A Nobel Prize-winning British scientist has apologised for saying the “trouble with girls” working in laboratories is that it leads to romantic entanglements and harms science.
But Tim Hunt has stood by his assertion that mixed-gender labs are “disruptive”.
Hunt, 72, made the comments at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea, according to audience members.
Connie St Louis of London’s City University tweeted that Hunt said when women work alongside men in labs, “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry”.
Hunt, a biochemist who was joint recipient of the 2001 Nobel for physiology or medicine, said he was just trying to be humorous.
He told BBC radio on Wednesday that he was “really, really sorry I caused any offence”.
Then he added: “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. … I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science”.
Jennifer Rohn, a cell biologist at University College London, said the comments may have been meant as a joke “but that’s no excuse.”
She said such comments from a leading scientist “are going to be taken to heart by some young female scientists. And I think that is a real shame, because we still have a very long way to go to get equality in the sciences”.
Hunt is a fellow of the Royal Society, one of Britain’s most eminent science bodies, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006.
The Royal Society said it did not share Hunt’s views.
It said in a statement that “too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the society is committed to helping to put this right.”