Twitter Justice versus Due Process - Tim Hunt's Case

Twitter Justice versus Due Process - Tim Hunt's Case


A few weeks back, Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt was fired from his job. It was caused by a journalist declaring Hunt as a ‘diversity witch’ in twitter, leading to moral panic of the masses and subsequent dismissal of Hunt. A new article argues that “The Royal Societys Diversity Committee Pre-Judged #TimHunt. Now UCL Should Give Him Due Process”.

In his professional life Sir Tim Hunt has an active record of mentoring and promoting women that have been his students. He has never asked for single-sex labs or advocated for them. Eminent female scientists that have studied under him, including Professor Hyunsook Lee, Professor of Biological Sciences at Seoul Unversity, have come forward to say so.

On Jun 7th, journalist Connie St Louis tweeted a partial account of Sir Tims words leaving out Now seriously. and his praise of women in science. She insisted that he was deadly serious and had not praised the role of women in science. She also stated Sir Tim had thanked the women present for making the lunch because that was their role

Some journalists present, like Deborah Blum, backed her account in tweets. Others denied it.

Hunt’s full quote was given in the article:

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. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls? Now, seriously, Im impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science, despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.


If Hunt is restored, that should lead to some soul-searching of twitter crowd. The best book to follow in this context is Douglas Rushkoff’s ‘PRESENT SHOCK: When Everything Happens Now’. Also, the movie ‘We Live in Public’ is worth seeing.

Speaking of ‘Present Shock’ -

In his new book, PRESENT SHOCK: When Everything Happens Now (Current; March 15, 2013), Rushkoff introduces the phenomenon of presentism, or since most of us are finding it hard to adapt present shock. Alvin Tofflers radical 1970 book, Future Shock, theorized that things were changing so fast we would soon lose the ability to cope. Rushkoff argues that the future is now and were contending with a fundamentally new challenge. Whereas Toffler said we were disoriented by a future that was careening toward us, Rushkoff argues that we no longer have a sense of a future, of goals, of direction at all. We have a completely new relationship to time; we live in an always-on now, where the priorities of this moment seem to be everything.

Rushkoff identifies the five main ways were struggling, as well as how the best of us are thriving in the now:

1. Narrative collapse - the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.

2. Digiphrenia how technology lets us be in more than one place and self - at the same time. Drone pilots suffer more burnout than real-world pilots, as they attempt to live in two worlds - home and battlefield - simultaneously. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows (like Twitter) that can only be dipped into, and data storage (like books and emails) that can be fully consumed.

3. Overwinding trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, like attempting to experience the catharsis of a well-crafted, five-act play in the random flash of a reality show; packing a years worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event which only results in a fatal stampede; or like the Real Housewives - freezing ones age with Botox only to lose the ability to make facial expressions in the moment. Instead, we can springload time into things, like the pop-up hospital Israel sent to Tsunami- wrecked Japan.

4. Fractalnoia making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things sometimes inappropriately. The conspiracy theories of the web, the use of Big Data to predict the direction of entire populations, and the frantic effort of government to function with no grand narrative. But also the emerging skill of pattern recognition and the efforts of people to map the world as a set of relationships called TheBrain a grandchild of McLuhans global village.

5. Apocalypto the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale. Preppers stock their underground shelters while the mainstream ponders a zombie apocalypse, all yearning for a simpler life devoid of pings, by any means necessary. Leading scientists even outspoken atheists - prove they are not immune to the same apocalyptic religiosity in their depictions of the singularity and emergence, through which human evolution will surrender to that of pure information.

In case of Tim Hunt, the twitter crowd made a quick judgement based on inauthentic ‘authority’ and pre-existing bias, because they had to deal with a large number of world crisis in a short time, thanks to ‘present shock’. That, in turn, started the ‘We live in public’ feedback loop at UCL leading to Hunt’s quick dismissal, because every problem has to be solved within internet time.

Written by M. //