Scientist Tim Hunt advocates gender-segregated workplaces.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Scientist Tim Hunt advocates gender-segregated workplaces.

Story highlights

Scientist and Nobel laureate says women in labs "fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry"

Hunt apologized for any offense caused by his remarks, but stood by them

"I did mean the part about having trouble with girls," he told the BBC

CNN —  

A scientist and Nobel laureate has sparked criticism after saying women in laboratories “fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.” He also spoke in support of gender-segregated workplaces.

Tim Hunt made the remarks at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. His comments were tweeted out by Connie St. Louis, director of the MA Science Journalism program at London’s City University, who was also present at the gathering.

“We were all stunned,” St. Louis told CNN. “I particularly was deeply embarrassed,” she added, referring to an audience of about 100 people, who included female journalists from Korea and around the world.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday morning, Hunt apologized for any offense caused by his remarks, but 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.

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. The Royal Society, of which Hunt is a member, said it has distanced itself from the comments.

“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,” the society said in a statement. “Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society.”

Some people have taken to Twitter to criticize the lack of female representation 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.

“I see evidence of #sexism in #science almost every day. #TimHunt is not an isolated case,” tweeted Alan McElligott.

Others are critical of the Royal Society’s statement. The fellowship says on its website that about 6% of its members are women, but the situation is “improving steadily through positive steps that we are taking,” including encouraging female candidates.

“The @royalsociety says it needs women, but only 6% of its members are women. Maybe theyre busy weeping?” tweeted Dr. ISIS.

“The workforce argument suggests if we didn’t need ‘the research capabilities of the entire population’, sexism would be a-ok,” said Karen James.

St. Louis 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.

“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.”

CNN’s Ivana Kottasova contributed to this report.