Sexist Nobel-winning scientist resigns but #DistractinglySexy lives on

Sir Tim Hunt. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Sir Tim Hunt. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Andy Carvin
Written by Andy Carvin

Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt resigned from his honorary professorship at University College London on June 11 after igniting a firestorm 48 hours earlier by suggesting women scientists should be segregated from men.

In a statement, UCL confirmed his resignation:

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.

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.

The fracas began earlier this week at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea, when Hunt suggested women  – or in his words, “girls” – should be kept out of the laboratory.  “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” he said. “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.”

It didn’t take long for word of his remarks to reach beyond the confines of the conference. Yet when questioned about his statement, he doubled down and offered a non-apology apology in an interview with the BBC:

The biochemist, who was knighted in 2006, said the remarks were “intended as a light-hearted, ironic comment” but had been “interpreted deadly seriously by my audience”.

He went on to say he stood by some of the remarks.

“I did mean the part about having trouble with girls,” he said.

“It is true that people – I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.

“I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult.

“I’m really, really sorry I caused any offence, that’s awful. I certainly didn’t mean that. I just meant to be honest, actually.”

Unsurprisingly, his misogynistic remarks when viral online, quickly leading to the sarcastic -and brutally funny – hashtag #DistractinglySexy, which was first proposed on June 10 by Vagenda Magazine:

The Vagenda Team on : “Call for all female scientists to upload pictures of themselves at work with the hashtag #distractinglysexy”


Colleen Morgan on : “Filthy #archaeology women–so #distractinglysexy while head-first down a Neolithic grave. http://t.co/WvlKleIQtn”

Sarah Durant on : “Nothing like a sample tube full of cheetah poop to make you #distractinglysexy http://t.co/tdBTLRos4p”

Geeky Girl Engineer on : “Here I am again being #distractinglysexy in Level B PPE. Because who can’t resist a girl with her own supplied air? http://t.co/uCAwdtOm6R”

The hashtag has also been used to honor women scientist, including the famous and the often ignored:

Margaret P. Houston on : “LOOK THERE IS EVEN KISSING – Jane Goodall being #distractinglysexy in field work: http://t.co/qIyyRdIkG1″

Marc on : “Rosalind Franklin was so #Distractinglysexy the boys forgot to credit her with helping discover the structure of DNA. http://t.co/CV3iJtfKZA”


Despite the fact that Hunt has resigned his position, online mockery shows no sign of dying down. Of the approximately 73,000 tweets using the hashtag #DistractinglySexy, more than 60,000 of them have occurred in the last 24 hours, according to the Twitter tracking service Topsy.


Lucky Cullen on : “We are distractingly sexy Microbiologists #TimHunt #distractinglysexy http://t.co/L9fnnzyhPd”

Abs on : “In light of new evidence that women in labs are too #distractinglysexy, we have developed new OSHA safety decals. http://t.co/mUo2w4ayZZ”



Rachel Buxton on : “Using a burrowscope is difficult through all the tears, good thing being covered in guano makes me #distractinglysexy http://t.co/AZjCrn6jj6″

Katherine Orrick on : “Poor men didn’t stand a chance with my good looks after they say me saw off the head of a hyena #distractinglysexy http://t.co/MFbtT7LPp9″


Tanya Josek on : “They kicked me out of the lab to do field work but even the ticks find me #distractinglysexy http://t.co/YLeznsrGhX”


Tara C. Smith on : “Swabbing cow ass. Mike, my veterinarian friend, couldn’t handle the #distractinglysexy-ness of my awesome science. http://t.co/RcdtVY6QKo”




Jezebel on : “Had to unbutton my lab coat because I get so hot explaining consent forms. #distractinglysexy http://t.co/YOzCqJkgSF”


Lucky Cullen on : “New addition to the Lab Door #distractinglysexy #TimHunt http://t.co/cLLOJcPZ0n”


Sally Deffor on : “Whew..am I glad I’m in the social sciences!..zero risks of being #DistractinglySexy ..#Win #LuckyEscape”


About the author

Andy Carvin

Andy Carvin

Andy Carvin is Editor-In-Chief and founder of reported.ly. He joined First Look Media in February 2014 after spending seven years running social media at NPR. An online community organizer since 1994, Andy has coordinating online communities on topics ranging from Internet policy to education to Hurricane Katrina. In 2001, he created SEPT11INFO, one of the very first online communities developed to respond to a breaking news event in real time.


While at NPR, Andy spent two years embedded within social media communities to cover the Arab Spring, for which he was nominated to TIME magazine’s annual TIME 100 list. He is a recipient of the Knight Batten Award, the Shorty Award for best journalist on Twitter, and co-recipient of the Peabody Award for his work with NPR’s online team. In 2012, he published the book Distant Witness: Social Media, The Arab Spring And A Journalism Revolution.

Share This