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Nobel Laureate apologises for comments about the “trouble with girls” in labs

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The biochemist spoke to a conference in South Korea and spoke of his feelings that in his place of work, it’d be less distracting if women were separated from men. He reportedly said that women “cry” when you criticise them and “fall in love” with their male colleagues.

Hunt had been awarded the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for his work on how cells divide and became a Royal Society fellow in 1991. The Royal Society said Hunt’s comments were not representative of their its members

“Too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the society is committed to helping to put this right,” it said. “Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society.”

The reported comments that initially courted controversy were said at the World Conference of Science Journalists. “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,” he said

The convention had a range of senior female scientists and science journalists listening to his speech. One of them was Connie St Louis, who directs the science journalism programme at City University, and tweeted Hunt’s comments.

He later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he was, “really sorry that I said what I said”, admitting it was “a very stupid thing to do in the presence of all these journalists”.

While he suggested that the remark was intended as “a light-hearted, ironic comment”, that had been misinterpreted and understood “deadly seriously by my audience”, Hunt stood firm on the sentiment.

He said: “It’s terribly important that you can criticise people’s ideas without criticising them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth”.

“Science is about nothing but getting at the truth and anything that gets in the way of that diminishes, in my experience, the science,” the scientist added.

Jennifer Rohn, a cell biologist at University College London, suggested as a Nobel laureate, Hunt doess have some sort of responsibility as a role model and ambassador for the profession.

A 2014 study suggested the tech and science sectors had much to do in addressing the perception regarding their diversity issues. Some 73 per cent of those working in the industries believed the sectors were sexist.

Image: Shutterstock

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