Sir Tim Hunt confirms resignation with European Commission, a day after resigning from University College London
Sir Tim Hunt today told the European Commission that he will step down from his position as member of the European Research Council (ERC) governing body, three days after his comments on the “trouble with girls” in science.
An ERC spokesperson replied to an email request from Science|Business to say, “Sir Tim Hunt has informed the European Commission (that formally appointed him) that he resigned from the ERC Scientific Council.”
Sir Tim told a convention of scientists and science journalists in South Korea on Tuesday (9 June) of his “trouble with girls” in laboratories. He said he was in favour of “single-sex labs” because women in labs tend to “cry” when criticised and “fall in love” with male counterparts– comments that were quickly condemned.
The British biochemist, a Nobel Prize winner in 2001 for his role in discovering the key regulators of the cell cycle, said he was sorry for causing offence but that he stands by his remarks. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, Sir Tim said, “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. I mean it is true. I have fallen in love with people in the lab and they have fallen in love with me. And it’s very disruptive to the science.
“I am sorry if I have caused offence…I just meant to be honest actually.”
Dame Athene Donald, a British physicist with the University of Cambridge and a member of the 22-person ERC scientific council wrote in an email: “The loss of Sir Tim Hunt…is hugely sad. His contributions were immense and during the time I worked with him he was always immensely supportive of the ERC’s work around gender equality.
“His off the cuff remarks in Korea are clearly inappropriate and indefensible, but over the years he has worked tirelessly in support of and to inspire young scientists of both genders. I hope people will in time come to reflect on the totality of his contributions.”
His departure came as little surprise. The scientist was swiftly condemned for his comments, with #TimHunt trending on Twitter. Female scientists mocked his remarks using the hashtag #distractinglysexy.
A statement issued by ERC President Jean-Pierre Bourguignon on Wednesday read, “Sir Tim Hunt has already apologised and explained that his impromptu comments were meant to be “light-hearted” and “ironic”, and that it was not his intention to demean women.
“I can also add that during the time I have worked with him on the ERC Scientific Council he has only ever been a supporter of gender balance.”
The biochemist resigned from University College London’s faculty of life sciences, where he served as an honorary professor, on Wednesday.
A statement from the university read: “UCL can confirm that Sir Tim Hunt FRS has 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.”
It added: “UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality.”
On Thursday, he also tendered his resignation to the Royal Society’s Biological Sciences Awards Committee after the science body issued a statement distancing itself from his comments.
“Sir Tim Hunt’s recent comments relating to women in science have no place in science. The Royal Society believes that too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender discrimination and the Society is committed to helping to put this right,” a statement read.
Sir Tim could not be reached immediately for further comment.