Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hunt Hunt

Nicole Kidman is appearing on the London stage in Photograph 51, a piece about Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who played an important part in discovering the structure of DNA.  Kidman says one reason she's doing it is to correct the injustices of history, but, as the Hollywood Reporter review by Stephen Dalton notes, that history has long been corrected.  Franklin and her contributions to science, not to mention the hurdles she faced, has been the subject of books, a documentary and  a TV movie, as well as this play.  If anything, she may be given too much credit these days.

What bothered me, though, was in Dalton's last paragraph:

But sexism in science remains a live issue. Recent off-color jokes by Nobel Prize-winning professor Tim Hunt about the dangers of allowing "girls" into laboratories became a major news story in Britain, helping to generate an extra blast of free publicity for Kidman's stage comeback.

This story spread quickly, and Tim Hunt's reputation was ruined, but it was mistaken.  Even so, when some started questioning the narrative, the press doubled down.  Hunt was forced to resign from a number of boards and committees.

Eventually, a summary of his remarks, made to a group women scientists, came out.  The press had claimed his remarks were meant to be taken seriously, but it was clear he was telling a joke, mostly on himself.  And a joke that was apparently well-received at the time.

It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. 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 criticize them they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls? Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.

And now Dalton is dragging Hunt's name though the mud yet again.  It's a sign of how far the pendulum has swung.  Nicole Kidman might be pleased, but I'm not sure how Rosalind Franklin would feel.

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