Sunday, 14 June 2015

Refusing to grow up in the 1980s


Britta mentioned the depressing news of Sir Tim Hunt's illustrious career being brought to an abrupt end at the age of 72, because of a few rather silly and immature cracks about female scientists in the workplace, made during an impromptu speech in South Korea attended by many female scientific journalists.

I have to say that I had never heard of Sir Tim Hunt until this fiasco, but he must have done something good in his long life to earn a knighthood and a Nobel Peace Prize. I have since found out that he is a rather eccentric and boyish man who has obviously been protected by the rarified atmosphere of his particular branch of academia.  Why should he have to spend the rest of his days sitting around, doing nothing in disgrace, because of one ill thought-out and flippant comment about how women tend to be more emotional in laboratories?

If advancing your cause means destroying the lives of others who meant you no harm, is it really worth it? Some people bounce back from these - or worse - sort of accusations (I am thinking of the disgraceful treatment of Paul Gambaccini - guilty until proven innocent thanks to the police letting the press 'know' about his questioning concerning accusations of sexual impropriety), but most people's lives are effectively over once the finger has been pointed and the mud has stuck.

Having been held up as an example of the sanctity of free speech to the rest of the world, Britain has now reverted to something more resembling the witch-hunts of the 17th century, with baying mobs whipped into a frenzy by a handful of semi-deranged lobbyists with very limited agendas.

It started in the 1980s, when whole families were torn apart by a small but powerful office of social workers in Scotland. The families on an isolated island were actually accused of witchcraft by the social services, and every child was removed and placed into care. I was not joking when I referred to the 17th century!

This sort of quasi-official, social policing where the individual is sacrificed for the sake of the common good is - in case anyone has forgotten - the prime definition of fascism.

18 comments:

  1. The Guardian has an interview with him and his wife.
    The response to what he says does sound like an immense over-reaction, given that he does not appear to be the sort of man who really believes those words. An ill-timed joke perhaps? Extremely foolish and ill judged words, but surely an apology and a lesson learnt should have sufficed.

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    1. That's not enough these days. He arrived home from Korea, sat on the sofa and wept, apparently. Ok, I know he behaved like a fool, but to destroy his academic life at his age as a punishment? What an end.

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  2. Agreed.
    And what also gets my goat is the many incidents of parents getting arrested or children getting taken away from parents because they allow their kids to do things we were allowed to do when we were growing up - like walking and playing in a park unsupervised - the latest - the Meitiv case.

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    1. I don't know that case. I will always remember the advice shouted at me by my mother when I was going into the garden to play with my new, real weapon: "NEVER run with a sword!"

      If I was to give similar advice to a tooled-up child myself, it would be, "ALWAYS run with the sword held behind you, like the Samurai!"

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    2. Damn good advice, and fashionable, too.

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  3. I don't know if Hunt's career is over ... maybe he feels as though it is and has expressed this to the first world wide news outlet he has access to.

    Outrage seems to last as long as the proverbial storm these days anyway. He said something ridiculous and offensive (in a public forum) and got a good kicking for it - but he has had good fortune, a brilliant career and the heft of establishment behind him most of his life.

    I reckon he's just realised that his privilege suit won't deflect ordinary people calling him out on acts of fuckwittery.

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    1. A lesson learnt too late. Why is it that individual bankers cannot be so physically vulnerable to public outrage?

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    2. Totally. It does smack of going for someone vulnerable in the first place.
      And despite what we all hear, I doubt it will be his most vocal critics over the last few days wielding the knife.

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    3. Bankers aren't employed by lily-livered UCL acadamics over reacting to a few feminist tweets.

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    4. Yes, I have never heard of a lily-livered psychopath. Some of those tweets are very funny - I particularly like the ones showing female scientists dressed in bio-hazard white rubber boots, surgical gloves and goggles with the caption, 'distractingly sexy'.

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  4. One has to wonder how many of his female colleagues did actually burst into tears after being criticised. Maybe none!

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    1. It sounds as though he did as much as them.

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  5. All this sounds faintly familiar Tom.

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    1. That's because it's me who wrote it. At least you can still remember the salient points, even if I can't, Weave. Good work!

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  6. Also public destruction of people isn't new to feminism and the age of twitter. Think of Parnell.

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    1. That's another case I don't recall.

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    2. He might have been around before your time. Irish nationalist leader of the 1880s. Talented, dogged, charismatic, brought undone by the divorce between his lover and her husband - who was his political opponent.

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    3. Ah. Sounds personal to me. Best stay away.

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