Apparently it is possible to win the Nobel Prize and yet still make extremely ill-advised public comments: A Nobel Prize-winning British scientist has apologized for saying the "trouble with girls" working in science labs is that it leads to romantic entanglements and harms science. Tim Hunt, 72, made the comments at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea, according to audience members. Connie St. Louis of London's City University tweeted that Hunt said when women work alongside men in labs, "you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry."
Hunt, joint recipient of the 2001 Nobel for medicine, said he was trying to be humorous. He told BBC radio today that he was "really, really sorry I caused any offense." Then he added: "I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. 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." Some of the reaction:
- Time headline: "A Nobel Scientist Just Made a Breathtakingly Sexist Speech at International Conference"
- And on that "apology": Quartz calls it a "kind of" apology. (And notes that Hunt is in fact married ... to a female scientist.)
- The distancing begins: The official response from the Royal Society, of which Hunt is a fellow: "Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society. ... Too many talented individuals do not fulfill their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the society is committed to helping to put this right."
- Sample Twitter response: "Not surprisingly, most women I know also have a rule that states they shouldn't have #TimHunt in their labs," tweeted engineering student Aaron Mifflin.