Thus Spake Zuska

Toadygawa Translated

Thanks to Dr. Free-Ride of Adventures in Ethics and Science for alerting me to this most wonderful post. Transient Reporter has provided a most delicious translation of one of Toadygawa’s emails to Alla Karpova. It is too, too good to pass up. Here’s the intro:

From: Susumu Tonegawa

Sent: Thursday, May 11, 2006 7:09 PM

To: Karpova, Alla


Dear Alla,

I enjoyed talking with you enormously.
So who the hell are you, exactly?

Although I do have a reservation about the use of the MIST technology as the primary approach for studying circuit mechanisms underlying the behaviors and cognition…
Your experimental expertise is friggin’ useless. I’ll never need it for my own work, so don’t bother trying to use it as bait. I ain’t interested.

It just gets better after that. Go read and enjoy. It is a thing of beauty. I wish I’d written it.


Transient Reporter describes Toadygawa as a

crusty old curmudgeon – but one who could care less if this young postdoc was male or female. Just that she/he stay off his turf.

And Dr. Free-Ride essentially agrees with this analysis, as have a number of people who’ve commented on my blog and elsewhere in the media: He’s an equal-opportunity asshole. This wasn’t really about gender. While I love what Transient Reporter did with Toadygawa’s email, I have to disagree with the curmudgeon analysis. Consider this summary of remarks from the late Denice Denton at the 2005 Science and Engineering Workforce Project Conference:

Denice Denton, Chancellor Designate of UC Santa Cruz, delivered accounts from her career as an engineer when she faced discrimination as a woman scientist. One of her examples focused on the “lab bully” who is often characterized as an equal opportunity bully. But this type of behavior differentially affects those colleagues who are most marginalized to begin with. Male colleagues have a tendency to excuse abhorrent behavior by saying that a powerful professor acts like a jerk toward everyone, and therefore is not guilty of discrimination. Denton suggests that the climate for women and for all in academe could improve substantially if there were more support for “zero tolerance” towards the bullies and “jerks.” It is not enough to rely on ombuds personnel to root out creepy activity. Her conclusion, “We needed, and still need, cultural change in the sciences.”

“Equal opportunity” bullies actually have a differential impact. They hurt most those who can least afford to bear the force of their attack – women, under-represented minorities, the “others” whose presence in science is already marginal.


  1. #1 jackie
    November 21, 2006

    That’s so true. The problem is that the ‘bullies’ are so pervasive – and frankly so successful at bullying – that no one has the balls the stop them. The academic environment is especially bad at this. You would think that the peer-review system would weed them out, but instead people become very passive-aggressive, like in Tonegawa’s emails. They’ll compliment you and stab you in the back at the same time.

    It would be different if there were some significant monetary payoff in academia, so that you can laugh on the way to the bank about it. But unlike business, you’re both bullied and beholden to these fuckers to approve your grants and papers just to feed yourself. This is the reality of scientific research in academia that is never explained to high school students and freshmen when it comes time to pick a college major.

  2. #2 Semaj
    November 28, 2006

    Comment edited by blog owner.

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