Cat Ferguson, Ivan Oransky, Korea, MacArthur Foundation, Retraction Watch, Science Journalism, Sexist remarks, Social injustice, Social Media, Tim Hunt, University College London, Witch Hunt, Women in Science, Women Inequality

Sir Tim Hunt’s Character Assassination Allegedly Instigated by Ivan Oransky

It takes all kinds, I guess. Sir Tim Hunt spent much of his adult life in the lab with a group of able men and women, leaving us a precious and enduring legacy recognized with the Nobel prize. Ivan Oransky invests in other people’s downfall, trashing careers through his blog Retraction Watch. Not surprisingly, Retraction Watch founder Ivan Oransky has been named Science’s Garbage Man by the Swiss Radio and Television (Muellsammler der Wissenschaft). The contrast between the two men could not be bigger, they are almost antipodes of each other. Bring them together with Sir Tim Hunt having a faux pas and tragedy is likely to unfold, as it did.

As we all know by now, on June 8, 2015, Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt was invited to give an opening lecture at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea, and that same day he was invited to a lunch hosted by the Korean Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations, where he briefly spoke. After some general remarks on the importance of women in science, Sir Tim Hunt allegedly started to play a very different tune along the lines of “maybe I should tell you about my trouble with girls…” He allegedly went on to say that women scientists tend to fall in love with male scientists and vice versa, that they often sob when criticized, and that because of all those problems, science was better off with gender-segregated labs.

ANTOINE LAURENT LAVOISIER (1743-1794). avec Mme Lavoisier. peinture de 1788 DAVID, Jacques Louis (1748-1825) . The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York ©MP/Leemage PRIMARY ILLUSTRATION OF THE GENDER INTEGRATION DURING THE ENLIGHTENMENT

ANTOINE LAURENT LAVOISIER (1743-1794). avec Mme Lavoisier. peinture de 1788 DAVID, Jacques Louis (1748-1825) . The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York ©MP/Leema     Gender integration during the Enlightenment.

Sir Tim Hunt obviously has a naughty side to him, as do many scientists in their golden years. His mischief in Korea was probably geared at eliciting some endearing smiles from the audience. It proved to be a miscalculation that is costing him dearly. Sir Tim Hunt did not realize he was walking on a mine field. That day, he was not among his peers. That day, Sir Tim Hunt was in dangerous unfamiliar territory.

What Sir Tim Hunt probably did not know is that science journalism attracts some very angry and dangerous people, as this blog has amply illustrated. Some of these people would be naturally, instinctively hostile to Sir Tim Hunt from the get-go. Some of these people are likely to remain bitter all their lives because, down deep, they know that besides tweeting frantically and vilifying people, they would never be able to accomplish anything of enduring value, let alone something that could remotely compare with Hunt’s towering achievements. Sir Tim Hunt clearly did not know or take into account that Ivan Oransky was in the audience that day, and that oversight proved fatal for him. The cutout below reproduces what Oransky tweeted right after Sir Tim Hunt spoke:

Ivan Oransky's tweets on Sir Tim Hunt on June 9, 2015.

Ivan Oransky’s tweets on Sir Tim Hunt on June 9, 2015.

These people had the opportunity to meet Sir Tim Hunt, but what really counted for them was that they saw an opportunity to score by exposing his pranks in the worst light possible. It was a bad cocktail, where mischief met bitterness, while the attack was launched through the Social Media, dispatched with the label of political correctness…

Ivan Oransky and Connie St. Louis, whose tireless efforts brought down Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt.

Ivan Oransky and Connie St. Louis, who brought down Sir Tim Hunt.

Sources:

For Ivan Oransky: http://yalemedicine.yale.edu/autumn2014/people/alumni/204173 for Oransky

For Connie St Louis: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3141158/A-flawed-accuser-Investigation-academic-hounded-Nobel-Prize-winning-scientist-job-reveals-troubling-questions-testimony.html

But, alas, reality always has an unexpected twist. As it turns out, after all the hysteria settled, people started asking what on earth have they done and who the heck are Connie St Louis and Ivan Oransky, who, after all, brought about the downfall of a Nobel laureate. And they came up with some disturbing findings. St Louis’ CV has been allegedly engrossed with plenty of false information. Ivan Oransky of course DID NOT cover these allegations or tried to investigate them in his all-about-transparency blog Retraction Watch or elsewhere.

Both Oransky and St Louis are very loud people, and the readers can draw their own conclusions as to their intrinsic merits. Just to give you an idea of who are we dealing with, St Louis recently called the attempt of eight Nobel laureates at defending Sir Tim Hunt “idiotic”. Ivan Oransky -and his pal Adam Marcus- run the blog Retraction Watch, where they trash scientists’ careers with or without evidence of any wrongdoing (they would’t be able to tell since they are not scientists). When they lack evidence, they simply rely on hearsay generated by a mob of nobodies seeking notoriety or the so-called pubpeers, who are in effect nobody’s peers. Oransky and Marcus do not merely report challenged papers, itself an absurd redundancy, but also take steps to ruin careers by contacting institutions and journals, investing heavily in the downfall of scientists. Strikingly, one of the first and most abhorrent attacks on Sir Tim Hunt was written on June 9 by Cat Ferguson, a notoriously vicious writer whose meteoric career as scientist trasher earned her an internship at Retraction Watch.  In her article, Cat Ferguson appears to be the first to quote Oransky as witness of the incident.

As the defense of Sir Tim Hunt now picks up steam, Oransky is trying to distance himself from the grotesque incident, from the intellectual Chernobyl that he caused, perhaps finally persuaded that the monstrosity that he instigated will not put him in the right light.

A Londoner commenting in the Daily Mail (UK) aptly described the Hunt scandal:

Social Media has turned us all into the baying masses of the medieval witch hunts, with no mediators of our hysterical views, and with the loudest, most ignorant and angry up at the front with their burning tweeting torches.

We at Science Transparency sincerely hope for a swift reversal of this misfortune for Sir Tim Hunt. Sanity will ultimately prevail and University College London will hopefully grant Sir Tim Hunt due process of law and reinstate him, and this because the UK has not yet receded into the Dark Ages, we hope. As it has been lucidly stated by Howard Jacobson: “A university which is a hotbed of offence-taking is not a university but an ideological prison camp and indoctrination center“. Like all people brought up in the democratic tradition, we endorse the view that the freedom of thought supersedes the right of women to enjoy equal respect to men.

PEOPLE OPINE ON THE CHARACTER ASSASSINATION OF SIR TIM HUNT (https://www.change.org/p/university-college-london-reinstate-tim-hunt-2)

P.C.A. Sims NEW YORK, NY: Hysterical overreaction to a non-issue.

Gerald Hallam BUCKLAND MONACHORUM, UK: The speech in question and its total meaning were taken out of context to facilitate a mean, vicious and abhorrent attack on a decent man.

Kim Nasmyth OXFORD, UK: I have known Tim for over thirty years and know that he is not a misogynist.

Michael Collins BYFLEET, UK: I believe those who have forced Tim Hunt to resign have bowed to pressure from a rather extreme and unpleasant group of people who should be examining their own conduct.

Daphne Gilbert STOCKSFIELD, UK: I believe in Free Speech. Decisions should not be forced by hysterical Twitter mobs. What next? Burning at the stake? These people are a disgrace and are setting dangerous precedents.

Eric Tarkington ATLANTA, GA: University College appears to have been stampeded by a hateful mob that only thinks in sound bites. This is cowardice at best. Reinstatement is not enough — UCL should be begging for forgiveness!

Dean Brickland TULLAMORE, IRELAND: People need to stop pandering to idiots.

Simon Brady SOUTHAMPTON, UK: Stop giving power to the stupid.

Christina Hoff Sommers WASHINGTON, DC: Tim Hunt made a mildly silly comment. His persecutors are the guilty ones here. They behaved like vicious bullies.

Matthew Ventham HAILSHAM, UK: I dislike intolerance of other people’s views and disproportionate responses to petty trivia.

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25 thoughts on “Sir Tim Hunt’s Character Assassination Allegedly Instigated by Ivan Oransky

  1. Weishi Meng says:

    Maybe the MacArthur Foundation was not thinking straight this time around. I cannot think of anything more absurd than a repository of retractions, if that’s what the MacArthur award was for. It is like having a repository of obituaries, or a repository of overeaters, or a repository of violent crimes, etc. Very silly indeed. And surely these awardees are not the kind you can brag much about, especially after this grotesque incident with Sir Tim.

    Like

  2. A faux pax on the part of Tim Hunt, as well as the incisive response to it by Ivan Oransky and Connie St. Louis yielded indeed fodder for narcissistic fools–particularly among those attached to conventions. The morality of it is that the absence of restrain in the former and the reluctance silence on the latter were aligned deservedly for catastrophic results. This is not a matter of self importance, but of principle. If Hunt is so accomplished, why would he choose to endorse a 19th century hystericalization of women? If Hunt is so brilliant, why would he indulge in male chauvinist view on the practice of science? I do not believe he was merely bantering in our day and age.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Weishi Meng says:

      Yes, Ricardo, Sir Tim Hunt had a faux pas that day. Yet, ruining his monumental career on the basis of his lapse of judgment is monstrously wrong and the way Social Media enabled the Witch Hunt is simply revolting.

      Like

  3. Should a university resemble a 100% politically correct Hollywood show with the producers regarding scientists as their actors, adjusting the numbers of sexes and minorities and dictating when they should cry and laugh and what they should say?

    The removal of Sir Tim Hunt is the second case of political persecution of a Nobel laureate, the first was that of James Watson. In both cases, their alleged “crime” was purely political, and it was framed in political slogans, “racism” and “sexism”.

    The public debate around the decision of UCL to remove Tim Hunt is missing the point. (Were his words a joke or not? Was there enough “sexism” in his words? Did twitter remove Tim Hunt?) Let’s now get serious and ask: Was the removal of Tim Hunt legal? I believe it was completely illegal. And the law does exist here, it is first – the law against discrimination and second – the law protecting freedom of speech.

    Discrimination is an act of using irrelevant considerations (such as sex, colour of skin, etc.) in a decision/judgement made by an official against an individual. Discrimination is taken as an act denying an individual his or her human right(s). Such act is illegal, and the discrimination must be proved. There is no claim and no evidence that Sir Tim Hunt has committed such act. His speech did not represent any decision, and, being a joke or not being a joke, did not, and was not even capable of damaging/changing the standing of any women before the law or denying their human rights.

    Then, what is the accusation against him? The official explanation is the letter of Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost, “Provost’s View: Women in Science”, see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/staff/staff-news/0615/26062015-provosts-view-women-in-science

    This is a remarkable document. In it, Michael Arthur 1) did not refer to any law whatsoever, 2) refused, in his own words, to “…repeat or re-analyse who said what…”, i. e. refused to present the evidence, 3) justified the removal of Sir Tim Hunt solely on his (determined by the administration) “sexism”. The text seems to be written by a political agitator in the smashing style of Leon Trotsky, totally disrespectful of the law and civilized academic tradition. He calls the removal of Tim Hunt an “episode”.

    In sharp contrast with discrimination which, in a particular decision, is depriving individuals of their human rights, “sexism” in a speech is incapable of doing this. The accusation of “sexism” here is no more than a political opinion, a label which cannot be used to punish anyone. Therefore, the removal of Tim Hunt was an illegal act, patently – a political persecution. Moreover, it was an act of discrimination and a denial of the basic human right – freedom of speech.

    Looking closer at this “episode”, I believe it was designed not even so much against Tim Hunt, but with the purpose of establishing a precedent for persecution of any political dissent. Tim Hunt was chosen as one who loved his university and would not start a legal fight. He was chosen as a top scientist to show that no one is immune to political persecution, and that interests of science are the last item on the administration agenda.

    As a Provost, Michael Arthur failed to uphold the law and academic freedom. As a President, he failed to act impartially and, actually, fuelled the “gender war”. In his letter, he claims to have acted on behalf of women, but the women appeared on the side of their former teacher, actually proving that Michael Arthur’s claim of acting on their behalf is a false claim. UCL urgently needs the new Provost and the new President.

    Finally, it is important to understand that an employee does not sell his whole self to his employer. A woman cannot be obliged to sleep with her boss. Why, may I ask, a university includes political and social agenda in its rules for the employees? The scope of this agenda must be severely restricted to respect basic human rights of all its employees. A public university cannot be run as a political party or a Hollywood show.

    I had posted a few comments on the matter at http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/2015/06/15/what-next-after-tim-hunt-just1action4wis/
    My email is probably hacked.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is not a matter of admonishing anyone for misogyny, but the inability on the part of Sir Hunt to publicly amend his own divisiveness in an intelligent fashion. The negative reaction is not surprising, even if exaggerated.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Liping Xie says:

      Ricardo, Sir Tim Hunt had a faux pas on June 8. He did something inappropriate for which he may or may not choose to apologize. Sir Hunt spent about 50 years of his life working very hard to unravel the secrets of life and disease, leaving us a precious legacy. The losers who vilified him and created this monstrosity spend much of their lives tweeting frantically and trashing people in trashy venues like Retraction Watch. I don’t know if the dismissal of Sir Hunt is legally actionable in the UK but his victimization at the hands of these losers surely must be, at least in the UK.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I am not very familiar with the case, but here are my two cents: Based on the recollections from the ladies that worked in his lab and interacted with him on a daily basis, Sir Tim Hunt is not a sexist. Read this:
    http://www.nature.com/news/judge-by-actions-not-words-1.17823
    If he had a lapse of judgement, he may wish to apologize, but just for that. As for UCL, they would look a lot less silly if they grant him due process while he gets reinstated.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It is quite regrettable how this kind of mayhem, a dismal sort of kerfuffle, points to a treacherous road to absolution for TH. Our zeitgeist on social egalitarian justice is much too complex and heterogenous, certainly not an age to make light of what is fair–regardless of whose authority.

    Like

  7. Have you ever read the Rebellion of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset written in 1930? For him, the multitudes have become visible and no longer to be passed unnoticed.
    Beware of the delusion of being exclusive when in fact power is of the masses. One’s perception of disenfranchised minorities is just that: a delusion on the part of the very observer. These are not mere pronouncements, but a fact.

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    • Xie, Liping says:

      Ricardo,
      Please cut out all this pretentious nonsense. This post is about the outrage due to a nobody masterminding the vilification of a Nobel Laureate.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. In 2005 Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers also triggered criticism by his telling an economics conference that the under-representation of female scientists at elite universities may stem in part from “innate” differences between men and women. As with TH’s remarks, Summers’ remarks drew ire in the Harvard academic community, leading the board of trustees to remove Summers.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. markpummell says:

    great; well balance piece… my only concern is where now… so much damage and am really unable to identify any winners in this sorry saga…

    Like

  10. Given your remarks regarding Ivan Ovansky, you might be interested to hear about some news I recently discovered. It turns out he secretly edits the comments at his site.

    I kid you not. He literally takes the comments people submits, and if he feels likes it, just changes them. Sometimes he deletes stuff. Sometimes he changes words. Sometimes he rewrites things. You just never know, because he never makes a note of it. Whatever changes he makes to people’s comments, he doesn’t indicate them in any way.

    And he’s admitted it. He actually sent me an e-mail confirming it is the Retraction Watch policy to do this. A supposed advocate for integrity has openly admitted to secretly editing people’s comments then passing them off as the originals. It’s too obscene for words.

    (All of this can be found in the link I provided, save the e-mail confirmation. You’ll have to click over to the next post to see that due to the fact there was a bit of foul language in it, and I didn’t want to link directly to that.)

    Like

  11. Pingback: RE: “Due Process in the Twitter Age” by Science Editor Marcia McNutt | Science Transparency

  12. Pingback: On “Promoting an Open Research Culture”, Policy Forum, Science Magazine | Science Transparency

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