Nobel scientist resigns over sexist remarks about women in labs

Sir Tim Hunt, a scientist and Nobel Prize winner, apologized after suggesting that women in science labs "fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry."

Story highlights

  • Sir Tim Hunt had apologized for the comments but didn't retract them
  • Hunt resigned from his role, in a statement made by UCL
  • "I did mean the part about having trouble with girls," he told the BBC

(CNN)The scientist and Nobel laureate who sparked criticism after saying women in laboratories "fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry" has resigned from his position at a UK university.

In a brief statement on its website, University College London (UCL) said that Tim Hunt had resigned from his position as Honorary Professor with the university's Faculty of Life Sciences "following comments he made about women in science."
"UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality," the statement added.

Swift condemnation

Hunt made his inflammatory remarks at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. They were made public by a tweet from Connie St. Louis, director of the MA Science Journalism program at London's City University, who was also present at the meeting.
The scientist was swiftly condemned for his comments, with #TimHunt trending on Twitter. Although he later apologized in an interview with the BBC for any offense his comments had caused, Hunt said that he stood by them.
"I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that people -- 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 a lab people are on a level playing field," he said. "I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult.
"I'm really, really sorry I caused any offense, that's awful. I certainly didn't mean that. I just meant to be honest, actually," he added.
Reaction to his resignation on social media was mixed. Many people praised UCL for standing by its principles, however some questioned whether the outcome was a curb on free speech.
"Seems London's Professors are not allowed free speech at UCL as #TimHunt resigns. It's all @uclnews to me," tweeted Barbara Cookson, a European patent lawyer and IP expert.

Sexism in science

Others said the resignation didn't fix the deeper problem of sexism in science. According to the United Nations body UNESCO, 30% of the world's researchers are women, many of whom opt out at the highest levels required for a research career.
Beth Hellen, an evolutionary computational geneticist from the University of Sheffield, tweeted "People can now say he was outlier & issue has been fixed, when it really hasn't."
St. Louis -- who shared the original comments on Twitter -- herself argued that real action to strike a gender balance is yet to be taken. "I think now, we have to stop talking about it.
The Royal Society has been talking about this for a lot of years. I remember as a young undergrad scientist, going there, saying to somebody, why are there all these white men on the walls? And they said, 'Oh, yes, we're on that, we're on it!'" she recalled to CNN.
"That's quite a few years ago. And somehow, they think it's okay to progress at that pace, and it's not. It really is not."
Hunt was part of the team that won the Nobel Prize in physiology in 2001 for the discovery of key regulators of the cell cycle.
As usual, Twitter users, including female scientists, were quick to create their own take on the incident, using the hashtag #distractinglysexy.