Why a Nobel laureate’s ‘non-apology apology’ didn’t work

Dr. Tim Hunt’s comments about ‘girls’ in labs got him in trouble, and his attempt to apologize didn’t help his cause.

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The “non-apology apology” is generally employed when someone says something offensive, which is very easy to do in today’s climate. It’s a classic crisis communications move. Sometimes, it can be quite effective.

A favorite (fictional) example is CJ Craig from The West Wing trying to diffuse the moment when President Bartlett called his opponent stupid: ​

Though that was a great, most of the time, the non apology-apology only worsens the situation, giving your detractors more grist for the mill. The most recent example of this comes from eminent scientist Tim Hunt, who, while speaking at a World Conference of Science Journalists, said girls should be segregated from men in science labs because they fall in love and cry: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls…three things happen when they are in the lab…you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.”

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