Thursday, June 25, 2015

A media strategy for Tim Hunt....

For a while, oh maybe a day or two, I actually felt a little sorry for the scientist Tim Hunt. He was eviscerated in a classic but actually hilarious Twitter reaction to his offensive remarks about women scientists. Here is the thing, if they were not a joke then the Twitter reaction was surely fine. But if they were a joke, then why can't Twitter joke back?

Even if his remarks were off the cuff, a joke or honest... or whatever other line we have been fed, being offensive is offensive--even if you hoped it might be funny. Many of us have been there, the solution to a bad joke is pretty obvious when you think about it.

Imagine for a second the remarks were about race instead of gender and began with a line saying how odd it is for a racist to be invited to a talk make some remarks to black scientists. He might think it was funny. But that wouldn't make it so.

Dr Hunt's job was simple, he was invited as a Nobel scientist to give a talk give some off the cuff remarks to Korean women scientists. That presumably means saying something about how great a career science is, that how although it can present challenges for women who may struggle to maintain an unbroken publication record, that they have to keep pushing because they have so much to offer e.g Doudna & Sharpentier.

Instead it was Fail. Fail. Fail. The only thing to do in the face of being called out on this is to apologise straight away for being such a twit and move on. On no accounts should one give a half-hearted apology, be amazed that the furore continues, and then give whinging interviews about how bad YOUR life is.

Anyway now the Science Empire (no names no pack drill) has circled the wagons and decided to defend Dr Hunt, and now we have to put up with the embarrassment of The Times making another strike for the Science Empire, in the form of a leaked Euro "report" that says it was a joke all along. (Cue calls for reinstatement).

You know what I think? I think this is all nonsense and the idea that it was somehow reported wrong from a conference of science journalists would be laughable if it wasn't so serious. So, in a bid to end the hoopla, free of charge, here is my five point media plan for Tim Hunt.


1. make a sincere statement of regret about his comments, acknowledge they are divisive whether or not they were a joke.

2. If asked whether they were honest or a joke come up with some sort of consistent and logical explanation*. (E.g. How about he says he was being honest about the fact that he is a chauvanist and that he was trying to see the light-hearted side of this, and he now sees that this wasn't helpful and actually pretty dumb. That might explain being honest and joking at the same time. But either way, refer to point 1.)

3. Shut up

4. Oh, before shutting up, he should ask his friends in the Science Empire, such as Darth Dawkins Vader to shut up as well because the are doing him no favours and just making things worse.

5. That is it. (Refer to point 3.) **

It will all blow over in a month or three and you'll be able to go back on all those committees again as if nothing happened. Key point though, refer to no 1. And if anyone asks you about that event in Korea, refer to no 1 again. All a mistake, terribly sorry. Do not be tempted to revise or downgrade the apology, by claiming you were misquoted, just accept no 1 as the new reality because the remarks were stupid in the first place whether or not you think your stupidity was fairly reported.

* Handy pro media tip: think about this carefully before you open your mouth. Try it out on a few friends first for internal consistency and maybe in front of the mirror.

** Handy pro media tip #2: summarise these points on a piece of card and keep it handy. Front of flash card: Apologise. Back of flash card: Shut up.