UK

Sir Tim Hunt 'sorry' over 'trouble with girls' comments

  • 10 June 2015
  • From the section UK
Sir Tim Hunt Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Tim Hunt was speaking at a conference in South Korea

Scientist 'sorry' over girls comment

A Nobel laureate has apologised for any offence after he made comments about the "trouble with girls" in science - but said he had "meant to be honest".

Sir Tim Hunt, who is a Royal Society fellow, reportedly told a conference in South Korea women in labs "cry" when you criticise them and "fall in love" with their male counterparts.

He told the BBC he "did mean" the remarks but was "really sorry".

The society said Sir Tim's comments did not reflect its own views.

'Emotional entanglements'

Sir Tim, 72, who was awarded the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2001 for his work on how cells divide, reportedly told the World Conference of Science Journalists: "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."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said he was "really sorry that I said what I said", adding it was "a very stupid thing to do in the presence of all those journalists".

Media captionSir Tim Hunt suggested 'girls' should stay out of the laboratory because they distract men

The British biochemist, who was knighted in 2006, said the remarks were "intended as a light-hearted, ironic comment" but had been "interpreted deadly seriously by my audience".

He went on to say he stood by some of the remarks.

"I did mean the part about having trouble with girls," he said. "It is true that people - I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it's very disruptive to the science because it's terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.

"I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult.

"I'm really, really sorry I caused any offence, that's awful. I certainly didn't mean that. I just meant to be honest, actually."

'Stony-faced audience'

On his remarks about women crying, he said: "It's terribly important that you can criticise people's ideas without criticising them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth.

"Science is about nothing but getting at the truth and anything that gets in the way of that diminishes, in my experience, the science."

Connie St Louis, a lecturer in science journalism at City University, was in the 100-strong audience in South Korea.

"Nobody was laughing, everybody was stony-faced," she told the BBC News Channel.

"The Korean female scientists who hosted us looked aghast and he just ploughed on for about five to seven minutes.

"It was just really shocking. It was culturally insensitive and it was very sexist. I just thought, 'Where in the world do you think you are that you can be making these kind of comments in 2015?'"

Media captionLecturer Connie St Louis described the mood in the room as Sir Tim Hunt made his remarks

Dr Jennifer Rohn, a cell biologist at University College London, added: "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."

Imran Khan, chief executive of the British Science Association, said Sir Tim's comments were "careless".

"Sadly, dealing with sexism and other forms of discrimination are a daily reality for many people, and I imagine it's hard to find Sir Tim's comments funny if you've been held back by systemic bias for years - whether those remarks were intended as a joke or not," he said.

The Royal Society, which promotes and supports scientific advances, said: "Too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the society is committed to helping to put this right.

"Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society."

Related Topics

More on this story