Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Hunting for Facts

Sir Tim Hunt would be a poor scientist if he did not focus on facts, and clearly he is talented in his field. He won a Nobel a Prize. In claiming that women are more likely to cry than men, he was stating a fact. Women are more likely to cry when emotional. So what? Men are more likely to resort to violence. Of the two, I know which reaction I deplore. 
Sir Tim's communication skills are perhaps not so impressive. Maybe he would not be employed as a diplomat, or a counsellor. He might struggle as a stand up comedian. Because, let's face it, his way of expressing himself can be clumsy. He's the typical unfunny after dinner speaker, a bit tipsy, a tad nervous, We've all heard them, and it can be embarrassing, painful even. At best, inexperienced after dinner speakers are dull. Thankfully Sir Tim was only invited to give a toast, not a whole speech. What could possibly go wrong? 
What went wrong, I mean seriously eminent-lifelong-career-wreckingly wrong, was that three journalists tweeted his pathetic joke out of context. A transcript of the full speech has now been leaked by an official, completely exonerating Tim Hunt of misogyny. The worst criticism that can be levelled against him is that he made an unfunny joke. His admission that he was joking was omitted from the tweets. Two of the three tweeters have now retracted, claiming they "could not recall enough" to comment further. 
Forget about the victim's eminent career. A man has been forced to quit his job, in a "resign or be sacked" ultimatum, on the basis of a twitter frenzy provoked by a misrepresentation of the facts, at best a misunderstanding of what Sir Tim said. 
I believe in democracy. But if we are to countenance mob rule by social media, let us proceed responsibly.
This kind of stupidity is counterproductive. At least one feminist sympathiser is now a feminist sceptic. Issues like fair representation, for men as well as women, and free speech, are more important than any perceived snub to feminism. I'd go so far as to say the feminist response here was emotional and irrational. It makes me want to cry that not one of these tweeters and retweeters paused to ask for the facts. 


DT said...

Unfortunately, social media seems to be the domain of the lowest denominator. God forbid we should offend anyone, even in jest. As you say, Leigh, context is all-important and a little rational thought goes a long way in gaining perspective.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, context, rational thought and perspective, Derek. Wise words. Sigh.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Derek, context, rational thought, perspective. Wise words. Sigh.

Gordon Brice said...

Should we all be very careful what we say on social media? I personally have a very warped sense of humour, but am very careful what I say for fear of upsetting people. I know which people know me well enough to realise that I am teasing.
Fortunately I do not say anything that will be read or heard by journalists, who often seek out sensationalism, rather than state the correct facts, often tarnishing the reputation of people and/or destroying their careers.

Leigh Russell said...

You're right, Gordon. We should always treat others with respect and civility. I think it's fair enough to make a generic criticism (in fact I have done so here), but not to criticise individuals, as was done by the tweeting journalists in this case, with such damaging results.