reinstated to his posts from scientists, former colleagues and supporters including Professor Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox.

He received the Nobel Price with two other researchers in 2001 for his work on the cell cycle, discovered the cyclin molecule and is credited for furthering the understanding of cancer.

A spokesperson for the European Commission told The Independent that the new leaked transcript forms part of a "mission report compiled by an official" and is not being treated as a verbatim transcript.

She would not comment on whether the authority would be considering reinstating Sir Tim to his post.

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