Is "good science" politically correct? That's the question various scientists and social commentators are asking themselves this week following "sexist" remarks made by Tim Hunt, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. At least, that's the question hand-wringing feminists, otherwise overly sensitive women, and male lib eunuchs are asking, as the public "science shaming" of Hunt continues. If railing against Hunt's recent comments at the Korea Federation of Women's Science and Technology Associations luncheon is indeed how "scientists engage with each other to build knowledge," one has to wonder why nobody is asking if Hunt is correct.
Let me explain. Tongues are wagging across the Internet because last week Hunt told his audience that "girls" in science were "trouble." Scientific American's Connie St. Louis – not coincidentally a woman – demanded "systemic change" in the wake Hunt's statements. St. Louis' column, weirdly, begins with her recounting a bizarre dream and wondering how she might "[call] to account a prominent white male scientist." In St. Louis' mind, Hunt's genitalia and skin color are the issue. Specifically, someone with male wedding tackle and pale skin dared to utter criticisms of those (regardless of skin color) who happen, on average, to own uteruses. In St. Louis' mind, this is reason enough to end Tim Hunt's career or, at the very least, make sure the entire Internet knows that he is A Very Bad Person™.
St Louis' self-absorbed story on Hunt's comments rambles on about the process through which she or Scientific American chose to cover the story, making her (and her weird dreams, and her angst over speaking truth to power to this troublingly male, troublingly white, troublingly sexist villain) the focus of the story. In many ways, Connie St. Louis is herself the victim of Hunt's terrible, terrible words, because he's put her, she frets, in a position to have to talk about them. "We decided that I should publish the story on Twitter," she writes, "since it had a British angle, and that [my colleagues] Deborah and Ivan [who were also present for the speech] would authenticate my account. I didn't want to publish the story as a series of tweets so I decided to write a short news story with a comment at the end and post it as an image. I knew it was important to get it right. Hunt is a Nobel laureate, a mentor of young scientists, male and female, with enormous administrative power and influence in international science."
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The implication is (one guesses) that Tim Hunt, powerful and influential member of the international science community that he is, would somehow call down upon those who criticize him the full weight and reach of his scientific might. (What those powers are supposed to be, other than perhaps penning an open letter or an essay in his own defense, has yet to be explained.) "When I landed at Heathrow," St. Louis concludes, "I learned that my in-flight dream had not been a premonition. There were no reporters in trench coats waiting for me. … Condemning one man's sexist remarks is not enough. It is important that this episode also affects change for women in science." She then directs readers to sign a petition demanding that a female be elected to lead something-or-other, because that's how progressives and feminists effect change: by excluding people based on what's in their shorts.
St. Louis' comments echo those of Forbes' Janet Stemwedel, whose column states that she writes "about ethics and philosophy of science," and whose biography asserts that she is "committed to the goal of helping scientists and non-scientists do a better job of sharing a world with each other." Good scientists should publicly criticize Tim Hunt's claims, she says – not because they are untrue, but because, obviously, they are sexist and politically incorrect.
Really? Is that really "good science"? Or is good science determining what is true regardless of whose feelings are hurt?
In some ways, the pitchfork- and torch-wielding mob demanding Tim Hunt be "called to account" for daring to criticize grrrl-power in science reminds us (or should) of the furor over the most awesome Hawaiian shirt ever to appear on national television. Matt Taylor is a project scientist who was instrumental in landing a probe on a comet in 2014. This was a fantastic feat for science and space exploration, but Taylor, when interviewed, dared to wear a shirt bearing pictures of beautiful women. Screeching feminists immediately began cawing for his head on a platter, calling his shirt sexist, misogynist and otherwise horrifying. To feminists (and, evidently, female scientists) everywhere, not to mention neutered liberal "men," Taylor's scientific accomplishments paled in comparison to the value judgments we might draw from his choice of (incredibly cool) clothing.
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This type of outrage is nothing new. Feminists lost their collective minds, years ago, when a talking Barbie doll uttered the phrase, "Math is hard." Prejudicing our girls against mathematics is a valid concern ... except for the fact that women outnumber men in college and are thus academically more successful. Girls also outperform boys in all school subjects prior to college. And as has previously been discussed in this very column, women graduate with degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields at or above the rate that men do – but they then leave those fields voluntarily. The reason? It isn't because of rampant sexism in science. Most often, it's because they choose to suspend or terminate their careers to have children.
The playing field in science, in other words, is uneven ... but not to women's detriment. Hunt dared to say something about women in science becoming a distraction because of the romantic relationships that result. He's not wrong, in STEM or any other field. He also said that women cry when they are criticized. There, too, he's not incorrect, as the crying from women over his words reaches a particularly shrill crescendo. What should worry us, though, is just how many women (and "men") on the left want us to punish Tim Hunt for what he said regardless of whether it's true. Political correctness is not "good science." It is, in fact, just the opposite.
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