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Prof says people 'rushed to judgment' after science sexism row

Sir Tim Hunt, who resigned from his job at UCL following his remarks about the "trouble with girls" in science Photo: Johnny Green/PA Wire

A Nobel laureate who resigned from University College London (UCL) after making comments about the "trouble with girls" in science has said he was the victim of an "enormous rush to judgment".

Sir Tim Hunt, won the Nobel prize medicine in 2001. He found himself at the centre of a media storm after remarks he made at a conference in South Korea went viral.

Attendees at the event reported that he said: "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry."

The reports inspired female scientists to post photos of themselves at work online along with the hashtag #DistractinglySexy.

Sir Tim has since apologised for causing any offence and then resigned from his role as honorary professor at the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences.

But in a new interview for The Observer, Sir Tim says he was not given an opportunity to explain what he meant.

He told the paper: "At no point did they ask me for an explanation for what I said or to put it in context, they just said I had to go. There has been an enormous rush to judgment in dealing with me."

He said he had been "hung out to dry" and added: "I have been stripped of all the things I was doing in science. I have no further influence."

A spokesperson for the university said: "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."

In a radio interview after the conference, Sir Tim said his remarks were intended to be funny, but reflected that it had been a "very stupid thing to do" in the presence of many journalists. He said: "I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that people - 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 because it's terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.

"I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult. "I'm really, really sorry I caused any offence, that's awful. I certainly didn't mean that. I just meant to be honest, actually."

Defending his comments, he added: "It's terribly important that you can criticise people's ideas without criticising them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth. Science is about nothing but getting at the truth and anything that gets in the way of that diminishes, in my experience, the science."