Saturday, June 27, 2015

Now seriously... in praise of Connie St Louis

In the past few days an esteemed journalist and teacher I know called Connie St Louis has come under sustained attack for reporting what happened at a meeting she attended. She was by no means the only journalist at the meeting who heard the sexist remarks of Sir Tim Hunt, but she is now in the cross hairs for reporting what she heard and saw.

Of the many things that happened subsequently, one was that Sir Tim resigned from his position at UCL, an honorary unpaid position. Yesterday UCL issued a statement explaining their decision to accept and why it was necessary for Sir Tim's resignation to be accepted even if the remarks were meant lightly:

"..Equality and Diversity is not just an aspiration at UCL but informs our everyday thinking and our actions. It was for this very reason that Sir Tim’s remarks struck such a discordant note.....An honorary appointment is meant to bring honour both to the person and to the University. Sir Tim has apologised for his remarks, and in no way do they diminish his reputation as a scientist."

Sir Tim has also rightly apologised to the Korean women scientists who he offended. One might think that this would be the end of it. But no. The Times (London) has already made one attempt to discredit the original report by citing a non-verbatim report that seemed to contradict the original reporting (it didn't). Then the Daily Mail tried the same sort of trick again, but that didn't work. 

Now the Daily Mail is trying a more direct approach, hatchet job on Connie. Make no mistake, the Mail has decided to destroy her reputation, even though she was doing nothing more than her job. She did not orchestrate the Twitter monstering of Sir Tim. It is completely untruthful to say that Connie hounded Sir Tim out of his job. 

On the upside, The Mail seems to have got its knickers in a twist over something easily understood. which is that her university uploaded an outdated CV into its information system when they were running a pilot. None of this has any bearing on the fact that a Nobel winning scientist put his foot in his mouth. 

Connie has the strongest moral fibre of any journalist I know. I worked with her as Chair of the Association of British Science Writers, and I was thrilled that she took over, and then was elected, to head the organisation after I stood down.  She was an excellent leader, and garnered great respect for her work at that organisation.  She is kind, overly generous with her time and a truly great lecturer and teacher. City is lucky to have her on staff. 

Over the years, I've been a bit cynical about science journalism degrees. I used to wonder if academic courses were truly necessary to teach young journalists. I was proved wrong by Connie, particularly as technology has advanced so rapidly, her skills as a leader, journalist and human being have convinced me that she has something really important to teach the science journalism students of tomorrow. Now, more than ever, she has a critical message. It is this: speaking the truth to authority is a hard. It is also a hard and personally difficult journey for any journalist.