Distraction by Attraction in Science Labs.

In a comment on my earlier post, Holly Jahangiri wisely wrote that we have a limited ability to focus, which means we cannot be outraged all the time over everything. Thank goodness she is right otherwise we would all go mad.

Distraction In the Laboratory

Distraction In the Laboratory?

She also made the point that comments about female professionals in the Western World may be more relevant than African political matters to women in the West.

The reason for drawing the comparison between the two in my post was twofold (is that word still used?)

Firstly the hypocrisy shown by the indifference from Western liberals to the incident about the Sudanese president compared to the treatment of the “Old” South Africa.

Secondly the level of outrage directed at scientist Tim Hunt for his comments about the distracting effect of women in science laboratories.

I dealt with the hypocrisy issue in the last post. Let’s put the professor’s remarks in perspective in this one.

Yes I think he was insensitive in making those comments at a high-profile public event.

No, I don’t think he should have been subjected to a social media lynching and have had his career ruined.

Here’s why.

He told the truth, clumsily, insensitively, perhaps unclearly and certainly artlessly, but not untruthfully.

Members of both genders have attracted members of the other since creation. That attraction is essential for the survival of the human race. It’s natural.

When it happens in the workplace, that attraction becomes distracting. It’s distracting in other situations too. Religious, service and volunteer organisations. Schools and universities between staff and students. Sports and neighbourhood events.

I worked in a large organisation, I saw how that attraction led to romance, marriages, affairs, tears and heart-break. It wasn’t all evil men preying on innocent women either, definitely a two-way street.

Books and movies with plots about young female nurses distracted by handsome doctors fill libraries and cinemas.

Kings and Presidents have been distracted by women other than their wives for thousands of years. Some lost their jobs, some their thrones, some of the women their heads or reputations.

Female school teachers have gone to jail because their distractions with senior male students led to personal tuition and extramural activities above and beyond the school curriculum.

Policies can attempt to control and limit distraction by one gender of the other in the work place, whether scientific laboratories or church choirs, but they cannot stop it altogether.

It’s human nature.

Why then should a man’s career be ruined for telling the truth?

Criticise him, certainly, we are supposed to have free speech, but don’t crucify him.

All of us will upset and offend people with different ideas, backgrounds, cultural and religious biases at some time in our lives. That too is human nature, it’s also the way the world works, innovation and progress come through disruption of old ideas, cultural norms and social conventions.

That’s how women got the vote, became clergy in the Anglican church. Many men were horrified at both revolutions at the time, but few now would try to reverse them.

Sadly despite all the advances, tolerance, unlike physical distraction has become a one way street.

Before the advent of social media, it took some effort, writing by hand or typing on a typewriter, an investment in an envelope and a postage stamp, careful creation of grammatically correct and typo free content, to get opinions published as letters to newspaper editors or paid advertisements.


Obsolete Technology

The ease of publishing anything on social media has allowed the instant broadcasting of opinions, condemnations and allegations with little thought to their accuracy, veracity or usefulness. And no concern to the damage they might cause.

Because of the perceived anonymity of a twitter handle, comments that would never appear on the letters page of a newspaper or public notice board at the town library fill computer and smart phone screens all over the world.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

As a p.s, while writing this, Holly returned to my earlier post with her thoughts on this particular incident, she has a way with words I wish I could emulate, go and read her new comment, you will enjoy it.

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  7 comments for “Distraction by Attraction in Science Labs.

  1. Roberta
    June 19, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    You write based on Holly’s statement: “…… we cannot be outraged all the time over everything.”

    Oh I am not so sure of that. The far left here in the USA seem to be outraged all the time on just about any and all topics. When will it end? Especially over at MSNBC and CNN.

    • Peter
      June 20, 2015 at 8:42 am

      True, Roberta, but let me qualify my comment:

      I cannot stay outraged at everything that is off my radar for very long if at all. So while I agree with you on local issues, I do not have the time or emotional capacity to spend much time worrying about remote issues.

      While I might be appalled at a news item concerning working conditions for labourers in the clothing industry in Bangladesh and concerned at the fate of the lesser spotted tree frog in Borneo, I cannot remain outraged on their behalf.

      Since cancelling my satellite TV and being selective about my media consumption on the internet, I find I am outraged less often.

  2. June 28, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Holly and I have had this particular discussion often. There is no such thing as freedom of speech… to a degree. If people want to say things they can say them. But if there are consequences after saying those things they don’t get to say “hey, I was just expressing my opinion, why are you hating on me?”

    I express my opinion all the time. I’m ready for any backlash that might come. However, I don’t use language that should inflame anyone unless they’re the people I hope to inflame, those people being racists, misogynists, bullies, or haters across the board.

    As for Hunt, someone else will hire him; fortunately, after taking a beating people in general are ready to forgive and forget and move on… he’ll suffer his period of contrition for saying something stupid, it’ll be forgotten, and like everyone else who’s uttered a stupid statement they should have kept to themselves he’ll be back, working alongside women who’s smocks he’ll still occasionally want to look down in. Just sayin’…

  3. Peter
    June 28, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Good point about no such thing as free speech Mitch. Any one who voices an opinion on virtually any subject will offend someone sooner or later.

    My opinion on the “lynching by social media” phenomenon is that it is becoming as irresponsible as real lynching was in the Wild West in the 19th century and as dangerous as witch burning was in the middle ages in Europe.

    Don’t like someone for whatever reason? Start a rumour on twitter which will go viral and become a crusade and in no time a person’s career and possibly his or her life is ruined. Without the victim having any chance to defend him or herself in a court of law.

    However, I am certainly not advocating censorship of social media, just restraint.

    • June 28, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      And you both know where I stand, but for anyone who might’ve missed it, http://jahangiri.us/2013/relative-outrage-speech-consequences-and-compassion/

      I agree with Mitch – that words have power and consequences. Words should be chosen deliberately, and with care. But they’re not, always. And even when they are, the listener/reader can misunderstand – or can choose to misunderstand. A “meeting of the minds” doesn’t always happen.

      I agree with Peter – social media tends to inflame things to the point of the ridiculous, but unfortunately the flames don’t die down and aren’t always seen as ridiculous. The public “lynchings” aren’t always based on truth – or are based on twisted half-truths taken out of context. I would just urge people to think, to verify the facts, to present them fairly, and to judge only as harshly as they are willing to be judged. Everyone makes mistakes; if forgiveness and mercy are not an option on the table, what’s the point of being sorry for them at all? If we can’t use our words to persuade people to change their thinking – rather than as a cudgel to bash in their brains – how can we ever find common ground or make progress? I know we can – civilization itself is evidence of that.

      • Peter
        June 30, 2015 at 8:21 am

        Thank you for your elegantly worded response Holly, I had never considered that words could be used as “a cudgel to bash in their brains”. As a precision instrument or even a blunt instrument, yes. But as a cudgel? That brings all sort of ideas to mind.

        However, I do have a concern, seems like we are agreeing on quite a few things these days. Am I getting soft in my old age?

        As always, appreciate your contributions and your use of words, whether as rapiers or cudgels, wielded by a velvet-gloved hand or even a gauntlet.

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