Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Sir Tim Hunt affair: the science behind the saga

After publishing my blog post earlier this month on The Tim Hunt affair - a call for evidence-based judgement and decision making I was contacted by Professor Narinder Kapur who, like me, has an honorary position at University College London. Professor Kapur was interested in exploring some of the psychological perspectives of the case, and we agreed to collaborate on a short article which we offer below. We hope that this article will help to inform the debate by providing an understanding of the underlying behaviour involved.

Abstract
Sir Tim Hunt’s predicament following his remarks at an international conference caused major controversy. Here, we examine how psychology as a scientific discipline may inform an understanding of some of the behaviours which formed part of that controversy. We briefly note findings in relation to eye-witness memory, cognitive bias, humour, moral behaviour, communication and online discourse.

Introduction
Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Prize Winner, found himself at the centre of media attention after he made remarks at a conference of science journalists in Korea in June 2015. He subsequently resigned from positions within University College London, the Royal Society, and the European Research Council (Hunt, Wikipedia entry, 2015).

This article considers ways in which findings from psychological research may help to understand aspects of the controversy.

1. Eye-witness memory

The event in question, and Sir Tim Hunt’s speech in particular, appears not to have been video-taped or audio-recorded in full, so it is difficult to be certain about errors relating to eye-witness memory. Nevertheless, there is now overwhelming evidence to show that eye-witness memory may be fallible (Lilienfeld and Byron, 2013; Loftus, 2013), that memory for conversations may be particularly liable to error in a number of ways (Davis et al., 2005; Hirst and Echterhoff, 2012), and that a high level of confidence in a memory may in fact be related to the falsity of a memory (Weinstein and Shanks, 2010). The evaluation of evidence by eye witnesses can be biased by existing beliefs (Snyder and Cantor, 1979), and memory for events can be readily distorted by such beliefs (Johnson et al., 2012).

2. Cognitive and affective biases

Judgmental and emotional statements were made by many individuals, including scientists, journalists and the general public via social media channels. Numerous books and articles have pointed to the presence of cognitive and affective biases, many of which may operate at an unconscious level (Sutherland, 2013; Kahneman, 2012; Sheeran et al., 2013). Individuals may not be aware of their bias ‘blind spots’, and higher cognitive ability has in fact been associated with a larger bias blind spot (West et al., 2012). In the ensuing debates relating to the controversy, there were many instances of confirmation bias, whereby evidence was sought out to support a particular point of view. More sophisticated forms of bias also appeared to occur – e.g. retrieval-induced forgetting, whereby repeated retrieval of a particular piece of information can result in suppression from memory availability of related information (Storm et al., 2015), appeared to be manifest in the repeated retrieval of the ‘sexist’ remarks by Sir Tim Hunt and the associated suppression of the remarks and actions in favour of women which seemed to characterise much of his career.

3. The psychology of humour

Sir Tim Hunt’s remarks at the conference were reportedly offered as humour, and it is how this humour was viewed that was a key part of the affair (Bishop, 2015). As Jarrett (2013) has pointed out, humour may have evolutionary benefits, and those who suffer a neurological condition, such as the Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter Medawar after his stroke, have pointed to a sense of humour as being one of the key survival and coping strategies (Kapur, 1997; Roger et al., 2014). Scott et al. (2014) have highlighted the social side of humour, where it is associated with bonding, agreement and affection. It is thus one way of communicating with others, be it an individual or an audience, and it may serve a dual function of imparting information and generating affection and commonality. Jarrett (2013) has alluded to possible sex differences in both the generation and appreciation of humour, and also how it has been used as an avenue for understanding conditions such as autism. Lockyer and Pickering (2009) have pointed to the limits of humour, and situations in which it may backfire. Ford and Ferguson (2004) have concluded that while in some cases disparagement humour may create a normative climate of tolerance to discrimination, in general exposure to such humour does not appear to reinforce negative images of the group that is the target of the disparagement. Riesch (2014) has reviewed the ways in which humour has been used in science communication, and UCL has in fact pioneered the Bright Club to use the medium of comedy to convey scientific messages (www.ucl.ac.uk/public-engagement/brightclub).

4. Moral behaviour

The controversy surrounding Sir Tim Hunt’s remarks included many moral judgments as to the righteousness of actions by Tim Hunt, by UCL and by those who spread news of his comments. It is possible to discern moral dilemmas faced by those who were put into certain positions and asked to make judgments. Researchers such as Haidt (2007) have highlighted the importance of moral intuitions, the social rather than the truth-seeking nature of moral thinking and the coevolution of moral minds with cultural practices and institutions. Some of the debate following Sir Tim Hunt’s remarks appeared to be divided along gender lines, and it is of note that Fumagalli et al. (2010) found gender-related differences in moral judgments, with men giving significantly more utilitarian answers to personal moral dilemmas. Baumard and Boyer (2013) have touched on the issue of proportionality of punishments in the context of moral behaviour, and how this appears to be a universal feature of interactions with a moral theme.

5. Communication

Lapses in communication between a wide range of individuals and organizations appeared to be one of the major features of the controversy. After considering the matter, UCL Council ordered a review of its communication strategy. Communication failures abound in all walks of life, from politics to patient safety. In the case of the latter, Kapur (2014) has, on the basis of relevant research studies, pointed to lessons that have been learned from studies of communication failures, and some of these lessons can probably be applied to the Sir Tim Hunt controversy. Thus, errors of communication are more likely to occur when – there are multiple, often contradictory, pieces of information from a range of sources; when there is time pressure; when there is high emotion; when there is ambiguity or duplication of roles; when there are authority gradients and where authority rather than evidence or reasoned decision-making determines the communication; where there is a culture that suppresses bad news and strives to put reputation before truth and transparency; and where there is mutual stereotyping between parties. Research has shown that seemingly innocuous sentences which contain implied emotion can result in what the authors termed ‘combinatorial processing’ and can readily activate emotion-related areas of the brain (Lai et al., 2015). Fischhoff (2013) has outlined four sets of expertise required for good science communication – subject matter scientists to get the facts right; decision scientists to identify the right facts that need to be communicated; social and behavioural scientists to formulate and evaluate communications; and communication practitioners to create trusted channels and modalities of communication. Uncertainties about facts and about predictions abound in science, as they did in the Sir Tim Hunt controversy, and both the recognition of such uncertainty, and ways of communicating in the presence of uncertainty, have been outlined by Fischhoff and Davis (2014).

6. The psychology of online discourse

It is widely acknowledged that online communication media such as Twitter played a key role in the transmission of messages after Sir Tim Hunt made his remarks. Domenico et al. (2013) have shown how the rapid spread of online communications via Twitter can be systematically modelled. Fenn et al. (2014) noted that false information acquired through Twitter was less likely to be integrated into a memory representation. There is greater potential for inflamed communications when these occur online (2015), and this may be due to factors such as relative anonymity of participants and absence of direct body cues during such interactions.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Sam Schwarzkopf from UCL for commenting on an early draft of this article.

References

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Bishop, D. (2015). The trouble with jokes about girls. Times Higher Education Supplement, 28 (July 16, 2015).

Davis, D., Kemmelmeier, M. & Follette, W. (2005). Memory for Conversation on Trial. In: Noy, Y. & Karwowski, W. (Eds), Handbook of Human Factors in Litigation. London: CRC Press, pp. 1-29.

Domenico, M., Lima, A., Mougel, P. et al. (2013). The anatomy of a scientific rumor. Science Reports, 3, 1-9.

Fenn, K., Griffin, N., Uitvlugt, M. et al. (2014). The effect of Twitter exposure on false memory formation. Psychonomic Bulletin Review, 21, 1551-56.

Fischoff, B. (2013). The sciences of science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110, 14033-39.

Fischoff, B. & Davis A. (2014). Communicating scientific uncertainty. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 13664-71.

Ford, T., & Ferguson, M. (2004). Social consequences of disparagement humor: a prejudiced norm theory. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 79-94.

Fumagalli, M., Ferrucci, R., & Mameli, F. et al. (2010). Gender-related differences in moral judgments. Cognitive Processing, 11, 219-26.

Haidt, J. (2007). The new synthesis in moral psychology. Science 316, 998-1002.

Hirst, W. & Echterhoff, G. (2012). Remembering in conversations: the social sharing and reshaping of memories. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 55-79.

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Johnson, M., Raye, C., Mitchell, K. et al. (2012). The cognitive neuroscience of true and false memories. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 58, 15-52.

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Kapur, N. (1997). Injured Brains of Medical Minds. Views from Within. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kapur, N. (2014). Mid Staffordshire hospital and the Francis Report. The Psychologist, 27, 16-20.

Lai, V., Willems, R. & Hagoort, P. (2015). Feel between the lines: implied emotion in sentence comprehension. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27, 1528-41.

Lilienfeld, S. & Byron R. (2013). Your brain on trial. Scientific American Mind, 23, 44-53.

Lockyer, S. & Pickering, M. (2009). Beyond a Joke. London: Palgrave.

Loftus, E. (2013). Eye-witness testimony in the Lockerbie bombing case. Memory, 21, 584-90.

Riesch, H. (2014). Why did the proton cross the road? Humour and science communication. Public Understanding of Science, 1-8, Epub ahead of print.

Roger, K., Wetzel, M., Hutchinson, S. et al. (2014). ‘How can I still be me?’: Strategies to maintain a sense of self in the context of a neurological condition. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being, 9, 1-10.

Scott, S., Lavan, L., Chen, S. et al. (2014). The social life of laughter. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18, 618-620.

Sheeran, P., Gollwitzer, P. & Bargh, J. (2013). Nonconscious processes and health. Health Psychology, 32, 460-473.

Snyder, M. & Cantor N. (1979). Testing hypotheses about other people: the use of historical knowledge. Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, 15, 330-42.

Storm, B., Angelo, G., Buchli, D. et al. (2015). A review of retrieval-induced forgetting in the contexts of learning, eyewitness memory, social cognition, autobiographical memory, and creative cognition. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 62, 141-194.

Sutherland, S. (2013). Irrationality. The Enemy Within. 20th Anniversary Edition. London: Pinter and Martin.

Weinstein, Y. & Shanks D. (2012). Rapid induction of false memory for pictures. Memory, 18, 533-42.

West, R., Meserve, R. & Stanovich, K. (2012). Cognitive sophistication does not attenuate the bias blind spot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 506-19.

Wikipedia contributors. Tim Hunt. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Hunt [accessed July 17, 2015].

© Narinder Kapur and Debbie Kennett

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Tim Hunt affair – a call for evidence-based judgement and decision making

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Mark Twain

The World Conference of Science Journalists took place this year in Seoul, South Korea, between 8th and 12th June. The European Research Council participated in this conference by presenting the "frontier research of two of its female grantees". Professor Sir Tim Hunt, a member of the ERC's Scientific Council, who had actively supported and voted for ERC pro-women science initiatives, was chosen by Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the European Research Council, to attend this conference and to accompany the two female ERC grantees. Hunt gave the opening speech at the conference, and also participated in an ERC session with the two ERC grantees. At short notice Hunt was invited to present a toast at a luncheon on 8th June sponsored by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations (KOFWST). Some of the comments he made in his toast about his "trouble with girls" were reported on Twitter out of context, the story went viral on the internet and there has been an ongoing international debate for the last month with positions becoming increasingly polarised. It seems that every day there is a new twist in the story. However, there has been little attempt to put all the evidence together in order to establish the truth, and many of the people commenting seem to be passing judgement without having full access to all the facts. I have an honorary position at UCL so I have taken a particular interest in this story. I've been collecting links to all the articles have been published and I thought it might be helpful to put together all the evidence in one document. It's very difficult to respond to comments and questions in 140 characters on Twitter! If I have made any mistakes or missed out any important evidence please let me know and I will update the post as necessary.

Who said what?
Accounts of what Tim Hunt said at the fateful luncheon in Seoul have varied considerably. It is somewhat surprising that at a conference of journalists not a single member of the audience managed to record the toast. There were apparently around 100 people at the lunch and you would have thought that at least one of them would have managed to press the record button on their mobile phone or camera. Instead we are having to rely on contradictory reports from eye witnesses. It is a well known phenomenon that eye witness accounts are often fickle and surprisingly inaccurate. There are even recorded cases where people have mistakenly been imprisoned or sentenced to death based on the testimony of two or more individuals.

It must also be remembered that words can mean different things to different people. There are, for example, many differences between American English and British English. The meaning of words also changes over time. Words in everyday usage suddenly become socially unacceptable, for reasons which are not always readily apparent. There are also generational differences in the use of words. All parents will be familiar with the phenomenon of teenspeak. Words can assume completely different meanings from the original sense, sometimes to the point of making it difficult to determine whether or not someone is joking. Humour is often culture specific and can easily get lost in translation. There is also the additional problem of confirmation bias whereby people look for evidence to support their beliefs but disregard evidence which contradicts their views. At speeches and toasts our interpretation of words is normally assisted by the use of visual and auditory clues – expressions on faces, a person's appearance, and the reaction of the audience. We are also influenced by our neighbours. Three people sitting together and comparing notes on one side of a room might well remember events very differently from people in a different part of the same room. All these factors need to be taken into account when trying to interpret what happened in Seoul. It seems unlikely that further evidence will now come to light so we will have to rely on the available reports which I will do my best to summarise here.

The now infamous "trouble with girls" story was broken on 8th June in a tweet from Connie St Louis, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at City University London, and a keynote speaker at the conference:
The next day (9th June) the Daily Beast, an American news and opinion website, published an article by Brandy Zadrozny, based on tweets from Connie St Louis and Deborah Blum, a Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was also at the lunch. Zadrozny said that she tried to send an e-mail to Tim Hunt requesting comment but did not receive a reply. That same day Cat Ferguson, a female science reporter for the US news website Buzzfeed reported on Hunt's comments citing both St Louis and Blum. She also contacted Ivan Oransky, the co-founder of the Retraction Watch blog and editorial director of MedPage Today. Oransky was present at the lunch and backed up the tweets from St Louis and Blum. Ferguson stated that "Hunt has not returned a request for comment" but it is not clear if she attempted to contact him herself or if she was relying on the report from Zadrozny. Oransky's comments to Ferguson are backed up by his tweet on 9th June. However, these two reporters both took the tweets at face value, and made no further attempts to verify the content with other sources.

Sylvia McLain, an American academic who currently has a position as a university research lecturer at the University of Oxford, although not present at the conference, wrote a blog post on 9th June Cry, cry, cry (for backwards Nobel Laureates) based on the preliminary accounts of Hunt's speech.

St Louis subsequently provided a more detailed account of why and how she felt it necessary to publish the Hunt story in an article on the Scientific American blog (15th June):
Hunt’s comments had shocked many people in the room, including journalists and others, and I discussed them with a couple of colleagues, Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky, who I’d been sitting next to. Unbeknown to each other we had written down what we had heard Hunt say at the lunch. Our quotes were identical, which meant we could independently verify the story,
On 14th June Deborah Blum published a photo on Twitter of herself and Tim Hunt which I understand was taken at breakfast on 9th June:
Unusually for a journalist at the centre of a potentially important story, despite going to great pains to ensure she had a photograph of the occasion, it appears that she did not record the conversation to ensure that her reporting of events was accurate, and unfortunately we do not have Tim Hunt's version of what was said between them.

On 16th June Deborah Blum published her own version of the story in the Daily Beast, backing up Connie St Louis's claims but also suggesting that she had the support of Curtis Brainard, blogs editor of Scientific American, and Rosie Mestel, chief magazine editor at Nature. Curtis Brainard and Rosie Mestel are both on Twitter but as far as I'm aware have not commented publicly on the affair.

St Louis, Blum and Oransky have so far not published the notes that they had written down and it is therefore not possible to determine how much of St Louis' original tweeted comments they all verified independently. However, they seem to agree that Hunt was talking in all earnestness and was not joking. (Update 9th and 14th July: An interview with Ivan Oransky was published on Mendelspod on 7th July. The interview was recorded on 18th June. In contradiction to the account from St Louis, Oransky stated that there were no written notes: "let’s compare notes on what we heard because we hadn’t taken notes”. He also confirmed that “some of them [the audience at the luncheon] did actually laugh politely and applaud” and he conceded that Hunt was "trying to be funny".)

On 10th June the "trouble with girls" story broke in the mass media. The Daily Mail published an article entitled Nobel prize winner is mocked online for saying women should be banned from male labs at 1.54 am. The Guardian published their story Nobel scientist Tim Hunt: female scientists cause trouble for men in labs at 6.53 am on the same day. The Guardian article was based solely on the tweets from Connie St Louis. The Mail article incorporated comments from other observers on Twitter, and was later updated at 18.02 to cover subsequent developments. Surprisingly, despite the controversial nature of the quotes attributed to Tim Hunt, neither newspaper verified the quotes with other sources, and they made no attempt to contact Hunt to give him the opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Update 20th July: Other UK newspapers and websites which covered the story on 10th June include the BBC, The Independent and the Huffington Post.  In the US the New York Times published a report from the Associated Press on 10th June and an article on women's responses to the controversy on 11th June. The Washington Post published articles on 10th June and 11th June.

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme "caught up" with Tim Hunt by text just before he was about to board a plane back to the UK. He "recorded a clumsily worded phone message" for the BBC at 1 am British time on 10th June but subsequently admitted "It was a mistake to do that as well. It just sounded wrong." We do not know what questions he had been asked, and if the full recording was used or only selected extracts. His recording was split up into two parts and broadcast on the Today programme at 7.15 am and at 8.21 am on 10th June. The second part of the recording was followed by an interview with Connie St Louis and then an interview with Jennifer Rohn, a cell biologist at University College London, who had not attended the conference but had been invited onto the programme to comment on the issues raised.

The interviews on the Today programme are available on the BBC iPlayer for the next three days. A recording of the relevant interviews is also available here. A full transcript of the interviews is available here. See also the comments from Alex Cull who transcribed Hunt's "interview" and has raised questions about the BBC's editing of the recording. There are two edited versions of Hunt's recording available on the BBC website. They can be found here and here. (Update 28 July: See the blog post by Louise Mensch "A misogynist pig" - how the BBC smeared Tim Hunt on alleged inaccuracies in the BBC's coverage of the affair on the Today programme.)

Tim Hunt is not on Twitter and, given that on 9th/10th June he was probably packing and preparing to check in at the airport ready for his flight home, it seems unlikely that he would have seen the articles in the Mail and The Guardian. It is also unclear how much he was aware of the worldwide controversy created by his presumed remarks at the time when he recorded his comments for the BBC. Given the controversial nature of his supposed proposal for single-sex laboratories it is somewhat surprising that Hunt was not directly asked about the idea. Importantly he was also not given the chance to respond to the allegations made against him by Connie St Louis.

St Louis was also interviewed by BBC television on 10th June. The interview is available on the BBC website. I do not know when this interview was aired though I would guess it went out on the BBC Breakfast Show. Again Hunt does not appear to have been offered the right to respond to the allegations.

There is also an interview with Connie St Louis on France 24. The video was uploaded on 29th June but it is not clear when the interview was actually recorded. A transcript is available here.

After the news broke, Natalia Demina, a Russian journalist who interviewed Tim Hunt prior to the luncheon, related a somewhat different account of events on Twitter:
Demina later clarified that her view of events was backed up by colleagues from China and Spain:
However, her tweets went unreported by the press until The Times published her account on 29 June.

(Update 28th July: Natalia Demina was quoted in an article  by Sergey Dobrynin dating from 17th June on the Russian news website Svoboda. Lenny Teytelman has provided a translation.)

On 11th June, in response to a shout out from the online journal Vagenda, the hashtag #distractinglysexy started trending on Twitter, and there were reportedly more than 10,000 tweets in a matter of hours from spirited female scientists with a good sense of humour.

On 12th June Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre published an article Call off the hunt. She reported that she called Tim Hunt to ask him about the allegations: "I asked him why he called himself a chauvinist and if he believes he is one. He insisted again that it was intended to be a silly joke and that he prides himself on treating everyone he works with respect and kindness, and believes he has achieved that over his career."

On 13th June The Observer published an exclusive interview with Tim Hunt and his wife Mary Collins in which they recounted their own version of the affair. Hunt claimed that he had been "hung out to dry" while his wife, Professor Mary Collins, claimed that University College London had "acted in 'an utterly unacceptable' way in pressuring both researchers and in failing to support their causes."

In a follow-up interview with The Observer published on 20th June Hunt pointed out that his remarks about women in science had not been fully reported:
Crucially, Hunt said, he then added the words, “now seriously” before going on to praise the role of women in science and in Korean society. “The words ‘now seriously’ make it very clear that I was making a joke, albeit a very bad one, but they were not mentioned in the first reports and I was deluged with hate mail,”...
The Times steps in
On 24th June The Times published a leaked version of an account of Hunt's speech recorded by an unnamed EU official which provided the context for Hunt's controversial comments and put the whole affair in a very different light:
The official wrote in the report, suppressed by the commission: “This is the transcript of Sir Tim Hunt’s speech, or rather a toast, as precise as I can recall it: ‘It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. 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. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls?’” 
Comments immediately after, unreported until now, read: “Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.” The official added: “Sir Tim didn’t ‘thank women for making lunch’.”
Oransky and Blum told The Times that they "could not recall enough to confirm or deny the additional quotes from Sir Tim, but did not contradict them". St Louis "denied that he said "Now seriously". "He definitely didn’t say that, it would have changed the whole context," she said. She also stood by her claim he had thanked the women for lunch."

St Louis does not appear to have been asked if she still stood by her original tweet in which she claimed that Hunt said "I'm in favour of single-sex labs".

An unnamed Brussels source told The Times that "there was 'unease' over the reluctance to set the record straight and concern that there might be a cover-up linked to the commission’s close relationship with the ERC. 'If the minutes cast doubt on the words used by Sir Tim, that his comments were clearly a joke, then there could be embarrassment.'"

Sir Tim Hunt’s now infamous comments at a meal for women science journalists were not met by uncomfortable silence but were instead praised for being “warm and funny”, according to a leaked European Commission report. 
An official who accompanied the Nobel prize-winning scientist on his visit to South Korea said that despite accounts at the time, which led to Sir Tim being forced to resign from several academic posts, his audience was not obviously offended by his comments about the “trouble with girls” in science. 
The official wrote, in a document suppressed by the commission: “I didn’t notice any uncomfortable silence or any awkwardness in the room as reported on social and then mainstream media.” 
The official added that his neighbour, a woman from the Korean National Research Council of Science and Technology and an organiser of the conference, responded positively. “Without being asked, she said she was impressed that Sir Tim could improvise such a warm and funny speech (her words). Later she told me that all other Korean lunch participants she talked to didn’t notice or hear anything peculiar in Sir Tim’s speech.”
Jean-Pierre Bourguigon, the President of the European Research Council, subsequently confirmed to The Sun (5th July) that he had "the testimonies of eyewitnesses" that Hunt was being "ironic and praising women". 

In an article in The Times on 27th June it was reported that Connie St Louis now acknowledged that Hunt did in fact say "Now seriously" after all.

Update 9th July: The Times reports that more eye witnesses have come forward.
Shiow Chin Tan, a Malaysian science journalist, is one of those who has come forward to claim that her colleagues misrepresented the speech. “What has not been reported, which I feel is important and adds balance to his earlier comments, is that he also added that men would be the worse off for it [if the sexes were segregated],” she wrote in an email. 
“I did laugh at his comments, because it was very obvious to me that he was saying it in a very light-hearted and joking manner . . . I think that the whole incident has been blown way out of proportion, and that Tim Hunt has been made a scapegoat for sexism in science. This is really sad.”
Pere Estupinyà, a Spanish science broadcaster, told Louise Mensch, a columnist for The Sun, “I don’t remember Tim Hunt’s exact words, but he said something positive about women scientists after his awful joke . . . I mean: he definitely made the famous comments. He made them in an humoristic tone. Then he said some positive words towards women.”
Update 18th July: A fragmentary recording of the tail end of Tim Hunt's toast made by the Russian science journalist Natalia Demina has now emerged. The recording is published exclusively on The Times website (£). The Times reports as follows:
But in a recording of the end of Sir Tim’s toast, made by the Russian science journalist Natalia Demina and passed to The Times, the Nobel laureate can clearly be heard to say to an audience of female scientists and science writers: “Congratulations everybody, because I hope, I hope, I hope — I really hope — there is nothing holding you down, especially not monsters like me.” 
A peal of laughter is then heard from the audience. Several eyewitnesses said that the speech was followed by sustained applause. A source close to Sir Tim confirmed the authenticity of the file. Demina has also released a picture she took of the toast which appears to show both Sir Tim and others in the room laughing.
Update 21st July
Louise Mensch has published a detailed account of the affair highlighting the undisclosed conflicts of interest of some of the main players. She has also made the fragmentary recording available outside The Times paywall by kind permission of Natalia Demina.

Other eye witnesses
In addition to the reports in The Times there are a number of other eye witness reports which again provide contradictory accounts:

Timothy Dimacali, a Filipino science journalist, advised The Sun: "As I keep telling people, he said it in a very lighthearted manner with no outward hint of malice, condescension, or derision". The Sun produced a photo claimed to have been taken by Dimacali at the precise moment when Hunt made his "trouble with girls" comment.

Shai Panela, a female science reporter in the Philippines, tweeted that Hunt acknowledged "the contribution of female scientists... but at least he's honest that he was known for being sexist".

Charles Seife, a US journalist and professor, was in the room and claimed that there was no "now seriously". In contradiction to other reports he also claims that there was no "my" trouble with girls – the implication being that Hunt was generalising about the trouble with girls rather than talking about his own personal experiences. He also tweeted that Hunt wasn't joking.

Scott Watkins, an Australian scientist, manager and communicator, confirmed on Twitter that Connie St Louis's tweet was accurate. See also his tweets here and here.

Update 8th July 2015: Louise Mensch has provided additional evidence from other eye witnesses and further clarification from the ERC President Jean-Pierre Bourguignon. The account she reported from Shiow Chin Tan was subsequently verified by The Times (see above).

Thanking the women for the lunch
There is one part of the story which can be debunked with reasonable certainty. In the Radio 4 Today programme, Hunt and St Louis gave contradictory accounts about who was thanked for making the lunch. Hunt said: "And I was asked, at short notice, to say a few words afterwards. And I thought it was ironic that I came after three women, who very nicely thanked the organisers for the lunch." In contrast, St Louis said: "Well, there was a deathly silence, it was – who stands up and says 'I hope the women have prepared the lunch'?" In a subsequent interview with the BBC she offered a slightly different account: "He [Hunt] stood up, declared that the woman had probably prepared the lunch 'cause that was their role..."

The EU official who leaked the "transcript" to The Times confirmed that "Sir Tim didn't 'thank women for making lunch'".

It subsequently emerged that St Louis had misunderstood a tweet from Dr Scott Watkins, an Australian scientist and communicator. See his tweets hereherehere and here. The journalists Brandy Zadrozny and Cat Ferguson published corrections to their respective articles in the Daily Beast and Buzzfeed.

Update 23rd July 2015: The original Daily Beast and Buzzfeed stories with the lunch comments are preserved in the Wayback Machine. A version of the Daily Beast article from 10th June can be found here. A version of the Buzzfeed article dating from 9th June can be found here.

Connie St Louis
On 26th June the Daily Mail published an investigation into the CV and publication history of Connie St Louis. The Mail appear to have contacted St Louis by e-mail prior to publication though she did not respond to all the questions asked.

On 27th June, Natasha Loder, a reporter for The Economistwrote a blog post in support of St Louis.

City University and Connie St Louis issued a statement on 29th June in response to the Mail's "inaccurate and misleading article". The University reported: "We have spoken to Connie and are satisfied that her academic qualifications are correct. We will be working with her to update her profile page to include more recent publications and professional activities."

On 30th June the Association of British Science Writers issued a statement in support of St Louis, who is a former President of the association and a current board member.

At the time of writing there is a message on the City University website showing that Connie St Louis' page is "in the process of being updated". {Update 29th July 2015 Connie St Louis's updated CV has now been posted on the City University website. See also this article in The Times (£) dated 29th July.)

Update 7th July: In an article published in the UK Press Gazette it is stated that Connie St Louis stands by her reporting.

Update 11th July: The Guardian explained that they mistakenly published an unedited version of Connie St Louis' article and that they subsequently edited it live and corrected two factual errors.

Update 4th August: Louise Mensch has published a blog post with claims about an ethics breach in the award of a radio prize.

Statements from official organisations
Official statements have been issued from a number of organisations with which Tim Hunt was involved. Curiously, although UCL's responses have received a lot of publicity, most of the statements from the other organisations do not appear to have received any media coverage at all.

9th June: The Royal Society issued a statement in which it "acted to distance itself from reported comments by Sir Tim Hunt FRS about women in science made during an event at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Korea".

10th June: The European Research Council issued a statement from their President confirming that Hunt's "impromptu comments were meant to be 'light-hearted' and 'ironic', and that it was not his intention to demean women".

10th June: UCL announced that Hunt had resigned from his position as Honorary Professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, For clarity it should be noted that Hunt's position as honorary professor was an unpaid position, and UCL "reserves the right to withdraw honorary status from an individual at any time".

10th June: The Francis Crick Institute issued a statement confirming that Hunt's "reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Francis Crick Institute".

11th June: The Royal Society announced that Tim Hunt was resigning from the Royal Society's Awards Committee.

12th June: The Academy of Medical Sciences issued a measured statement reflecting a variety of views from their members.

12th June: The European Research Council tweeted that Tim Hunt has "informed @EU_Commission of his resignation as #ERC Scientific Council member".

16th June: The Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology (KOFWST) Associations issued a press release "on behalf of all women scientists in Korea and the world" in which they demanded and received an apology from Tim Hunt". The press release was issued in the name of the KOFWST President Hee Young Paik. It is not known if Hee Young Paik was present at the luncheon or if the press release was sanctioned by other members of KOFWST. [Update 24th July: There are two different versions of this press release. There is an English-only version dated 16th June. There is a second version in Korean and English dated 17th June.] [Update 31st July: The press release was covered in the Korean newspaper Dong-alibo on 17th June. With thanks to Hilda Bastian.] [Update 3rd August: It has now been confirmed that Hee Young Paik was at the luncheon. There is a photo of her on the WCSJ website which Shub Niggurath shared on Twitter on 27th July.]

26th June: Michael Arthur, the President and Provost of UCL, issued a statement "Provost's view: women in science" in which he advised that "reversing the decision to accept Hunt's resignation "would send entirely the wrong signal and I have reason to believe that Sir Tim would also not want that to happen".

Testing the hypothesis that Tim Hunt is a sexist
We would normally expect investigative journalists to investigate and scientists to look at evidence scientifically which means following the scientific method and testing hypotheses. It is therefore somewhat surprising in this case that so many investigative journalists and scientists took the evidence presented to them at face value and did not consider the null hypothesis that Tim Hunt was not a sexist. When testing a hypothesis it is important to look at all the available evidence both for and against the hypothesis before drawing any conclusions rather than cherry-picking evidence which supports your own viewpoint. I will update this section with additional evidence as and when it becomes available.

First of all we need to define what we mean by sexism. Here is the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:
Originally: the state or condition of belonging to the male or female sex; categorization or reference on the basis of sex (now rare); (in later use) prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
The Hunt affair has received worldwide publicity and if Hunt really was the male chauvinist monster depicted in the media one might have expected a deluge of women writing to the press complaining about his sexist behaviour. Instead, there has been a steady stream of people who have worked with Hunt who have commented publicly to support him:

11th June Maria Leptin, Director of EMBO (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) tweeted:
12th June: Professor Dame Valerie Beral on the BBC Today programme. A transcript is available here

16th June:  Athene Donald, Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge: Calling Tim Hunt sexist won't help women in science

20th June: In an interview with The Observer Hunt stated that he had successfully campaigned to have creche facilities at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. He has also campaigned, albeit so far unsuccessfully, to get a creche at the new Crick Institute in London.

22nd June: Twenty-nine scientists who had worked for Hunt wrote to The Times to testify to his character and to "urge the ERC and UCL to reconsider their rush to judgment". They wrote:
...he has been an extremely generous and supportive mentor to us throughout his career. His help has also been instrumental in the advancement of many other women and men in science beyond those in his own lab. Moreover, Tim believes in imparting his enthusiasm for science to the next generation; he actively encouraged an interest in science in schoolchildren and young scientists, arranging for work experience and summer students of both genders to get their first taste of research in his lab. Thus, it would be terribly unfair if a few ill-judged comments should ruin his reputation.
Here is a list of all the people who signed the letter: Jörg Adamczewski; Birke Bartosch; Michael Brandeis; Sarah Bray; Matthew Cockerill; Mary Dasso; Claudia Ellenrieder; Alessia Errico; Julian Gannon; Stephan Geley; Ralph Graeser; Helfrid Hochegger; Michael Howell; Jane Kirk; Andrea Klotzbücher; Joan Marsh; Jeremy Minshull; Satoru Mochida; Jon Moore; Angel Nebreda; Jonathon Pines; Randy Poon; Nancy Standart; Elspeth Stewart; Yoshimi Tanaka; Chizuko Tsurumi; Tamara Wells; Hiro Yamano; Delores Murray.

23rd June: Judge by actions, not words by Alessia Errico, who worked with Hunt in his London laboratory.

28th June: Hyunsook Lee, a female Professor of Biological Sciences at Seoul National University, wrote to The Times in support of Tim Hunt, who had been her PhD examiner.

13th July: David Kroll published an interview with Debra Laefer, an associate professor at University College Dublin, who was one of the two ERC grantees attending the WCSJ meeting with Tim Hunt. Laefer was not present at the luncheon but "expressed disappointment upon learning of Hunt’s comments after she had already left Korea". Kroll asked her if she felt "belittled" at the ERC session chaired by Hunt. She replied: “Absolutely not. He was lovely and gracious and I was really shocked by his comments." Laefer also advised that Kroll's "interview request email was the first she heard of the lunch comment episode".

In contrast I've only been able to find two pieces of evidence in support of the hypothesis that Hunt is "sexist". One of these is an extract from a Lab Times interview with Hunt in April 2014. The second is a piece of gossip on Twitter. Both these items are cited in a blog post by David Colquhoun (see the entry for 16th June).

There does not seem to be any evidence that Hunt actively discriminated against women at work. However, his comments in Seoul, and particularly his observation that girls cry, could be interpreted as evidence of stereotyping. We do not know if he has made similar comments at other times and we should perhaps not give undue weight to a single comment.

It may well be that we are not in possession of all the facts but from the currently available evidence there is very weak evidence in support of the hypothesis that Hunt is a sexist and strong evidence to suggest that he is not a sexist.

Update 17th July: I have received feedback that the commentary reported above is opinion and hearsay, and that the hypothesis is untestable. I would be interested to know if anyone has any ideas as to how one can objectively determine whether or not someone is sexist.

Conclusions
I cannot think of another occasion where a debate over what one person did or did not say has generated so much hot air in the Twittersphere. We can safely conclude that human memory is fallible. Humour is difficult to pull off in a speech at the best of times, and especially so if you're talking on a subject that is outside your level of expertise, and you're having to prepare your speech at short notice. Irony and self-deprecation do not travel well and are prone to misinterpretation. Finally anyone who is planning to give a toast to a room full of journalists would be best advised to record their speech for their own good.

Clearly some people thought that Hunt's comments were deadly serious. Others recognised he was joking but thought that the jokes were inappropriate. Some people were amused by his jokes and appreciated his honesty and his emotions. Others perhaps thought he was plain bonkers. Ultimately does it really matter what a 72-year-old man said at a lunch in front of 100 people? Is there any evidence that a single woman was put off the idea of going into science because of Hunt's clumsy jokes?

The more important question is what is an appropriate response if someone says something which causes you offence at a conference? The nature of the offence is irrelevant because basic principles are at stake, regardless of whichever -ism is in fashion at the time. How does society determine what constitutes a speechcrime? What is a suitable punishment? Is it right to publicly shame someone on Twitter? Would a more considerate reaction not be to have a quiet word with the organisers, and ask them to take matters up with the speaker? If disciplinary action is required then it should be taken by the relevant organisations after a fair hearing has taken place. Individuals should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and should not be subjected to trial by social media, and especially so when those passing judgement are not in possession of the full facts. (Update 21st July: It now transpires that two of the three journalists who broke the Tim Hunt story were actually on the programme committee for the WCSJ conference. Ivan Oransky was the vice-chair, and Deborah Blum was a committee member.)

By far a bigger problem with this whole affair was the inaccurate, misleading and unethical journalism. If newspapers are going to make sensationalist accusations about living people they have a duty to check their facts, verify stories with multiple independent witnesses, and allow the accused the right of reply before going into print. If accusations are made on the TV or on the radio the accused should have the right to respond to the allegations. The truth should be more important than the story. Character assassinations can have a lasting impact on reputations. Everyone tends to remember the original story but by the time the corrections come out people have often lost interest, and the corrections never have as much prominence as the original story.

The Twitter lynch mobs and trolls have been appalling, and the comments sections beneath articles in some national newspapers are a toxic minefield which you enter at your peril. I cannot understand why people feel they have the right to make derogatory and insulting comments online to complete strangers when they would never dare to make such comments to someone's face. Hunt and his wife were supposedly reduced to tears by the pressure they faced. Blum and St Louis reportedly received death threats. I don't know how we can encourage people to behave nicely to each other online, though I can't help but feel that a lot of this would never have happened if the story had been reported accurately in the first place, though of course if the story had been accurately reported then there wouldn't have been a story at all.

Nevertheless the affair has started a welcome debate on the subject of women in science. It is evident that there are major gender disparities in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The Women's Engineering Society has a useful set of summary statistics. However, it would be a mistake to look at gender disparities in STEM subjects in isolation. Women are well represented in many professions which require a scientific background. The number of female dentists in the UK has been steadily increasing, and in 2012/2013 56.1% of dentists in the UK under the age of 35 were females. Similarly there has been a big growth in the number of female medical students in the UK, and in 2012 55% of female medical students were female. In 2013 about 85% of veterinary graduates in the UK were female. About 60% of pharmacists are now females. The teaching profession is dominated by women. Around 75% of teachers in England are female, and in 2013 over a quarter of primary schools in England were staffed entirely by women. Clearly if we want to encourage more women to become scientists then we should be encouraging more men to become teachers and pharmacists. A goal of gender parity across all professions is never likely to be a realistic option, and there are possibly other factors at play which influence the choice of career. For example, a newly published report from the Pew Research Center in the US shows that men and women have wide differences of opinion on some scientific topics.

There are no easy answers but there are undoubtedly many changes that could be made to improve the working environment for both men and women. I for one would certainly not want to see quotas and tokenism. We don't want to replace an old boys' network with an old girls' network. Changes should be based on evidence and not emotion.

I also can't help but think that a little kindness, compassion and forgiveness would go a very long way. And perhaps a few public apologies might help too.

Share your views
If you feel strongly one way or the other about UCL's handling of the Tim Hunt affair you can write to the three people involved in the decision-making process. Somewhat ironically they are all men. Their e-mail addresses are all available in the UCL's open access directory but I have provided the names and contact details below for convenience:

Michael Arthur (Provost): michael.arthur@ucl.ac.uk

David Price (Vice-Provost Research): d.price@ucl.ac.uk

Geraint Rees (Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences): g.rees@ucl.ac.uk

You can also write to the secretary of the UCL Council and ask for your comments to be forwarded to the Council members. Contact details can be found here. The UCL Council is meeting on Thursday 9th July and is expected to discuss the Tim Hunt affair. According to a report in The Sunday Times (5th July), while some council members "would like to see Hunt reinstated, it is not something they can force through..." One source "close to the affair" told The Sunday Times:
 “If nothing is done to reinstate Hunt, donors and scientists will be upset. If he is reinstated, students will be upset. 
“It’s intensely damaging . . . but the provost has put his own personal reputation on the line on this one and no one will push him so far as to make him step down."
It is worth pointing out that Malcolm Grant, the previous Provost, did, to his great credit, backtrack on a decision relating to the freedom of academic debate. As Stuart Sutherland comments in his classic book Irrationality "Changing your mind in the light of new evidence is a sign of strength not weakness".

Update 9th July
The UCL council issued a statement after their meeting. After reviewing all the "relevant correspondence" they unanimously supported "the decision takeny by UCL's executive to accept the resignation".  They acknowledged the "distress caused to Sir Tim and Professor Mary Collins" and recognised "that there are lessons to be learned around the communication process". For commentary see the articles in The Guardian and The Times (£).

Update 13th July
In response to feedback I've removed my flippant comments about the use of the words "girls" and "guys".

Update 20th July
In response to feedback about bias I've changed two subheadings ("The hatchet job" and "Chinese whispers") and used more neutral headings ("Connie St Louis" and "Thanking the women for the lunch").

Update 23rd July
For background on the psychological perspectives behind this story see the article written by Narinder Kapur and me on The Sir Tim Hunt affair: the science behind the saga.

Commentary
The following is a somewhat subjective and eclectic list of articles which I found made particularly salient points beyond the polarised debate of whether or not Hunt was guilty as charged. I will update the list to include further articles of interest. Inclusion of articles in this section does not necessarily mean that I endorse the comments made therein.

Science Media Centre: Call off the hunt, 12 June 2015

Corticalia blog: No more jokes in my lectures, 16 June 2015

Sue Nelson, Space Boffins: Distractingly sexy or the trouble with Tim, 18 June 2015

Paul Seaman: The PR industry's part in Professor Tim Hunt's downfall, 20 June 2015.

Nadine Dereza, #DistractinglySexist, 21 June 2015

Hilda Bastian; Just joking? Sexist talk in science, 22 June 2015

Jonathan Bright: Business 2 Community: UCL trial by Twitter over Professor Tim Hunt ill judged, 25 June 2015

Uta Frith, Royal Society blog: Phoenix not dinosaur, 29 June 2015

Ottoline Leyser, Times Higher Education SupplementLove in the lab? It's part of science, 12 June 2015

Sam Schwarzkopf: What the $%&£ is wrong with you people?!, 1 July 2015

Claire Lehmann.The sexism in science controversies: are scientific claims of sexism in science overstated?, 2 July 2015

BBC Radio 4: The Now Show  A balanced, but humorous take on the affair (segment starts at 15 minutes 44 seconds), 3 July 2015. A transcript is a available here. A recording is available here.

Ben Champion: an open letter to the UCL Council, 5 July 2015. (Update 16 July: Ben Champion subsequently announced on his blog that he was resigning from his doctoral studentship and wished to publicly renounce the Master of Research degree awarded to him by UCL in 2014.)

Charlotte Vere, Executive Director of the Girls' School Association; Reinstate 'sexist' Sir Tim Hunt 'because his resignation makes women become the victims', 6 July 2015

NeuroNeurotic, The objectivity illusion, 6 July 2015

Cathy Young, Observer OpinionLab rats: how the misogyny police and sloppy journalists smeared a top scientist

The Curious Wave Function, The Tim Hunt affair is destroying our community from within. We need to not let that happen, 9 July 2015

Cathy Young, The Wenatchee WorldOn the internet nobody knows you're joking, 13 July 2015

A J Simonson, Women, humor and the workplace, 15 July 2015

Dorothy Bishop, Times Higher Education SupplementThe trouble with jokes about girls, 18 July 2015

Cathy Young, Real Clear Politics"Sexist scientist" Tim Hunt: the real story, 22 July 2015. This is probably the best summary of the status quo to date. The same article is also reproduced on the Reason website.

Sophie Hannah, Why it's still vital to defend Tim Hunt, 26 July 2015.

Hilda Bastian, A Tim Hunt timeline: cutting a path through a tangled forest, 28 July 2015. A detailed timeline of the media coverage of the offer introduced with a somewhat subjective analysis.

Athene Donald, The importance of evidence, the need for #Just1Action4WIS, 28 July 2015. An eloquent article on the need for evidence, truth and integrity which I strongly urge everyone to read.

Ethics
Louise Mensch raises concerns about journalistic ethics and conflicts of interest in her blog post The Silence of the Shaming, 21 July 2015

Thomas Basbøll, a writing coach and philosophical investigator in Copenhagen, Denmark, has written a number of blog posts looking in particular at the ethical issues raised by the affair:

Decency Part 1, 16 July 2015
Agency Part 1, 20 July 2015
- Agency Part 2, 21 July 2015
- Agency Part 3, 23 July 2015

Howard Adelman, Shame and humiliation. Part 1 of V: Shaming and shame, 26 June 2015

Celebrities
In addition numerous celebrities (Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Boris Johnson, Jonathan DimblebyBel Mooney, Allison Pearson, Sophie Hannah, etc) and former Nobel prize winners, including Sir Paul Nurse have offered their opinions on the matter. Louise Mensch has launched a personal crusade to salvage Hunt's reputation. Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb has boycotted UCL.

Public shaming
Finally, while not directly related to the Tim Hunt affair, I highly recommend watching this TedTalk from Jon Ronson on What happens when online shaming spirals out of control.

©2015 Debbie Kennett

Thursday, 18 June 2015

23andMe genotypes one millionth customer

23andMe have today announced that they have genotyped their one millionth customer. The full press release can be read here. 23andMe have also sent out personal e-mails to all their customers advising them of their customer number. I am customer number 46,957. I was one of the early adopters in the UK. I couldn't afford to pay the then price of $499 but I took the opportunity to order a test for $99 when there was a flash sale on DNA Day in April 2010. There is a certain kudos to having a five-digit customer number but we do have a number of people in our genetic genealogy community in America who have four-digit numbers, and even some genetic genealogy pioneers with coveted three-digit numbers! I've copied below the e-mail that I received from 23andMe. The content of the e-mail is also reproduced on the 23andMe blog.


Subject: Reaching 1 million. You're #46,957
If this email isn’t displaying correctly, view it in your browser.
23andMe
Debbie,

Last week, we genotyped our one millionth customer. You are part of the one million people driving change.

One million is more than a number. It's a turning point. We are taking control of our data. We are taking ownership of information about ourselves. We believe knowing more about who we are can benefit society, not just the individual.

Just fifty years ago, doctors were reluctant to tell patients if they had cancer.1 The world is different today.

One million customers ago, attendees were shocked at the annual American Society of Human Genetics conference when direct-to-consumer genetic testing services were announced.2

One million customers ago, we didn't know how consumers would react to direct-to-consumer testing, but now there are studies showing consumers don't overreact to their results.3

One million customers ago, we didn't have the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act in the United States or other personal data protection laws that are now in place in many countries around the globe.

One million customers ago, we didn't have direct access to our health laboratory results. The United States recently mandated individuals can get laboratory test results directly from the laboratory upon request.4

As customer number 46,957, you are part of this unique group of one million people driving change. I celebrate you, your 23andMe story and the power of all of us today: #PowerOf1Million.

You'll often overhear me enthusiastically telling people to "Spit!" but today is the day to be proud and let everyone know: "I Spat!"

Onward.

Anne Wojcicki
CEO and Customer #60
You are 23andMe
customer number
46,957



1 http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=330783
2 http://blogs.plos.org/dnascience/2012/11/08/direct-to-consumer-genetic-testing-a-new-view/
3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777821/
4 http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/02/20140203a.html

You are receiving this email because you are a customer of 23andMe.

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23andMe are now the first DNA testing company to reach the milestone of having one million people in a single database.

AncestryDNA are probably also very close to the one million mark. They currently state that they have 850,000 people in their database, but they have been citing this figure for some time. They have previously said that they are selling 150,000 kits per quarter. We can probably expect an announcement very soon.

Family Tree DNA were the first company to hit the one million milestone but their tally of one million test takers is spread across two different databases. FTDNA have their own proprietary database but they also do the testing for the Genographic Project. There is some overlap between the two databases as Genographic customers can transfer their results to the FTDNA genealogical matching database.

It's taken nearly eight years for 23andMe to reach the one million milestone but the big growth only started to take place when they dropped the price of their test to $99 in December 2012. I wonder how long we will have to wait before we see the first two million or five million consumer DNA database.

Related blog posts
- What is the current size of the consumer genomics market?
- 23andMe relaunches health reports in the UK
- My series of articles on my 23andMe test
- Autosomal DNA testing now affordable for all