UK Politics

Boris Johnson defends Sir Tim Hunt's 'sexist' remarks

Boris Johnson Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Johnson said Sir Tim had been "severely penalised" for his "light-hearted" comments

London Mayor Boris Johnson has called for a Nobel laureate who had to resign after remarks he made about women in science to be reinstated.

Sir Tim Hunt, a Royal Society fellow, said the "trouble with girls" in labs is that they "cry" when criticised and "fall in love" with male counterparts.

It prompted a furious online backlash, with his comments branded "sexist".

But Mr Johnson said the response was an "overreaction" and it was not wrong to point out "gender differences".

The London mayor, who is also a Conservative MP, said it was scientific fact that women cried more than men, in an article for the Daily Telegraph.

Sir Tim was a "distinguished" scientist who did not deserve to be "pilloried" for pointing out "a natural phenomenon", he said.

Sir Tim, 72, left his jobs at the Royal Society and University College London after the reaction to his comments,

He told the Observer he had been "hung out to dry".

'Ferocious stinging bees'

Sir Tim, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2001 for his work on how cells divide, reportedly told a conference in South Korea: "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."

The British biochemist, who was knighted in 2006 and is married to Prof Mary Collins, one of Britain's most senior immunologists, said the remarks had been "intended as a light-hearted, ironic comment".

He went on to say he stood by some of the comments, telling the BBC: "I did mean the part about having trouble with girls," but he added he was "really sorry" if he had caused offence.

"I certainly didn't mean that. I just meant to be honest, actually," he said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Tim said his career was now "finished"

Speaking at an event in London, Mr Johnson said Sir Tim had fallen victim to the "the ferocious stinging bees of the Twittersphere".

People should have taken his comments "in the spirit in which it was meant", he said.

And writing in the Telegraph, the Conservative MP insisted that it was not wrong for Sir Tim to have pointed out a "natural phenomenon".

Citing evidence from "the world's leading expert on crying", Professor Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University, he said women cried 30 to 64 times on average a year, while men shed tears only between six and 17 times.

"Whether you say it is a function of biology or social expectation, it is a fact that - on the whole - men and women express emotion differently.

"There is, in other words, a gender difference, and it should not be an offence to say that," Mr Johnson wrote.

Mr Johnson added: "Tim Hunt was doing what he has done all his life - pointing out a natural phenomenon he had observed.

"He did not deserve to be pilloried, and should be reinstated forthwith to his academic positions."

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