If you're a public figure and you cock up, expect ridicule. You can't hope to be spared. It's right, for instance, that Nobel laureate Tim Hunt was lampooned for his preposterous comments. Although he offered them as a sexist joke, he really meant it, he admitted afterwards. ("I did mean the part about having trouble with girls.")
Women scientists deserve every second of their comedic revenge. This was no witch hunt, just a funny attempt to restore pride and humour after denigrating remarks. But institutions – be they business, academic or government – have become so paranoid about allowing offence to go unpunished that we have collectively abandoned our tolerance, without ever intending to revive the colosseum.
Professor Tim Hunt
I was recently charmed by Rabbi Barry Marcus of London's Central Synagogue, who counselled fashion designer John Galliano after his anti-Semitic rants.
"This is a man of courage," Rabbi Marcus told i. "John has owned up. He didn't try in any way to justify what he had done. He was big enough to say, 'I have made a mistake. What I did was wrong'."
The narrative moves from punishment to rehabilitation.
Any of us on social media – or even taking our top off on a foreign mountainside – can fall prey to this zeal for public humiliation. Here's a five-point plan on how to deal with it.
1. Admit your error and show instant humility.
2. Do not compound or repeat your error.
3. View the crisis as an opportunity and learn from the mistake. Whatever the immediate penalty – loss of status or employment – ask how you can make amends. You'll never appease all the haters so don't try, but do engage with reasonable critics.
4. Then withdraw from the spotlight, and quietly go about making reparations.
5. Seek counsel from people who have undergone a similar shaming. How did they cope and come out of the other side?
Is there anything you'd add?
As for Sir Tim Hunt, he's gone, and nothing has been done for the cause of women in science beyond the funny and empowering #distractinglysexy spoofs. ("Check out my nice rack… of test tubes", "My goggles bring all the profs to the yard", etc.)
It's not too late though for Sir Tim to transform his fortunes – and those of others following in his steps. He should meet his critics, apologise in person, and set about leaving a lasting legacy: more women in white lab coats.
More: [Boris Johnson actually said this about women and crying]3