If Sir Tim Hunt wants segregated labs he should work in Saudi Arabia

Shed a tear for the Nobel laureate, who doesn't like falling in love at work.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 10 Jun 2015

Poor Sir Tim Hunt. The Nobel laureate only said he wanted to get women out of the lab so he doesn’t have to go through the bother of falling in love with them and now the whole world (well the feminist twitterati anyway) is up in arms.

‘Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,’ the biochemist reportedly told 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.’

He told the BBC he was sorry for offending people this morning, all the while refusing to retract what he said was originally intended as a joke. ‘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,’ 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,’ the 72-year-old, who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001, continued.

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

It’s hard to know where to start with Hunt’s comments. Ironically, he’s committing that cardinal sin of science: make sweeping generalisations by extrapolating from his single, unscientific experience. It should be blindingly obvious that not all women are lovelorn and prone to weeping at criticism (and, equally, that there are men who are).

Even if women were more prone to emotional outbursts - a hackneyed stereotype if there ever was one - that’s no reason for cutting off scientists from collaborating with one another. The real problem with science is the still-enormous gender imbalance: only 13% of people working in science, technology and engineering in the UK are women, according to campaign group Wise.

Some companies still ban workplace relationships. But, while they can turn a team on its head, office trysts are a fact of life. If Hunt really wants science to be segregated he should go and work in Saudi Arabia.

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