How Irresponsible Journalists Took Down a Scientist Without Gathering the Facts September 1, 2015

How Irresponsible Journalists Took Down a Scientist Without Gathering the Facts

If you’re not familiar with Nobel Prize-winning scientist Timothy Hunt, the fact that he won a Nobel Prize should tell you about his contributions to the field. Beyond that, though, he’s been a supporter of women in science, helping the European Research Council create a “gender-equity plan,” getting a day-care nursery installed the Okinawa Institute, and mentoring numerous female scientists along the way (all of whom, as far as I can tell, speak very highly of him).

A couple of months ago, some remarks he made at the World Conference of Science Journalists were misinterpreted by a science journalist and sent out to her thousands of Twitter followers as evidence of his sexism. Within the span of a couple of days, his reputation was basically in shambles and he was later stripped of multiple honorary positions.

Plenty of self-described skeptics were quick to jump on that bandwagon, agreeing that Hunt was as bad as his critics alleged.

Now, Jonathan Foreman has put together a much more comprehensive view of what happened, from start to finish, for the publication Commentary. It’s hard to read that piece and not feel bad for a guy who was a champion for women in science, taken down by someone who felt he was the exact opposite — and who was more interested in sending out some immediate tweets denouncing him than trying to find out if her analysis was correct.

As usual, I’m guessing most of the people who joined in on the public condemnation of Hunt won’t bother issuing an apology. Their pride can’t take it. Even if they do, the damage is already done. A scientist who could have done even more for women in science will be remembered by many, wrongly, as a sexist who treated women as inferiors.

Do yourself a favor and read Foreman’s piece.

(Image via Wikipedia)

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