Tim Hunt and the crying scientist.

I’m late to the party of, “Is Tim Hunt an ass or just really bad at trying to be funny?” I’m not sure there really is a difference there and I’m not trying to parse it anyway. The one part of the affair that has bugged me is the “women cry if you criticize them” observation, and to a degree, the response as if this is a sexist slam on the female population.

Well, I’ve had multiple female graduate students and guess what? They do cry in the lab! Sometimes it is over frustration about their research. Sometimes about a qualifying exam they felt did not go well. And sometimes over a disaster in their personal lives. But every single one has been an exemplar scientist, great researcher, and a role model as a person and teacher. Tears never got in the way with any of that.

So, what the hell is wrong with being an emotional person who is passionate about both their work and life? The role model for being a scientist, either male or female, ought not to be Mr. Spock who reduces every question, personal and professional, to cold, hard facts and logic. Instead give me someone in my lab who loves the science, who feels frustration when a carefully planned experiment goes awry, who can’t hide their joy when they’ve discovered something new and breathtaking, and who extends all their passions to life outside the lab, too. Give a lab where people both laugh AND cry.

Hey, maybe men would be better scientists if they shed a few tears occasionally.

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Peter Nonacs

Peter Nonacs

Professor of behavioral and evolutionary ecology at UCLA. I study the evolution of social behavior and cooperation, and anything that ants may do. And occasionally people, too.

1 Comment

  1. July 14, 2015 at 6:12 am —

    The sexist part is not the obvious statement that yes, people, mostly women, occasionally cry in and outside of the lab, it’s the billion of unsaid sexist prejudices against women that are implicit.
    Women cry, they are therefore emotional and not qualified.
    Women cry, they use emotional blackmail.
    Women cry, they cannot handle being criticised.
    You’re totally right, crying isn’t bad. Men cry, too, over very important things like football matches, because they’re culturally allowed to do so. Or they beat things and people up, another culturally valid way for men to express their emotions.
    The most hilarious part for me is that there was a lot of crying over being criticised – on the part of Tim Hunt!

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