2015‎ > ‎


Source: Mendelspod
URL: http://mendelspod.com/podcasts/wow-did-just-happen/
Date: 07/07/2015
Event: Ivan Oransky: "some of them actually did laugh politely and... applaud"
Credit: Mendelspod

  • Ivan Oransky: Science writer and producer of Retraction Watch blog
  • Theral Timpson: Host and producer of Mendelspod

Theral Timpson: Okay, so we can't let you go without asking you about this recent scandal involving Tim Hunt, the Nobel laureate. Um, he made some sexist comments to a women's luncheon, of all places [laughs] - I mean, this is the area where he, he has some troubles, so I'm not sure what went into vetting him. But you were at the luncheon, I understand.

Ivan Oransky: Uh, I was.

Theral Timpson: What was that like, for you?

Ivan Oransky: Er, well, there were a number of people, you know, at luncheon obviously, it was a pretty, very small, I'd say - I don't know, I'd call it a dozen tables of people, mostly, um, women scientists from Korea. And it was actually honouring them, which I do think makes all of this a little bit more - certainly unsettling, maybe even ironic. But, um - and it was very, it was pretty casual, it was a luncheon and all that, but it was pretty casual. Deborah Blum got up and made some comments, Tim Hunt of course got up and made some comments.

Um, I was sitting next to Connie St. Louis, who of course is - has really taken the lead on all of this, along with Deborah. And we were both - I think I described it in one interview as - I was just gobsmacked and I know she was, too. Um, these were, you know, just comments that I didn't - I didn't even sort of think I'd -

Theral Timpson: Did you guys heckle [inaudible]?

Ivan Oransky: No, we didn't - we sort of, we heard these comments and started staring at each other, like "Wow, did that just happen?" Most of - a lot of the crowd sort of just, sort of, stood and - sat in silence, um, some of them actually did laugh politely and, and applaud.

Theral Timpson: Hmm.

Ivan Oransky: But right afterward, we said, you know, "Look, we have to do something about this. Let's compare notes on what we heard", as we hadn't taken notes, and - wasn't that kind of a luncheon, where, you know, we were reporting on it. Er, we compared notes very quickly and Connie - and we all, you know, agreed on what he had said. Connie, um, you know, took the lead and tweeted that, and it sort of made its way around, really around the world. Um, one thing that's important is that I think there's been this kind of "Oh, this was a witch-hunt, and this was a, you know, terrible thing to do to someone". I mean, it was a public event, I just - I can't really - I don't really buy that argument.

I also will say that Deborah, to her credit - and we actually talked about this and how important it would be to do - you know, she spoke to him afterward about what - okay, "Was this just really just a really bad joke? You were trying to make a joke, it didn't work". We were absolutely going to give him the doubt on that, and I think that, that's gotten missed, because people want to make whatever political and whatever points they want to make. And he said "No" - I mean, that's how he feels. That's -

Theral Timpson: Oh, wow, yeah, because that was my first response, oh he's - you know, it's a feeble attempt at a joke.

Ivan Oransky: No, I mean he was trying to be funny, don't get me wrong -

Theral Timpson: Yeah.

Ivan Oransky: - whether that worked or not is in the eye of the beholder, but no, he was, this is - he genuinely felt there's - he genuinely felt that women should be, you know, in their own labs, um, and he genuinely felt that, you know, the problem is that, you know, they fall in love with you, you fall in love with them, et cetera, and then they cry if you criticise them. These are - these are not, I mean, I feel quite strongly, these are not, um, sort of, acceptable opinions, because they're not evidence-based, by the way - that's the main problem.

In someone who is thought of as a leader and, you know, who would have positions where others would look up to him, and I think that's the issue, and again others may differ on whether - on what happened to him. He - you know, the one position he really lost was a voluntary one - it was not, this is not a major career thing for him, he's already won a Nobel but... Um, this was quite a moment, and he fact again that it was at a luncheon honouring women in science in Korea was - made it all the more difficult to believe.

Theral Timpson: Can we do this again? And -

Ivan Oransky: Absolutely.

Theral Timpson: - get into some of - yes, I'd love to get into some of the deeper issues, which we kind of glossed over, around science and, you know, the, um, enterprise there, and how to improve that and, sort of a philosophy of science show, um, would be a lot of fun.

Ivan Oransky: Er, well, I'm up for [?] some peace and quiet, so hopefully we can do this again when I'm - when I have more time to think about that, sure.

Theral Timpson: That'd be great, that'd be great. So, co-founder of Retraction Watch, Editorial Director of MedPage, author of a recent New York Times op-ed "What's Behind Big Science Frauds" - you've been listening to Ivan Oransky. Thanks, Ivan.

Ivan Oransky: Thank you, Theral.