It could take “up to two decades” for an unambiguous signal of misogyny to be detected in Tim Hunt’s remarks, researchers claim. If nothing has appeared within this period, they also commit to taking serious remedial action such as just not talking about him again.
Theoretically quoted on BBC Radio 4, the BBC World Service, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Sunday Times – in a timeframe that it would be both sexist and racist to enquire about – science writer Candy St. Phooey claimed the consensus that Hunt is sexist and misogynist remains high at 97% among those whose opinions count.
We put it to her that as there is almost no concrete evidence in support, and as more facts are revealed, it’s looking as if the faults she ascribes aren’t there at all:
“We have always been aware of the so-called ‘Emergence Problem'” she stated, referring to the phenomenon that as more independent accounts are revealed and show his remarks weren’t sexist, reactions to the non-existent sexism shoot up in the opposite direction.
“It doesn’t alter my opinions one bit. There are many theories that rebut this and it’s not my job to educate you. Speaking as a woman and an award winning Science Journalist”, she went on.
Attempts to reconstruct evidence of sexism from these remarks use a method called “Principal Complaints Analysis”; first innocuous remarks by easy targets are heavily filtered; second, the strongest weight is attached to those remarks that appear juiciest in a context-free environment.
This gives rise to the infamous “hockey-stick” shape, determining how outraged women should act that work isn’t everything they dreamed it would be as time goes on, and illustrating the correlation between that dissatisfaction and it being some man’s fault.
In the specific example of Tim Hunt, his remarks in Seoul – the so-called “Shriljander Sequence” – appear almost solely responsible for the shape of the resulting graph.
But according to first hand accounts, these remarks were inverted before processing: they started out explicitly self deprecating and supportive of women, but have been flipped and used with the exact opposite of the intended meaning.
We put this to Tarquin Reasonable, creator of the popular blog “All Models Are Used In Policy-Making But None Want To Be Held Accountable”:
“Look, we have a number of very sophisticated methods to simulate the effects of Tim Hunt making sexist remarks, and the ensemble of models all point to the same thing” he said, tapping the side of his nose.
“For instance, where there are very few, very mild disconnected remarks scattered through time and space, we use a method called ‘Peeving‘. This fills in these yawning chasms of neutrality with sophisticated exaggeration of sparse data, and that shows just how offensive his remarks would have been had he actually been present to utter them”
We asked: isn’t this just reflecting and magnifying people’s biases?
“Unfortunately we don’t have an infinite number of Tim Hunts we can tear to shreds to find the right evidence”, he explained, “We only have one to ruin. And while we’re busy doing that, it’s important to model the effects that we believe would have occurred if he’d said the things it turns out he hasn’t said. And then to keep acting as if he has.”