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Front Page Talking Points


Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.

Biochemist’s sexist remarks at science conference shine attention on gender bias in labs


1.gifRead a science or technology article that has quotes. Are any from a woman?

2.gifOn today's front page, how many women are pictured (including small items about content elsewhere).

3.gifOn that same page, how many reporters' bylines are or may be female names? Discuss why you feel it does or doesn’t matter.

A British scientist's blunt comments about working with women in labs bring global ridicule, while also launching new public discussions about gender bias in science. The man who said the wrong thing to the wrong audience is Tim Hunt, a 72-year-old biochemist who won a 2001 Nobel Prize in medicine. As a luncheon speaker at the World Conference of Science Journalism, Hunt explained frankly why he prefers working in all-male labs: "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 was called out on Twitter that day by Connie St. Louis, director of science journalism at City University in London, who was at June's event in Seoul, South Korea. “Hunt's words and behavior were not only extremely sexist, but also culturally insensitive," she writes in Scientific American. "His blustering statements were deeply disrespectful to the female Korean scientists who were hosting the luncheon. . . . Hunt's comments had shocked many people in the room." The speaker later claimed he was joking, but an outcry went global. He soon was censured by professional groups and forced to resign as an honorary professor at University College London and from several prestigious committees. "I'm really, really sorry I caused any offence," he said on BBC Radio. "I just meant to be honest." St. Louis dismisses that as "an empty apology."

The stark sexism expressed by Hunt shows why “women remain underrepresented in the top levels of bioscience,” Sarah Clatterbuck Soper, a molecular biologist at the National Cancer Institute, writes in The New York Times. "So as long as the scientific enterprise continues to be populated by people who might find it amusing to hold forth on the 'trouble with girls,' women will receive inferior mentoring, compared with their male colleagues, which will lead directly to inferior career outcomes. That is the real trouble." A computer science and engineering professor, Kyla McMullen of the University of Florida, comments: "Many men in the field share similar sexist and misogynistic views of women scientists, and express these views quite openly. The resignation of Tim Hunt only sends the message that sexist men should hold their tongues, not change their beliefs."

Tim Hunt says: "I'm very sorry that what I thought were lighthearted, ironic remarks were taken so seriously, and I'm very sorry if people took offense. I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather be honest about my own shortcomings."

Defender says: "People do make ill-advised comments from time to time. . . To have a Nobel Prize winner – and by all accounts a great scientist and a good person – being hounded out of a position after all those years of good work and science, I think that’s wrong and disproportionate." – Brian Cox, British scientist and broadcaster

Critic says: "I'm really glad that [Marie] Curie managed to take a break from crying to discover radium and polonium." – Amy Remeikis, newspaper journalist in Brisbane, Australia

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2015
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