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.
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:
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…
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.