L’affaire Hunt: Impressions of prejudice beget prejudice

Climate scientist and blogger James Annan pulled a Lubos/ATTP/Sou/Realclimate — i.e., turned on moderation and started deleting comments — on his blog on Tim Hunt’s speech. Annan made up his mind against Hunt with the one-sided and selective narrative that came first. There has been much written on biologist Tim Hunt and his speech. To me what is interesting is how Annan fails to understand what constitutes evidence or reporting in a situation like the Hunt affair.

initial tweet

From Connie St Louis’ original tweet

Is a hastily typed-out paragraph constructed with selected quotes from an unrecorded speech mixed with opinion, ‘evidence’?

From Deborah Blum's Storify post

From Deborah Blum’s Storify post

Is a recounting of a speech by an observer that is constituted almost entirely by paraphrasing of selective bits, ‘reporting’?

Regardless of what one thinks about Tim Hunt or sexism the answer is ‘no’. Evidence would have been a recording/video of Hunt’s complete speech or full shorthand notes. Reporting would have been an unbiased presentation of what he said, using verbatim quotes instead of paraphrases, or an account of his overall message not just parts that appear like sexism when pulled out of context. Reporting would gather opinions from those offended by his speech and those that saw nothing wrong.

By any standard Connie St Louis‘ original tweets that started the ball rolling on l’affaire Hunt and Deborah Blum’s Storify that provided additional context fail to clear the bar for evidence or reporting.

Perhaps Hunt made a bad joke but recovered in the second half, … perhaps he redeemed himself by self-deprecatingly mocking his own love troubles. Or maybe, he damned himself to sexism hell by speaking his prejudiced mind. How would one know?

As to the Hunt question itself, Annan thinks he can be removed from honorary positions and membership of the Royal Society because who needs an ‘old’, ‘entitled’, ‘washed-up’, ‘white man’ – all Annan’s chosen descriptors of Hunt.



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  2. alexjc38

    As well as speaking on the Today programme and BBC TV News, Connie St. Louis was interviewed on the French TV channel France 24 (link tinyurled to prevent the annoying YouTube graphic appearing):

    The first part is about what purportedly happened in Korea, then at the 1:51 mark she says “I actually am not bothered what happens to Tim Hunt”, and after that it’s all about Connie developing her ideas about combatting sexism in science.

    Although she says she wouldn’t call it positive discrimination, these ideas include, amongst other things, all-female short lists for head of the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society. Well worth a listen.

  3. Shub Niggurath

    CSL’s actions seem bizarre. From her comments on TV and radio, it would appear as though Hunt’s goose is well and truly cooked. But CSL and Blum’s journalism consists of a ‘twitlonger’-style screen-capture from St Louis and Blum’s Storify. Instead of locking down the details to secure the story, the initiators relied on framing his words in a pro-feminist narrative bolstered with reassurances from colleagues at the meeting who ‘agreed to agree’, and journalist contacts who played along in disseminate the narrative.

    The second bizarre ad naive thing appears to be CSL’s delusion that she can control the flow of narrative *without possession of the facts*. The anti-Hunt campaigners want a symbolic resignation and removal from posts but at the same time don’t wish too much harm to come to Hunt. Instead they want media attention focussed on ‘women in science’ and the Royal Society presidency. How’s that going to happen if you do not have answers for every little question that can arise considering the personally damaging measures you helped unleash on an individual?

  4. Kevin Marshall

    I am not sure I agree with your take on this affair. I believe Sir Tim Hunt did make those comments, and they were sexist. Maybe he did not have a publicist to interpret what he meant to say. The master of those arts is currently detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
    But the affair does demonstrate something about the mainstream intelligentsia. People who fail to conform to mainstream values are cast aside in disgrace. Their real achievements are thrown into doubt. It is the same in the mainstream media where someone is caught making racist or homophobic comments. On the other hand, politicians who have been imprisoned for perverting the course of justice (Chris Huhne) or for expenses fraud (Denis MacShane) still get to write articles in the left-leaning media and are interviewed by the BBC. To let slip prejudices or injudicious comments is to warrant permanent banishment, but for lie for personal gain is to have temporary exclusion providing the perpetrator is within the mainstream intelligentsia.

  5. Shub Niggurath

    Kevin, though I have followed the Tim Hunt question/debate closely I have held off from offering my own comments. My own interest was piqued when I tried to follow the matter its source only to realise there were no reliable ones available. Hunt’s comments have been tweaked and slanted from the beginning by irresponsible, motivated reporting. My own guess is (a) his matter-of-factly statements about women and criticism in labs, which may be interpreted as sexist depending on how you look at them, and (b) his statements about his personal love troubles with women, which are much less sexist, have both been bundled and mashed up together and blown up significantly. Because of the lack of original source material and the significantly biased reporters through whose lenses the whole world was and has been forced to view the incident via activists’ lenses. I think the best thing to do is hold off on adversely judging Hunt.

  6. stewgreen

    Some “ideological truths” are so important to some that they feel it is OK to give that truth a helping hand when the evidence contradicts them. So if the evidence says that comrade Stalin didn’t win WWII and invent the atomic bomb on his own the Pravada writers will supply narrative that confirms this truth anyway.