Thursday, 23 Sep 2021

Brian Cox slammed woke culture’s ‘trial by social media’ after colleague ‘hounded out’ job

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The famed physicist has previously been dubbed a “woke professor” after calling for a ban on using “the British people” in “political discourse,” following comments made by Home Secretary Priti Patel on plans to intercept migrants crossing the Channel. But he was on the frontline of a battle against what he called “trial by social media” when his friend and colleague Sir Tim Hunt was forced to resign over controversial comments he made about women. 

In 2015, Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim was on the receiving end of furious backlash after he reportedly said the “trouble with girls” in laboratories was that “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry”.

He subsequently apologised for the comments – made at a conference in South Korea – saying they had been intended to be a joke, but the response online saw him forced to give up his position at University College London (UCL) and the Royal Society or face being sacked.

And while Prof Cox condemned the comments Sir Tim made, he slammed the way the 78-year-old was treated.

He told BBC Radio 4: “You can make the argument that senior figures in science have to be first of all aware that there is a central problem of women progressing up to the highest levels of science and secondly, therefore, have to be mindful of that and careful of their language.

“On the other side, of course, there is the wider problem of trial by social media. 

“People do make ill-advised comments from time to time so is it appropriate to hound someone out of their position at a university or indeed is it appropriate for the university to react in the way UCL, in this case, did and ask someone to resign or threaten to sack them?

“To have a Nobel prize winner – and by all accounts a great scientist and a good person – being hounded out of a position at UCL after all those years of good work and science, I think that’s wrong and disproportionate – with the caveats I mentioned.”

Prof Cox acknowledged that there were still “big problems” that needed to be addressed when it came to career progression for women in science.

He added: “There is a problem in science and engineering and the problem is that we don’t have enough women going into certain areas, particularly engineering.

“In America and Europe, around 50 percent of PhDs are women so that’s good.

“But if you look at senior positions in universities and on committees, about a fifth are occupied by women so trying to address that is a sensible thing to do.”

His intervention came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was London Mayor at the time, said Sir Tim deserved to be reinstated after the “overreaction” to his comments.

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By 2017, Sir Tim was back in academia again and now lectures at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, in Japan.

It comes as Prof Cox is set to appear on screens once again tonight for the final instalment of ‘Brian Cox’s Adventures in Space and Time’.

The four-part series has seen Prof Cox kick back in a screening room of the Royal Institution to reflect on his previous documentaries from a 2021 perspective.

‘Brian Cox’s Adventures in Space and Time’ will air on BBC2 at 9pm, you can catch up on the BBC iPlayer.

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