Well, here’s one hypothesis for which we, sadly, now have proof.
It is possible to be a Nobel laureate in medicine and also an utter nincompoop.
British scientist Tim Hunt won the big prize in 2001 for his work on cell division.
Now, he’s earning censure – plus a raft of satiric tweets – for some slap-your-forehead dumb comments he made at a science journalism conference.
I’ve got to quote him directly, so you can savor the exact flavor of his cluelessness as he argued against co-ed science 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 criticise them, they cry.”
Some scientists who are also women responded to Hunt’s idiocy in the best way: devastating humor on Twitter. #distractingly sexy.
Hunt then dug his hole deeper with a classic non-apology, saying he was sorry only that he expressed his true feelings to a room of journalists.
Jeez, Louise. Where to start? First off, Hunt’s nonsense needs to be taken seriously, because it speaks to why science remains a field where women are chronically underrepresented.
Second, one of the most obnoxious things my half of the species still does is to blame women for the difficulties we men sometimes experience keeping our lizard brains under control. We can’t help that we have lizard brains, I guess, but it’s surely our job, not women’s, to keep them harnessed.
Most of all, though, I want to dwell a little bit on the crying remark.
The notion that crying is unprofessional or a sign of weakness is just flat wrong. So is the notion that people who show no emotion are somehow more worthy or reliable.
I can think of multiple instances in my work life where I witnessed a colleague cry from the pressure of wanting so passionately to do difficult work at a high level. In every case, after this brief episode of moist stress relief, that colleague proceeded to hit the ball out of the park.
Conversely, I’ve seen plenty of people react not at all in the moment to a work situation, then proceed, quietly, to exercise their emotions by taking petty, destructive, passive aggressive revenge against others.
Give me a candid crier any day of the week. That’s someone I can trust. That’s someone I would want sitting at the next microscope.