232 Views

Richard Vaughan: Witch hunt against UCL professor betrays free speech

Richard Vaughan, a Masters student at Sussex, takes aim at the “trial by social media” and the University of Sussex Students’ Union for its record on free speech.

One of the many dangers of social media: the witch hunt (no pun intended) towards Professor Tim Hunt, a Nobel Prize winner who has made invaluable contributions to cancer research, who simply made a joke. Twitter and the media as a whole has in the last two weeks been awash with debate surrounding the biochemist who has made invaluable discoveries in the fight against cancer. Has the debate surrounded another discovery of his? Not at all. This debate centred on a comment he made in a speech to female scientists and journalists in Seoul. A comment which resulted in him being forced into resigning from his position as honorary professor at UCL after being a victim of trial by social media.

His crime? Nothing more than making a joke about female scientists; particularly how they fall in love and how they cry in the face of criticism. Admittedly this may not be seen as a joke that was in excellent taste, but that should not detract from the fact that it was a joke, something which until recently was seen as an acceptable part of human communication.

His joke spread quickly across social media, ignoring any form of context or even explanation, and instantly a large number of fauxminists (to consider them advancing the feminist cause would be inherently wrong) decided to take the most powerful feeling known to modern humankind: offence. Twitter timelines over the world became inundated with demands for his sacking, because as a white male he has spent the last few centuries oppressing everyone else and therefore deserves no human rights today such as freedom of speech.

Professor Hunt has become the victim of a society that feels it has the right to decide what we can and cannot joke about. As a result of these decisions, taken by some person who must feel they have some higher power, the media have been able to spin the story completely out of context and actually add in a quote about thanking the women for making lunch which now appears to not actually have been said at all, focussing only on the joke, not paying any attention to context or his own actual character. Perhaps it is a telling fact that many male and female scientists have publicly backed him in the wake of this ‘scandal’.

As has now become clear, in cases like this, context becomes crucial. All of the reports about his comments missed out two very important words he spoke after his joke: “Now seriously”, followed by praise for female scientists and the role they have played in South Korea. He went on to say that “science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles.” I must admit that I find it odd that the reports decided to ignore these words. Perhaps they did not fit in with the image they clearly wanted to create; one of a chauvinist who wants to oppress women, in the hope of proving that all men are evil. I can only hope that Professor Hunt gets the apologies from the fauxminist groups and journalists who tried to demonise him so openly. Only time will tell if that will happen.

If I am honest, I’m not surprised that this has all blown up completely out of context, nor am I shocked that people will take a comment made in jest and use it to demand that a cancer researcher loses his job. Student politics has long been making up rules about what we are and are not allowed to say.

Even our beloved Students’ Union at the University of Sussex appears to be making ‘one rule for us, one for them’ statements. This is the Students’ Union which tried to ban UKIP from the Question Time event on campus in the run-up to this year’s election, until a petition and poll of students found out that most felt that inviting all major parties to an election debate would help people make a decision on their own. It is the Union that holds a no-platform policy which ‘prevent[s] individuals…known to hold racist, fascist views from speaking at union events’. Who gets to decide what is and isn’t fascist? If you ask me, attempting to ban a political party that does not hold left-wing views seems a bit fascist.

I know that I’m not the only who thinks that the Union appears to take the view that the best way to deal with any opinions they don’t like is to ban them, stick their fingers in their ears and shout loudly so that they don’t have to listen. Unfortunately it is not a particularly mature way of handling opposition. But clearly it is effective: the Students’ Union has received a red rating from Spiked in an analysis of the University and Union’s policies towards freedom of speech.

Anyone who has had a vague conversation with me about the Students’ Union knows that I disagree with most things it comes out with, particularly our very own Communications Officer, Michael Segalov. This is the man who once posted on Twitter that he thought Tories should be banned from speaking at the Union of Jewish Students Conference. This sort of opinion appears to be typical of a Union which tries to ban any groups people might get offended by, and obviously as you can imagine, he would hold this opinion for anyone who might be perceived as offensive.

Not so. The name Bahar Mustafa may ring a bell. If not, I shall quickly recap for you. Ms. Mustafa is the Diversity Officer of Goldsmith’s University, who recently held an anti-racism event, but decided to ban white men from it. An unusual description of anti-racism, I’m sure you may agree.

She later posted a tweet containing the hash-tag “kill all white men”, although she claims this to be a joke. Naturally, she kept her job, as joking about killing all white men and calling people “white trash” is far more acceptable than joking about women crying. She also claimed that, as a minority, she cannot be racist. Mr. Segalov tweeted his support for her, including stating that the Union Executive Committee supported her on their official Twitter – although it later became clear that the Committee did not even meet to discuss it. He compared the tweet to a golf club which only allows male members, ignoring the fact that there are also women-only clubs. He told me that she said her tweet was a joke, and because she is a kind, generous person, he believed her.

I asked him if he would support a kind, generous white person who tweeted about killing all black men. His response: ‘No.’ Funny that. Freedom of speech for all, unless you’re white or a man, in which case, stop talking now before you offend me.

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
722 views1
Campus News
722 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series
Arts
165 views
Arts
165 views

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - June 17, 2018

Pictured: Zac Black At Proud Cabaret audiences were spellbound as if at night at the circus, yet this was not like Angela Carter’s magical realist novel; Verve…

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review
Arts
185 views
Arts
185 views

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review

Florence Dutton - June 11, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting…

Fleabag preview
Arts
179 views
Arts
179 views

Fleabag preview

Florence Dutton - June 2, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Following the mass success of the Bafta award-winning BBC Series, DryWrite and Soho Theatre are about to hit the…

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome
Arts
221 views
Arts
221 views

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome

Georgia Grace - June 1, 2018

Having completed my final semester of university with modules on punk history and queer arts, it was fitting that I rounded off my end-of-assessment celebrations by attending…

Arts
224 views

The Tempest review

Georgia Grace - May 30, 2018

As the sun begins to set over Hove Green, tinnies of Red Stripe are cracked open, tartan blankets are strewn, and families tuck into their picnic hampers.…

A Glass Half Empty review
Arts
218 views
Arts
218 views

A Glass Half Empty review

Georgia Grace - May 27, 2018

For those of us coming to the end of another year of university study, the prospect of careers, marriages and babies may seem a long way off.…

DollyWould at The Old Market review
Arts
209 views
Arts
209 views

DollyWould at The Old Market review

Alex Hutson - May 27, 2018

Sh!t Theatre’s DollyWould is a hilarious, thoughtful and experimental performance piece. The award winning show has the Sh!t Theatre duo integrating comedy, storytelling, personal experience and music.…

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex
Campus News
332 views
Campus News
332 views

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

Billie-Jean Johnson - May 26, 2018

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the 'hostile environment' at Sussex. The…

Arts
170 views

Shakespeare in the sun – The Tempest preview

Georgia Grace - May 24, 2018

In a world of dystopian King Lears and female Hamlets, Shakespeare’s classics are constantly being reimagined for the modern day. There’s something oddly refreshing then about the…

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
462 views
Arts
462 views

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 23, 2018

What a phenomenal contrast these two films present when watched side-by-side. In essence, together they are capable of tracing inner and outer metamorphoses of their subjects. The…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
209 views
Arts
209 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
309 views
Artist Focus
309 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
215 views
Interview
215 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
293 views
Arts
293 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
333 views
Arts
333 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
371 views
Arts
371 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
269 views
Artist Focus
269 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
281 views
Books
281 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
367 views
Science
367 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
338 views
News
338 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…