So here is what we’ve come to. A world-renowned Nobel laureate makes a lame, offhand joke about women in the lab at a scientific conference. The outraged tweets go round the world. Shock and horror ensue. Within hours, the laureate – Sir Tim Hunt, age 72 – is publicly disemboweled, stripped of his positions, and condemned as the ugly face of sexism in science.
Here’s the lame joke: “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 criticize them, they cry.”
He says he spoke in a “totally ironic, jocular way.” But nobody cared. He might as well have been advocating genocide.
The idea that the world of science is rife with misogyny and sexism is by now deeply embedded in progressive thought. For years we’ve been told that girls are subtly discouraged from taking math and science, and that women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) face hostile environments, discrimination in hiring and promotion, lower pay, and exclusion from the old boys’ club.