What do you call a society where honesty and factual data are less respected than falsehood and fanciful illusions? One of the things you might call such a society is unsuccessful.
On June 9, 2015, Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize-winning British biochemist, resigned from University College London after being labelled sexist. Among the “terrible” things he said was that one of the problems with girls in the lab is that they cry when criticized. He also spoke of love affairs in the labs reducing efficiency. I have read many articles in women’s magazine discussing how women in business find their tendency to cry when getting negative feedback problematic. My real-life experience, and probably yours as well, tells me that women cry more easily than men. For goodness sakes, women watch certain movies in order to make themselves cry! How many men do you know who do that?
Anyone who lives in the real world knows this to be true just as they know that flirting, relationships and affairs interfere with productivity. They are also almost inevitable when people spend hours together daily, united in a common cause. Dr. Hunt wasn’t saying that women shouldn’t work in labs; he was simply saying that sex-segregated labs might be more productive. Yet, it was deemed irrelevant whether Sir Tim’s accusations were true or not. In today’s hyper-sensitive world offense trumps reality and qualified people must be hounded from their jobs if they aren’t politically correct. (After all, we mustn’t make women cry.)
The ludicrousness of this entire episode should serve as a plot for a slapstick comedy. That it instead serves as a prescription for running scientific research is a tragedy. In Ayn Rand’s brilliant book, Atlas Shrugged, the talented and accomplished members of society escape to live in their own secret world. In effect, they have given up on the stupid, petty and unsuccessful politicians, media spokesmen and bureaucrats who are running things. As exemplified by the protagonist, John Galt, they refuse to work any longer only to be vilified for their achievements.
Resigning from his position, Sir Tim Hunt said, “I’m really really sorry that I caused any offense, that’s awful. I just meant to be honest, actually.” How foolish of him! Honesty has long been expelled from academia. Not surprisingly, wisdom accompanied it out the door.
We can demand that scientists be suave, dishonest sycophants. We can demand that they be full of tact and personable. We will pay the price with fewer inventions, life-saving discoveries and technological advances. Certainly, many of the fruits of science that enhance our lives owe their creation to people who would never have won a congeniality award. It may be a price that women who want the right to cry and also don’t want anyone to mention their tears are willing to pay, but I pity the rest of us who will live in the world these small-minded, Madame Defarge reincarnations (and their male counterparts) create.