© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

#Distractinglysexy Tweets Are Female Scientists' Retort To 'Disappointing' Comments

A Nobel-winning biochemist's announcement that he has "trouble with girls" in labs because they either cause romantic sparks or start crying when criticized ignited wide condemnation. And as a barrage of tweets shows, the responses of many female scientists are neither silent nor unfunny.

If you're catching up, British scientist Tim Hunt, 72, made the remarks at an international conference in South Korea, where he reportedly said, "You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry."

On Wednesday, Hunt apologized — to an extent — and resigned his honorary professorship at University College London.

When asked for her reaction to the case, here's what Paula Sacco Bubulya, the associate chair of biological sciences at Wright State University, told us:

"Science is a collaborative venture, not unlike most any job where everyone in the 'office' works toward a common goal. It's disappointing to all scientists, men and women alike, that a leader in cell biology would make statements specifically denigrating toward women scientists, and then escalate the situation by following with insincere apologies."

In the wake of Hunt's remarks early this week, the burgeoning hashtag #distractinglysexy has drawn thousands and thousands of tweets — and it continued to burgeon Friday.

"Twitter feeds were instantly populated with images of 'distractingly sexy' women scientists clad in full-coverage biohazard suits," Bubulya says, "sometimes treating lab equipment with extra affection — all in good fun, of course."

Women who work in science are using the hashtag both to set the record straight and to joke about Hunt's notion that they live under a constant threat of either tears or a broken heart.

Doctors; researchers; scientists — they all sent out messages and images that juxtapose Hunt's dramatic trio of predictions to the actual work they carry out, from the unglamorously mundane to the complexly important.

The reaction even spurred the creation of a T-shirt.

Bubulya says she's sure that Hunt's views place him in the minority among his peers. Now, she says, it's time to turn away from distractions "and go back to focusing on what we all do best — perform experiments, write grants, and submit manuscripts!!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.