Friday, 20 November 2015

FTDNA Group Administrators' Conference 2015 and the FTDNA winter sale

Family Tree DNA Group Administrators' Conference 2015
The Family Tree DNA group administrators' conference took place last weekend. Jennifer Zinck has written two very detailed summaries of the two-day event which include news of forthcoming developments at Family Tree DNA:

- 11th International Conference on Genetic Genealogy – Sunday

A very detailed report with lots of photos has also been provided by Roberta Estes:

The slides for most of the presentations are available on the Family Tree DNA Slideshare account:

Family Tree DNA Winter Sale
It was also announced at the close of the conference that the Family Tree DNA winter sale has now started. The sale will end at 11.59 pm Texas time on 31st December 2015. A list of the sale prices can be found below.

YDNAStandard PriceGroup PriceSale
Y12$59 not on sale
Y25$109 not on sale
Y37$169 $149 $139
Y67$268 $248 $228
Y111$359 $339 $309
YDNA UpgradesStandard PriceSale
Y12 - 37$119 $99 $79
Y12 - 67$209 $189 $151
Y12 - 111$359 $339 $271
Y25 - 37$69 $49 $39
Y25 - 67$168 $148 $118
Y25 - 111$269 $249 $199
Y37 - 67$119 $99 $79
Y37 - 111$240 $220 $176
Y67 - 111$149 $129 $103
Big YStandard PriceSale
Big Y$575 $525
Family FinderStandard PriceSale
FF$99 $89
mtDNAStandard PriceSale
mtDNA+$69 not on sale
mtDNA FullSeq$199 $169
mtDNA+ to FullSeq$159 $149
SNP PacksStandard PriceSale
SNP Packs$99, $119$10 off each pack

To convert the US dollar prices into your local currency you can use the XE Currency Converter.

FTDNA are also releasing special discount codes on a weekly basis every Monday to existing FTDNA customers. These codes can be shared with family and friends, and offer additional savings of up to $75.

Someone on the ISOGG DNA Newbie list has very kindly compiled a collaborative spreadsheet on GoogleDocs where people can post their spare discount codes so take advantage of these special offers to get the best available price. The spreadsheet is shared with permission and can be found here.

If you've not already take a DNA test or if you want to order a test for a friend or family member then now would be a very good time to do so!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Ten years since the end of donor anonymity: have we got it right?

Last week I attended a public meeting organised by the Progress Educational Trust to mark the 10th anniversary of the change in the law in the UK which gave donor-conceived people the right to access information about their birth once they reach the age of 18. The meeting 10 years since the end of donor anonymity: have we got it right? was held at the Institute of Child Health in London. I've shared below my notes from the meeting and some of my photos. It is a very important subject and these issues should be the subject of a much wider debate.

Sarah Norcross, Director of the Progress Educational Trust, opened the meeting and introduced Charles Lister, the Chairman of the National Gamete Donation Trust, who was chairing the meeting.
Sarah Norcross from the Progress Educational Trust opens the meeting and introduces Charles Lister.
Charles Lister described the evening as an event celebrating ten years since the end of donor anonymity. He shared a moving quote from a 2004 speech by Melanie Johnson, the then Minister of Public Health:
"Clinics decide to provide treatment using donors; patients make a decision to receive treatment using donors; donors decide to donate. Donor-conceived children, however, do not decide to be born – is it therefore right that access to information about the donation that led to their birth should be denied to them?"
The new law ending the right to donor anonymity in the UK came into effect on 1st April 2005. Prior to the change it was predicted that there would be a drop in the number of donors coming forward, but that hasn't come to pass though there are still not enough donors.  Children conceived before that date can access their data if the donor makes the information available. Lister emphasised that the rights of the children should be the prime consideration.

Five panellists were given the opportunity to make a seven-minute presentation and this was followed by an extended session in which members of the audience were invited to comment and ask questions of the panellists.

Juliet Tizzard,  Director of Strategy at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)
Juliet Tizzard presented data showing that the number of newly registered sperm donors has increased between 2004 and 2014.
Jo Tizzard: How many people donate?
She told us that donors can retrospectively remover their anonymity. One third of the sperm used in the UK is imported from overseas, primarily from the US. Denmark is the next biggest contributor. There were 2050 babies born in the last year as a result of sperm and egg donation. HFEA have services available to talk to people about what they might expect from the treatment. She also presented figures showing the number of information requests over the last four years. To date 151 donors have removed their anonymity. Eighty-seven donor-conceived people have joined Donor Sibling Link.
Juliet Tizzard: Information requests.
Joanna Rose, donor-conceived person
Joanna Rose was conceived from an anonymous donor conception in the 1970s. It was largely thanks to a legal challenge she brought in 2002 regarding the disconnection between the identity and the genetic kin of donor offspring that the law on donor anonymity was changed. Joanna has completed her PhD A Critical Analysis of Sperm Donation Practices. A copy of the thesis can be downloaded from the Confessions of a Cryokid blog. Joanna began by citing the words of a song written by Kevin Staudt on his experience of growing up as a donor-conceived child and the search for his father.
Jo Rose: The words of Kevin Staudt's song "Novum".
 Prior to the event Jo had requested that all attendees watch a recording of Kevin's song. You can listen to the recording on YouTube.

Joanna gave a powerful and heartrending speech about the pain of being a donor-conceived person. She spoke of her friend Narelle Grech who campaigned for fifteen years against donor anonymity in Australia. Narelle was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer, but she was lucky to find her biological father just six weeks before she died.

Joanna told us that she had no support when she brought her court case, and she used up all her inheritance money to bring the action. When she asked about her father she was told that he was an "irrelevant third party". Jo pointed out that donor-conceived children do not have any representation on HFEA. Consequently HFEA have no accountability. She claimed that many HFEA members have a conflict of interest because of their work with the infertility industry. Jo concluded by recommending that we should change from adult to child-centric practices. There must be multi-disciplinary protections to counter the conflict of interests from the infertility industry and its users. Services need to be provided to help address the problems of donor offspring.
Jo Rose: Conclusions and recommendations.
Eric Blythe, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, the University of Huddersfield
Eric Blythe commented that the change in the law is only the first step. We now have a situation where different categories of donor-conceived people have different rights depending on the date of donation. There were 21,000 infants born between 1991 and 2004 before the law was changed. HFEA hold the records but donor-conceived people can't access the donor's ID. There are an unknown number of donor-conceived children born before 1991 where no records may exist. If it is considered right that donor-conceived people born after 2005 should be able to learn their donor's ID, should this right not be extended to all donor-conceived people?
Eric Blythe: Moving forwards
The traditional response has always been that donors who donated prior to 2005 consented on the basis of anonymity. Retrospective disclosure without their consent would be an unreasonable breach of their privacy. However, this means that the donors' rights trump the rights of the donor-conceived person. There is no reason why these potentially conflicting rights should be prioritised in this way and why all donor-conceived people should not be treated equally as far as is humanly possible.
In Victoria, Australia, the right to donor anonymity was rescinded retrospectively. (We were later told that this law is known as Narelle's Law in memory of Joanna Rose's donor-conceived friend Narelle Grech.) There is no reason why other jurisdictions should not follow the lead of Victoria.

Venessa Smith, London Women's Clinic and London Sperm Bank
Venessa stood in at the last minute for the advertised speaker Jo Adams who was unable to attend because of a family crisis. Venessa spoke about how the change in the law had affected fertility clinics. Donor applications plummeted due to rumours in the press and some of the smaller banks closed down. There is less donor availability and longer waiting lists. Patients are reluctant to use UK donors due to the ambiguity and consequently there are more overseas imports.

The people coming forward to be sperm donors are different today. The focus is much more on the donor experience. In the past men used to donate for "beer money". Now young professionals with families are donating altruistically. Pre-2005 the focus was on a successful outcome. Now the focus is on the welfare of the child.

Susan Golombok, Professor of Family Research and Director of the Centre for Family Research, the University of Cambridge
Susan Golombok reviewed the last 30 years of research on donor conception. The European Study of Assisted Reproduction Families was the first longitudinal study of donor insemination (DI) families. There were 111 DI families included in the study from the UK, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. The children were all born in the 1980s. The families were assessed when the children were aged six, twelve and eighteen. At the age of six not one of the families had disclosed the donor conception to the child. At age twelve fewer than 10% of the parents had disclosed the information. At eighteen no further parents had disclosed.

The UK Longitudinal Study of Assisted Reproduction Families was conducted 15 years after the first study. The researchers looked at 50 DI families and 51 egg donation families. The parents were interviewed when the children were one, two, three, seven, ten and fourteen. The children who were aware of their donor conception were interviewed at seven, ten and fourteen years. At age one 56% of egg donation parents and 46% of DI parents planned to disclose donor conception to the child. By age seven only 39% of egg donation parents and 29% of DI parents had done so. Seven is the key age when most adopted children become aware of their adoption. By age fourteen 67% of egg donation parents and 41% of DI parents had disclosed. However, some parents who said they had told their children had only partially disclosed.
Susan Golombok: Donor conception research findings.
The children's reaction to disclosure varied from lack of interest to curiosity but no child responded in a negative way. No parents regretted disclosure. However, just because the parents say they have disclosed it doesn't mean that the child understands the implications. Also, although parents generally tell their children that they were conceived by in vitro fertilisation they often don't reveal that the child was born by egg or sperm donation.

Susan Golombok then shared some slides showing children's understanding of donor conception at age seven and age ten, and how they felt about being donor conceived. Although the children claimed to feel fine, it was notable that many of them had not discussed the issue with their friends. One ten-year-old girl said:  "That's the only secret that I haven't told any of my friends because I don't really want anyone to know". At age fourteen their feelings ranged from lack of interest to curiosity about the donor's characteristics. They did not reject their father. The lack of genetic relatedness was insignificant in terms of their feelings for him.

Finally Susan Golombok shared the findings from a study of children born following the removal of donor anonymity. Forty-seven two-parent families and 31 solo-mother families with children aged between four and seven years were included in the study. Sixty-four percent of  two-parent families had not disclosed and 45% of solo-mother families had not disclosed. Almost all solo-mother families planned to disclose. Of the two-parent families who had not disclosed around half were uncertain about disclosure or were not planning not to tell.

Audience questions and panel responses
A heated discussion followed the presentations. The first questioner, Elizabeth Howard, a donor-conceived person, raised a number of issues about Susan Golombok's research. The sample sizes were all very small. All her research has been done on children up to the age of 18, and had generally presented a fairly rosy picture of donor conception. However, no research has been done on donor-conceived adults, yet it is adults who are often the most affected by these issues. People only start to wonder about their heritage when they start a family or in later life. A court case has established that some of the research was a breach of human rights and that proper consent had not been obtained from the children. It was also suggested that Golombok's research was biased because some of it is supported by the fertility industry. One study was funded by Stonewall. In contrast, there is no money for supporting donor-conceived adults. Golombok robustly denied that there was a conflict of interest. Whatever the truth of the matter it is clear that there is an urgent need for research to be done on the long-term effects for donor-conceived adults. I suggested that it should be possible to make use of the large 23andMe database which now has records for over one million people. 23andMe would easily be able to identify through questionnaires a large cohort of sperm-conceived adults in their database who would be interested in participating in research. Unfortunately there seems to be a general lack of funding available to support such research.
The panel. From left to right: Juliet Tizzard, Susan Golombok, Jo Rose, Venessa Smith and Eric Blythe.
Jo Rose commented that donor conception is human experimentation which has been done without the consent of the child and it is a violation of human rights.  Donor-conceived children do not even have the same basic rights as adoptees. In 1975 the law was changed so that adopted children have the right to access their birth information but this privilege was only granted to donor-conceived children in 2005.

Gerard, a donor from New Zealand, has six donor offspring. Anonymity was removed in New Zealand in 1990. He did not think that the law should be changed retrospectively but suggested that there should be a public campaign for donors to come forward. However, with the increasing availability of genetic ancestry testing and the ever-growing genetic genealogy matching databases, donor anonymity can no longer be guaranteed. With a match with a close cousin up to about the third cousin level it is often possible to trace the genealogy forwards to identify a likely candidate for a biological father. As many children were not told they were donor conceived people should also be prepared for family secrets being revealed unexpectedly as a result of a commercial genetic ancestry test. (For an example of one such case see the story of Thomas Lippert, an artificial insemination nightmare that was revealed by genetic ancestry testing. Further coverage of the story can be found here.)

The Children's Act specifies that the rights of the child should always come first. However, despite the change in the law there is no legal requirement for parents to tell their children that they are donor-conceived. There is a divorce in reproductive research between the best interests of the child and the interests of the parents and the fertility clinics. Some clinics actively encourage women to go abroad. The parents don't realise that the laws are different overseas.

Emma Cresswell, a donor-conceived child, made a strong case for the need to reform the birth registration system. She proposed that the information about the biological father and the adoptive should be recorded on the child's birth certificate. The clinics must insist that the parents tell the children. Emma was the first donor-conceived person in Britain to have her father's name struck off her birth certificate. She doesn't know the name of her biological father and the space is now a blank.

Parents of donor-conceived children and those working in infertility research were more cautious about legislative changes. It was suggested that parents should be given encouragement to tell their children before conception. They should talk to the child about their conception as soon as as they are born. Juliet Tizzard suggested that parents should be given the tools to build up their confidence to tell the child.

The subject of donor conception is a highly charged and emotive issue. I find it difficult to remain objective on the subject because I am exposed on an almost daily basis to adoptees and foundlings on genetic genealogy mailing lists and in Facebook groups who have been denied access to their biological heritage and who are desperate to find out who they are. Increasingly, many of these people are finding answers and connecting with their biological families through DNA testing. My sympathies inevitably lie with them. The knowledge of one's identity is a fundamental human right and it is shocking that so many people today are still denied this most basic of all rights. I was struck by the disconnect between the donor-conceived people at the event and the people who are involved in the infertility industry. Clearly the change in the law was just the start of the process and there is much more that still needs to be done. Given that there is no legal requirement for the parents to disclose that a child has been adopted it seems that further legislation is likely to be the only way to guarantee the information that should be a child's right by birth.

Further reading
- A Storify of the event compiled by Bionews
- A report of the event for Bionews from Arit Udoh
- As consumer genomics databases well, more adoptees are finding their biological families by Justin Web, GenomeNews, 25 September. Although this article is written from the perspective adoptees the same principles will apply to donor-conceived adults.

- Donor Conceived Register
- Donor Sibling Link
- The Donor Conception Network - an organisation set up to provide a supportive network for the parents of donor-conceived children and for donor-conceived adults.
- DNA Detectives - a Facebook group for genetic genealogists focused on finding biological family for adoptees, foundlings, donor-conceived individuals, unknown paternity and all other types of unknown parentage cases.
- DNA testing for adoptees - many of the resources listed are applicable for donor-conceived adults.
- The Donor-Conceived DNA Project
- Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
- National Gamete Donation Trust

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.

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.

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 (

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.


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


Baumard, M. & Boyer, P. (2013). Explaining moral religions. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 272-80.

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.

Jane, E. (2015). Flaming? What flaming? The pitfalls and potentials of researching online hostility. Ethics and Information Technology, 17, 65-87.

Jarrett, C. (2013). How many psychologists does it take … The Psychologist, 26, 254-58.

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

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin.

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: [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.

A blogger by the name of Isis the Scientist wrote an article on 9th June If Hunt's science is reality, I choose a girls only lab.

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 TimesThe 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 (£). Oliver Moody from 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.
A companion article by Louise Mensch and Natalia Demina The tape that shows Sir Tim was wronged was published on The Times website on the same day. This article is now available outside The Times paywall.

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 audio recording available outside The Times paywall by kind permission of Natalia Demina.

Update 25th October
Louise Mensch has pulled all the available eye witness evidence together to provide the most reliable report of what Tim Hunt actually said. See her blog post on The myth of the Tim Hunt "transcript".

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' 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).

Update 24th October: Louise Mensch has uncovered contemporaneous tweets from Federico Kusko.

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 whose "transcript" was leaked to The Times also 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.

Update 2nd November 2015
A recording of an interview given by Tim Hunt on 3rd September has come to light in which he discusses his work on cell cycles, the European Union and his infamous lunch toast in Korea. The interview took place in Budapest, Hungary, at ELTE, as part of the Albert Szent-Gyorgyi Lecture Series. A recording of the interview is available here (the relevant section starts at about 25 minutes 25 seconds). A transcript is available 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 by Connie St Louis in the award of a radio prize.

Update 10th October 2015
Colin Blakemore, honorary president of the Association of British Science Writers, resigns from the organisation because of their decision to "continue to give unconditional support to Connie St Louis". See the article Tim Hunt sexism row reignited after scientist quits writers' group in The Guardian.

Update 20th October 2015
The ABSW published a notice on their website clarifying that they are a Company Limited by Guarantee, a not-for-profit organisation which pays no fees to its directors. Connie St Louis is currently a Director of ASBW and serves as their European representative.

Update 22nd October 2015
The ABSW posted a statement on their website regarding Connie St Louis and the formal complaints procedure.

Update 25th October
Louise Mensch has sent a formal complaint to the Association of British Science Writers about Connie St Louis' reporting. See her blog post ABSW: Complaint Against Connie St. Louis over Tim Hunt, Erika Wright and her C.V.,

Update 17th November
The ASBW has issued a public statement in response to the complaint received about Connie St Louis from Louise Mensch. Complaints were also received about the conduct of their members Martin Ince and Bob Ward. The complaints were not upheld. These are the closing statements:

"The Board subgroup would also like to make it clear that this decision not to uphold the complaint should not be wrongly interpreted as a judgment either way on any of the individual points. Rather, the Board subgroup are saying that they have no credible evidence that Ms St Louis misrepresented anything, and so are not minded to begin any formal procedure under standing order 16.

Lastly, we would like to reaffirm the ABSW’s support for any member to report on controversial and politically sensitive issues in a free manner and without fear of reprisals, internet trolling or character assassinations."

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). [Update 18th November: See this response from Tim Hunt's wife Mary Collins on Athene Donald's blog regarding the Lab Times article.]

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.

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):

David Price (Vice-Provost Research):

Geraint Rees (Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences):

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.

Update 5th August 2015
I added a link to a 9th June blog post by "Isis the Scientist".

Updates 6th and 7th September 2015
I've added a number of new links to the commentary section below. I've created a new section where I've listed the blog posts by Louise Mensch, and I've created a new section below on metrics with data from Karin Gamella.

Update 2nd November 2015
I've updated a sentence in the "Thanking the women for lunch" section. I had inadvertently inferred that the EU official who recorded the "transcript" was the same person who leaked the transcript. We don't know the identity of either official and they might not be one and the same person.

Update 5th November 2015
I've added a short sentence and a link to The Times article by Louise Mensch and Natalia Demina commenting on the audio recording.

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

Brendan O'Neill, The illiberal persecution of Tim Hunt. 13 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. See also the response from Sophie Hannah Tim Hunt and the brightly coloured shirts of science written on 7 November 2015.

Euroscientist blog: Be ready for the glass house treatment: Tim Hunt's lessons, 19 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

Hilda Bastian, PLOS Blogs: The outrage factor - then and now, 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 affair 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.

A J Simonsen, A View from the BubbleThe anatomy of a joke, 8 August 2015.

Fiona Fox, Science Media Centre blog. The news may not do nuance - science should, 20 August 2015.

Jonathan Foreman, Commentary MagazineThe Timothy Hunt witchhunt. 27 August 2015.

Thomas Levenson, The Boston GlobeSexism in science leads to willful blindness. 30 August 2015. See also the response by Sophie Hannah Boston Globe piece wrong about Tim Hunt published on the same day.

Hilda Bastian, PLOS Blogs: The value of 3 degrees of separation. 28 August 2015.

Hilda Bastian, The un-calm after the Tim Hunt storm. 7 September 2015.

Shub Niggurath, Hilda Bastian: independent reporting on Tim Hunt?  13 September 2015. This blog posts highlights the links between some of the main protagonists in the US who have tried to condemn Hunt.

Robin McKie, The Guardian,  Tim Hunt sexism row reignited after scientist quits writers' group. 10 October 2015.

Cathy Young, Minding the Campus, A British uproar over 'girls in the lab'. 26 October 2015.

UK Rants blog. Why should the Tim Hunt saga matter to the everyday Brit? 2 November 2015.

Louise Mensch
[New section added on 6th September 2015]
Louise Mensch has launched a personal crusade to salvage Hunt's reputation on her Unfashionista blog, and has also published articles in The Sun newspaper:

- The Royal Society's 'Diversity Committee' pre-judged #TimHunt. Now UCL should give him due process (blog article), 2nd July 2015
- Will Beeb come clean on betrayal of Nobel prizewinner (The Sun), 5 July 2015. See also the response to this article from Dan Waddell and Paula Higgins Don't Menschn the BBC, 9 July 2015.
- The Tim Hunt reporting was false. Royal Society, please give him due process, 7 July 2015.
- Will the New York Times correct its misreporting on Tim Hunt?, 20 July 2015
The silence of the shams: #WCSJ2015 falsely reported Sir Tim Hunt, 21 July 2015. Mensch raises concerns about journalistic ethics and conflicts of interest.
"A misogynist pig" - how the BBC smeared Tim Hunt, 27 July 2015.
Connie St Louis falsely accuses colleague, prizewinner of ethics breach, 3 August 2015.
- The myth of the Tim Hunt "transcript", 23 October 2015.
- ABSW: Complaint Against Connie St. Louis over Tim Hunt, Erika Wright and her C.V., 25 October 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
- Overdiagnosis, 24 July 2015
- The two Tim Hunt narratives, 28 July 2015
- The social construction of a science factoid, 3 August 2015
- The highest standards of British science writing, 7 September 2015
- On Colin Blakemore and ABSW, 12 October 2015
- (Re)framing Tim Hunt, 12 November 2015
- On the fear of being Hunted, Part 1, 16 November 2015

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

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.  Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb has boycotted UCL.

[New section added on 7 September 2015]
Karin Gamella has calculated that the Tim Hunt affair had generated around 250,000 tweets by 13th August. He has produced a stunning visualisation of retweets using the #TimHunt hashtag. He also estimated that there were around 20,000 users participating in the #distractinglysexy hashtag.

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