So, I’ve commented before that reading P.Z. Myers was one of the main motivators for my policy of with pretty much any post ensuring that I read the post they are replying to before reading what they said, because with him what he said the post was saying was generally not at all what it was actually saying (with Jerry Coyne, the issue is that he interprets it in line with his viewpoint and not theirs, but at least he’s usually in the same ballpark). Myers, in relation to the recent UCL statement on the Tim Hunt, has managed to provide absolute proof that his reading comprehension is, well, less than ideal, as he first claims that the statement clearly said things it didn’t actually say and then is surprised when people point out that it didn’t actually say that. Here’s what he says the statement says:
University College London has released a plain-spoken statement, confirming that the council unanimously found his comments entirely inappropriate for an honorary professor, and they have affirmed that his position is retracted.
Let me reproduce the statement here:
UCL Council, the university’s governing body, has today reviewed all of the circumstances of the resignation of Sir Tim Hunt as an Honorary Professor of the Faculty of Life Sciences on 10 June. Having seen the relevant correspondence, including the exchange of emails between Sir Tim and UCL, the Council is satisfied that his resignation was accepted in good faith. Council unanimously supports the decision taken by UCL’s executive to accept the resignation.
The subsequent extent of media interest was unprecedented, and Council recognises the distress caused to Sir Tim and Professor Mary Collins. Council acknowledges that all parties agree that reinstatement would be inappropriate.
Council recognises that there are lessons to be learned around the communication process. Consequently it has requested that the executive undertake a review of its communications strategy.
So, first, it doesn’t say that his position was retracted. It says he resigned, which even Tim Hunt acknowledges and which was a key point in some arguments (ie that he wasn’t fired, but instead resigned). It then says that it thinks that that acceptance was done in good faith, meaning that he resigned and that at least the resignation was valid. It doesn’t actually say that, for example, Hunt wasn’t pushed into it by some members of the executive, just that, essentially, Hunt thought that resigning was the best course when he did it and the executive accepted that reasonably. It also then says that given the circumstances, the executive was right to accept his resignation. They then say that everyone — including Hunt — thinks that reinstatement would be inappropriate. They finish by saying that the communication process didn’t work out like it should.
All of this fits in with Hunt’s complaint in a later article: people told his wife that if he didn’t resign they’d turf/try to turf him, he decided for various reasons that that would be the best thing to do and to try to end it, UCL instead of doing it mostly quietly trumpeted it in the media (I believe in a way that suggested that he had been sacked), this caused Hunt and his wife great distress, and that last part probably shouldn’t have happened. But note what it didn’t say:
It didn’t say that they thought his comments were inappropriate.
It didn’t say that they thought his comments were so inappropriate that no honourary professor should utter them.
It didn’t say that his position was retracted.
In fact, even if you read in that the comments were such that the resignation was the only appropriate action, it doesn’t say that it was because of how bad the comments were, and is in fact completely compatible with the interpretation that given the backlash resignation was the only appropriate action. Which is far, far from what Myers thinks it implies.