Local Women Scientists Explain The ‘Trouble’ With Tim Hunt

By Tamara Dietrich
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

If British Nobel laureate Tim Hunt had “trouble with girls” before, it’s nothing to the trouble he’s having now.

Two days after the 72-year-old biochemist told a roomful of scientists and science journalists how “disruptive” women scientists are in a lab, even suggesting separate labs for women, the backlash forced him to resign his honorary professorship at University College London.

“It created quite a fire,” said physicist Fulvia Pilat, deputy associate director for accelerators at Jefferson Lab in Newport News. Jefferson Lab operates under the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct particle physics.

The firestorm centers around Hunt’s remarks on June 9 at the World Conference of Science Journalists held in South Korea.

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” Hunt said. “Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Hunt has since issued an apology for causing offense, explaining he was being “light-hearted” yet also “honest.”

“I did mean the part about having trouble with girls,” Hunt said in news reports. “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 the lab people are on a level playing field.”

For Pilat, the uproar is both timely and ironic. Last month, she led a panel discussion on women in science — particularly why there are so few of them in developed countries like the U.S. and Great Britain — at the International Particle Accelerator Conference in Richmond. Jefferson Lab hosted the conference this year.

Hunt’s remarks, she said, are evidence “there’s still work to be done.”

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