Beyond #TimHunt — ignoring gender in science is also costly and harmful

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Eliizabeth Pollitzer PhD
Gender Summit Asia-Pacific will explore why diversity is essential to science and society

Scientists and journalists were shocked last week by Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt’s comments at the World Conference of Science Journalists that women should stay out of labs because “they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.” These comments have cost the English biochemist his position at University College London (UCL), but ignoring gender dimensions in science are also costly and socially harmful.

This event in Seoul, Republic of Korea, shows that sexist attitudes remain at the top of science. But the upcoming Gender Summit 6 Asia Pacific 2015, also to be held in Seoul August 26 to 28, will present evidence of how gendered innovations in research, development and business are vital not only for science, but for all of society.

Heisook Lee, PhDHeisook Lee, PhDAfter attending the luncheon where Sir Tim Hunt spoke, Prof. Heisook Lee, Gender Summit 6 Asia Pacific Co-Chair and President of Korea’s Center for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WISET), said:

“By making these comments, Sir Tim Hunt has overlooked the talents of girls and women in science, but also the fact that sex and gender bias in research is costly and harmful. Sir Hunt’s speech shows that some eminent scientists like him have never been exposed to issues on gender diversity or gendered innovations at all. These discussions should reach all scientists, if not, we risk losing female science talents, and risk having imperfect research outcomes that do not consider both genders.”

Professor Hunt’s display of benevolent sexism is unfortunately not unique to him, or in science. However, the instant and widespread response to his comments brings hope that a change is happening in society.

He recommends single sex labs, which is naive and wrong on so many levels. Labs populated by men produce knowledge and innovations with outcomes better for men than for women. This is a fact: examples include speech recognition software, crash test dummies, drugs, stem cells, organ transplants, medical diagnostic devices. Science is done not by a single individual but by teams, and research shows that gender balance in a team improves collective intelligence of the team. Having women in the lab contributes to scientific diversity and inclusion of ideas, better communication, less dogmatic practices, and more socially responsive outcomes.

All these aspects help make science knowledge more robust and innovation more sustainable. I would advise Prof. Hunt to come to Gender Summit events and see for himself the overwhelming research evidence showing the many important ways in which gender can impact on the quality of research and innovation.

Read more on why gender is critical in R&D and learn about gender issues in the Asia-Pacific region in full article:

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To participate in the Gender Summit 6 – Asia Pacific
Gender Summit 6 – Asia-Pacific 2015: Better Science & Technology for Creative Economy: Enhancing the Societal Impact through Gendered Innovations in Research, Development and Business will be August 26-28 in Seoul, South Korea. Register here.

 

To follow on social media
On Twitter, follow @gendersummit and use the hashtag #GS6AsiaPacific. You can also connect through Facebook and LinkedIn.