I feel for Tim Hunt. This Nobel laureate recently made a bad joke at a meeting about women in science, which was snapped up by social media, taken out-of-context (like anyone could have believed he was serious making those comments), and used as justification to force him to resign from his position at University College London.
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.
I mean… yeah. Apocalypse Now.
Hunt’s plight isn’t isolated. Sometimes it seems the whole point of social media is to find things that can be shared without context and made viral, in order to shame or ruin others. In an atmosphere like that, it’s a wonder anyone is willing to speak in public at all.
I guess I should be glad that I’m not famous; otherwise, the comments I’ve made in the past about workplace (lack of) equality fostered by a fashion double-standard would have been twisted around by social media and gotten me sacked from my job.
Or that some other comment I’ve made as an aside, as a joke, as a snide criticism—picking on a politician, ridiculing a trend, calling out the irony of an incident—would have labeled me a crackpot or a subversive (or just a not-politically-correct person) and ruined my life.
(On the other hand… maybe I could use the publicity.)
Actually, the one silver lining of this incident is that Hunt isn’t as doomed as he says he is. Wait about two years, and no one will remember his gaffe, social media will be screaming about some sports figure and his recent dolphin-skinned jacket scandal, or the latest medical findings that Chilean vodka cures shingles, and Tim will glide into a new position and resume his life. But yeah, he’ll have to wait out the well-documented short memory of the public before he can do that.
And we’ll have to wait out whatever valuable research and discoveries he may have made, or the development of any students or researchers he may have mentored, in the meantime… which means we’ll all pay for this incident.