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Source: Soundcloud, impaktak
URL: https://soundcloud.com/impaktak/xv-ha-nem-ertjuk-hogyan-es-miert-osztodnak-a-sejtek-semmi-mast-nem-erthetunk-meg-az-eletrol
Date: 03/09/2015
Event: Sir Tim Hunt: "how anybody could have taken what I said seriously I just don't know"
Credit: impaktak, also @tlitb who provided most of this transcript

  • Sir Tim Hunt: Former Honorary Professor, UCL Faculty of Life Sciences

[This is a partial transcript of an interview, which took place just before Tim Hunt's lecture on 03/09/2015 in Budapest at ELTE, as part of the Albert Szent-Gyorgyi Lecture Series.]

Interviewer: Okay. So, last question, and if you don't mind I would go back to those infamous 39 words.

Tim Hunt: Ah hah...

Interviewer: So I really want to - by now, the dust has settled and everyone who was really interested in what happened knows that you were just intending to make a joke, and, and...

Tim Hunt: Well, I was trying to make a joke, I mean [laughs], I was trying to, it was a very ill-advised joke, I must say...

Interviewer: Well, probably, but now, with some hindsight, so - do you think there is any take-home message that can be drawn from all the furore and all the - everything that happened?

Tim Hunt: Oh, I don't think I'm the right person to ask [laughs] -

Interviewer: Well, [inaudible] you were -

Tim Hunt: - about that. Well yes, no, of course I was involved and I was um, you know I - let me put it this way, I was bewildered by the response, because as you probably realise, I mean, I've actually - I had no intention whatsoever of belittling -

Interviewer: Right.

Tim Hunt: - women, I mean, I wouldn't have said it if I'd - you know - why, you'd be completely mad. I mean, there I was in front of an audience of women, why would you deliberately insult them? I wasn't, I was trying to sort of make a joke against me, not against them.

Interviewer: Right [inaudible], from the recordings, that's clear.

Tim Hunt: Yeah, and you know, I was really talking about painful situations that occurred to me in the lab and once when I fell in love with somebody, and once when somebody fell in love with me - and in both cases it was unrequited - right? And um, you know that was hard - but we solved it in the end, actually, of course - you know, and life goes on and I think no lasting damage was done in either case - but it was very, very painful...

Interviewer: Okay.

Tim Hunt: And I suppose, you know, out of that pain comes the, comes the joke - I mean I guess I was a little bit nervous - and er, this is sort of what came into my head. But I mean, you know, I've always had a mixed lab, I never... the idea that you should have separate labs -

Interviewer: Right.

Tim Hunt: - for separate sexes is absolutely ridiculous! [Laughs] And I sort of intended - you know I sort of - actually it sort of came to me almost as a, sort of, logical outcome of what I was saying, and it was so manifestly clear that this was a reductio ad absurdum - so how anybody could have taken what I said seriously I just don't know - but people did, and that's - that was the extraordinary thing - I mean, I think the... Another thing is, you know, gosh, how... Whatever I - you know, I clearly touched a very, very sensitive nerve, completely by accident. I mean, it wasn't really me touching it, it was the journalist who reacted [to] it - you know and er, I would say that her account was not wholly...

Interviewer: Accurate?

Tim Hunt: Truthful [laughs]. Right and um, and most people in the audience, I think, sort of, took it for - you know - for what it was. But if I'd been sensible I would have made some remark about how seriously the ERC took gender equality and some anodyne stuff like that and then I wouldn't have got into all this trouble [laughs] which er, which I found, you know, I mean I'm still quite worried about it and, you know - it was very... it was extremely painful.

Interviewer: Yeah. Ah, and then the last last question - so you made an interview with the Observer, not long after this [inaudible] happened -

Tim Hunt: Yeah.

Interviewer: - and at the very end, you said the only good thing that has come out of it, that you will have more time to attend to your garden. I was just wondering how your quince tree's doing, after this [inaudible]?

Tim Hunt: [Laughs]. Actually it's a magnificent year for quinces [laughs] - there'll be a lot of quince jelly this year. But that was another example of how the press always get everything wrong - you know, there wasn't a single article that was wholly accurate in all of these - you know - quarter of a million tweets and thousands of words, they were always made... and one of the mistakes in the Observer article was that it implied that we had several quince trees, and actually we only have one [laughs].

Interviewer: Okay.

Tim Hunt: But it has, this year, for the first time for quite a few years - it was a very bad harvest last year, I think we only got two - and this year I think we should get several kilos of quinces, enough to give away, with a bit of luck.

Interviewer: That's great. And thank you for that interview and for taking the time to talk.

Tim Hunt: Not at all. It's a pleasure.