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Life ‘When you criticize them, they cry’: Nobel-prize scientist resigns after comments about female researchers

FILE - A Monday Oct. 8, 2001 photo from files of Dr. Tim Hunt, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, in a laboratory in London.

Alastair Grant/AP

Update: After we published this story, Hunt, 72, has resigned from his  position at University College London, where he worked in the faculty of life sciences. The school confirmed in a statement:

"UCL can confirm that Sir Tim Hunt FRS [Fellow of the Royal Society] has resigned from his position as honourary professor with the UCL faculty of life sciences following comments he made about women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists on 9 June. UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality," the statement said.

Girls, what's your problem?

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You might think it is the fact that you are vastly under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math. Or you might think it's the fact that nominally esteemed colleagues shamelessly refer to you as "girls" and not "women." But the real problem, according to a Nobel prize winning British scientist, is that you are all a bunch of weeping mushy hearts. Oh, and you should be segregated from men who work in labs.

"Let me tell you about my trouble with girls," Tim Hunt, an English biochemist who won the Nobel in 2001, said to the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea. "Three things happen when they are in a lab... You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry."

He added that he was in favour of "single-sex labs." But he "doesn't want to stand in the way of women." He just wants everyone to be able to do their work without girls crying and falling in love all over the place.

It didn't take long for the Royal Society to distance itself from Hunt's remarks.

"The Royal Society believes that in order to achieve everything that it can, science needs to make the best use of the research capabilities of the entire population. Too many talented individuals do not fulfill their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the Society is committed to helping put this right," it said in a statement released on Tuesday. "Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society."

Yes, you read that correctly: "Sir" Tim Hunt. He was knighted in 2006.

Hunt apologized in a BBC interview on Wednesday, followed by his resignation Thursday.

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His apology: "I'm really sorry that I said what I said... What was intended as a sort of light-hearted ironic comment, apparently was interpreted deadly seriously by my audience."

Girls! Not only can't you control your emotions in the workplace, you can't take a joke, either. Sheesh. Tim Hunt just doesn't understand you. Nor, evidently, does he understand his duty as a knight and a Nobel prize winner to make scientific inquiry a richer and more diverse field.

The reaction on social media has ranged from questioning the scientific basis for Hunt's comments to well-deserved heaps of sarcasm.

Proof, sadly, that just because you're a knight and a Nobel prize winner doesn't mean you're all that smart.

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