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Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt Steps Down As UCL Professor: 'I've Been Hung Out To Dry'

14 June 2015, 7:16 am EDT By James Maynard Tech Times
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Sir Tim Hunt stated his belief that women are a distraction in the laboratory, and now he has been dismissed by the University College London. How did the hashtag #distractinglysexy help to end a career?
  ( Franziska Sattler | Twitter )

Sir Tim Hunt may have won a Nobel Prize, but the biochemist has lost his position at the University College London over remarks he made regarding women in science.

Speaking to the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea on June 9, Hunt told the crowd that "girls" in the laboratory are a distraction, as "they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry."

In response to Hunt's remarks, many female researchers posted pictures of themselves, often wearing biosuits and other unflattering lab wear, with the hashtag #distractinglysexy. That hashtag trended on social media, as the story of the remarks spread among scientists and the general public.

Hunt attended a boys-only school in the 1960s, and believed his remarks to be in jest. It was not until the following morning when BBC 4 texted him, asking for a comment on the matter, that he realized the seriousness of his comments. By this point, a few tweets sent from attendees at the conference had grown into a massive campaign of people on social media berating Hunt and his remarks.

"UCL can confirm that Sir Tim Hunt FRS has today resigned from his position as Honorary Professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, following comments he made about women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists on 9 June," University College London representatives report on its Web site.

Due to his dismissal from UCL, the biologist was also removed from the European Research Council, where he served on its science committee.

"I've been hung out to dry. They haven't even bothered to ask for my side of affairs," Hunt said.

No audio recording was made of the original remarks, but journalists met immediately after the talk to create an ad-hoc transcript.

Hunt won his Nobel Prize in 2001, for work he performed in cell division. He has two daughters, aged 12 and 15, and his wife, Professor Mary Collins, is one of the most experienced immunologists in the United Kingdom. Collins claims her husband is not a "dinosaur," but simply "says silly things now and again." She told the press she is a feminist, and would not live with her husband if were truly sexist.

The embattled biochemist told reporters he believes his career is now over, due to the maelstrom of controversy over his remarks. "I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but I cannot see how that can happen. I have become toxic," Hunt said in an interview with The Guardian.

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