Politics, Review, Science / Tech

Activists Must Stop Harassing Scientists

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Le Point and has been translated by Holly Haahr.

Is this the end of the era of factual, scientific inquiry? In today’s labs, the line between affirmative action and ideological harassment is vanishingly thin. But prioritising scientists who have the correct opinions and tick the right identity boxes rather than because of the quality of their research can lead to real persecution.

“At the moment I prefer to stay anonymous,” explains an astrophysicist. “I am not proud of this, but I have to eat, and I am also responsible for the research opportunities of my students and my postdocs.” He hadn’t killed anyone. Rather, he had just chosen to move from Australia, the country where he earned his degrees and spent most of his career, to China. Why? Because, as a researcher, he has more freedom in China. As unbelievable as this may sound, it’s true. Indeed, for more and more scientists, the pressures in universities and other research institutions to be “politically correct” (for lack of a better term) are so great that going into exile in a non-democratic country, where dissidents disappear and religious minorities are sent to re-education camps, has become a stopgap solution for those who want to be left alone to pursue their research interests. “I left Australia because I am fed up with seeing job and grant opportunities dwindle for real astronomers,” he says.

Today, everyone, or almost everyone, agrees: harassment is a scourge to be fought, whether it’s sexual harassment or discrimination based on race or gender. But the consensus is much weaker when the persecuted—to the point of losing their desire to work or live in the West—are scientists who have been ostracized for “incorrect thinking,” regardless of the integrity, seriousness, or quality of their work.

Diversity Statement

“The political climate in Australian universities was one of the main reasons why I left,” says the astrophysicist.

It’s very hard to find a tenured job in astronomy if you don’t belong to a protected group (alas, I am a white hetero Christian male, bad luck!) and/or you don’t do enough visible activism (or at least enough virtue signaling) for a number of green-left issues. In China, it’s highly likely that Chinese astronomers are subject to the same political interference from the Communist Party, but at least a foreigner like me is left alone, and I can do astronomy in peace, without wasting my time with diversity initiatives. And I see first hand that astronomy jobs are still given to the best candidates regardless of gender, ethnic origin, etc. Unlike my Australian boss, my current Chinese boss has never berated me for not being socialist enough.

As elsewhere, the discrimination that pushed this physicist into academic exile is mostly the result of extremist affirmative action:

There are many levels of discrimination. At one level, you have an increasing number of jobs, fellowships and grants officially reserved for women and “first nation” people. At another level, for jobs open to white males, there will be special clauses in the application to make sure the candidates are sufficiently woke. For example, you’re required to write a “diversity statement”—which is nothing more than a pledge of allegiance—to illustrate how you have shown “leadership” when it comes to diversity issues in your previous jobs, your teaching and your research (organizing workshops, writing reports, giving talks for women-only audiences, etc.)

Ideological Prejudices

A few weeks ago, when I was writing an article for Le Point on contemporary Darwinism, two French cognitive science researchers asked me if they could speak off the record for a similar reason: having their names appear in the French weekly magazine, a publication judged “right-wing” by their colleagues, would be the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot. Truth is, it’s becoming very difficult to argue with—let alone prove wrong—those scientists who claim it’s easier to hide or move abroad than endure the wrath of the enforcers of contemporary moral orthodoxy. One of the latest victims is Alessandro Strumia, Professor of Particle Physics at the University of Pisa and co-author of a paper on the Higgs boson.

On September 28, 2018 at CERN the physicist participated in a workshop entitled “High Energy Theory and Gender.” Based on the work he’d done over several months designing algorithms to improve the method for evaluating the impact of academic research, Strumia presented data—going back half a century—concerning publication bias, citation bias and hiring decisions in physics. According to his calculations, these data were very encouraging: women are not victims of gender discrimination in his discipline. And his findings are consistent with a major report published in October 2014 by the Association for Psychological Science (APS), which concluded that, despite frequent claims to the contrary, researchers in the field of psychology are judged according to their skills, not their identity—and the same is true of the geosciences, as well as engineering, economics, mathematics, and computer science. These are all scientific fields in which men are generally much more numerous than women and are suspected of being hotbeds of “systemic discrimination.” But according to Strumia, such an assessment would be based more on an ideological prejudice he labeled “cultural Marxism” than on tangible and measurable reality. Strumia argued that any discrimination in his field actually favors women, who tend to get jobs earlier in their careers, and with fewer publications and citations, than their male colleagues.

Two days later, the man hunt began on Twitter. Jessica Wade, a physicist affiliated with Imperial College London and an activist committed to greater female participation in STEM, accused Strumia (whom she wrongly identified as the head of CERN’s theory division) of giving a “sexist” presentation in which he had argued that female physicists were inferior (also wrong). After hundreds of likes and retweets, Wade managed to elicit a reaction from Marika Taylor, one of the seminar’s organizers, who confirmed that Strumia’s presentation included “personal attacks,” “erroneous facts,” and showed a “patent lack of professionalism.” Taylor tweeted: “We did not expect personal attacks, mistruths, false facts and blatant unprofessional conduct. Formal complaints will follow.”

Taylor, who is also head of the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Southampton, announced that formal complaints were imminent. A few hours later, despite Taylor promising that Strumia would be given an opportunity to defend himself before judgment was pronounced, the slides, audio, and video recordings of his talk were removed from CERN’s website. By the time the story reached the BBC, Strumia had become a dangerous misogynist who believes women are “not made” for physics.

Indignation Campaign

Which he never said, obviously. But neither the mainstream media, nor the army of woke physicists—who set up a website to denounce Strumia called “Particles For Justice”—nor the terrified administrators at CERN and the University of Pisa who immediately launched “investigations,” would be deterred by such nuances. In January, the University of Pisa accused Strumia of ethical violations and on March 7th CERN announced that it was not extending the physicist’s status as a “guest professor” and reaffirmed its “commitment to respect and diversity in the workplace” which it considered to be of “paramount importance.”

In its coverage of CERN’s decision, the BBC once again misrepresented Strumia’s comments, claiming that he said because physics was “invented by men” women have no place in the field. In fact, he acknowledged the contributions of women, including Marie Currie, in his presentation, as he explains on his blog:

Historically, modern physics was invented centuries ago by Galileo, Newton and other men. We know that at that time most people (especially women) did not even have the possibility to study. So men started building the necessary institutions developing a culture based on integrity and scientific merit. Nobody has privileged access, everybody is welcome to try and will be appreciated based on achievements, not based on gender/race/etc. Marie Curie is an example of how successful women have been appreciated in the physics community since many years now. Despite the fact that at the time it was unheard for a woman to even study physics, thanks to her outstanding work she was awarded not one, but two Nobel prizes.

Strumia was actually defending equality of opportunity in science. But this position, although in line with the fundamentals of the scientific method, is constantly being called into question by the Left, or even denounced as a “micro-aggression.” Strumia, like others scientists, deplores this authoritarianism masquerading as a concern for diversity, inclusion, and equality. As he states on his blog, he believes that these “slogans” can “conceal a political ideology that does not want equal opportunities, but equal outcomes, which means discriminations that make more equal than others those groups elected as victims by this politics. In practice, equal opportunities means checking that over-represented groups do not take advantage of their position. Equal outcomes means imposing quotas by attacking over-represented groups trough victimisation narratives and misunderstandings of human differences.” And by email, Strumia added that he “dared to speak” because he “valued [his] scientific integrity more than what [he] risked loosing.”

A “Witch-Hunt”

Janice Fiamengo, Professor of English Literature at the University of Ottawa and an expert on feminist attacks on freedom of speech, has been following the Strumia affair from the beginning. And she finds it depressing. By email, she told me she believes CERN’s decision “sends an unmistakable signal to the entire scientific community that the era of fact-based scientific investigation (perhaps always imperfectly pursued, and waning lately) has come to a decisive end.”

From this point forward, every scientist will know that he or she must ensure that all statements, practices, and research are feminist-approved. Any research touching on social issues, particularly related to the status of women (though including race, religion, and other hot-button issues), must now affirm the ideological orthodoxies of our day: that there is no difference in interest and ability between peoples or groups, and that any inequalities in achievement must be a result of pervasive injustices and discrimination against under-represented groups. Even where hard data exists to show that the injustices and discrimination do not exist (even where it can be shown that the “oppressed group” is actually advantaged, as in Strumia’s presentation), such data must be ignored, denied, and preferably denounced.

CERN has just announced that it pays obeisance to a fanatical group of ideologues rather than to the imperatives of truth-based investigation. This is a witch-hunt, pure and simple, and it shows how thoroughly entrenched the new Puritans have become in the once-impregnable physical sciences.

One last irony of this story: Galileo was once a professor at the University of Pisa.


Peggy Sastre is a French journalist with a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science. Her work focuses mainly on a biological and evolutionary analysis of sex and gender issues. You can follow her on Twitter @nikitakarachoi.

Feature photo by J. Bicking / Shutterstock.


  1. TarsTarkas says

    The feminists who organized and carried out this auto-da-fe have no comprehension of the horrors that await them once the trans activist crusade starts to gain traction in the sciences.

    • Fabiano says

      Unfortunately also the normal, sane and psychologycally healthy women, who don´t play by the feminazi agenda will be trampled by the transactivist train. All in all very sad, indeed… Science and technology are based on truth and truth only, if you begin to override truth and talent with prejudice and politics, bridges may fall, airplane turbines may choke, vaccines might not work and all hell breaks loose.

          • S. Cheung says

            the irony of your point though, is that those faulty AoA sensors were probably made on the assembly line by men (just based on ratio of men vs women in Boeing’s current workforce). And the entire system linking those sensors to the automatic control of the tail stabilisers were likely also designed by, and manufactured by, men (for the same reasons). So you see why the reflex to tribalism goes both ways, and gets you nowhere.
            Better to judge merit of the individual, and not cloud the issue with the supposed merits, or lack thereof, of the entire tribe.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @E. Olson

          To be fair, it is not unknown for males to perform incompetently. Some statistic to the effect that women sink more ships or build more bridges that fall down would be needed to validate the politics of either article. Mind, the very notion of affirmative action hiring is begging for trouble, so I’d expect statistics to be forthcoming.

          • E. Olson says

            Ray – humans make mistakes, and hence both men and women make mistakes, but when an organization goes out of their way to hire and promote “victims” for life and death positions, and then those victims makes some mistakes it is bound to cast doubt on their abilities. Just another reason that affirmative action is unfair.

          • “. Some statistic to the effect that women sink more ships or build more bridges that fall down would be needed to validate the politics of either article. ”

            The problem isn’t that they’re women, it’s that they were not the strongest candidates on their own merits.

            it used to be said that if you were a disadvantaged minority, you had to be twice as good to be treated equally. Today we’re seeing the opposite problem: people being treated as equal when they are not as good.

        • Charlie says

          How would these officers have coped if their ship had been attacked by torpedoes and bombs as in WW2? If they cannot miss slow moving cargo ship how could they give the orders to change direction if they saw a torpedo heading towards the ship?

          • S. Cheung says

            I wouldn’t take those links from E. Olson to the bank. One reads like a Judge Judy transcript, and the other implies a design fail with not even one iota of actual evidence. Innuendo might get you lots of places, but not necessarily closer to the truth.

            Navy ships have collided before. Bridges have collapsed before. And again, not sure how many times I have to say this, correlation is not causation. So let’s see if those officers on deck got their spots fair and square, and made errors as humans sometimes do; or if they didn’t deserve to be in their respective ranks and positions in the first place. Let’s see if those engineers made mistakes, but let’s not trip over yourself to conclude they are “female” mistakes.

            Equality of outcome should be derided, and readily so with sound and reasonable arguments. Boggles the mind why people would opt for, or settle for, crass drive-by character assassination jobs instead. The point should be that you don’t want crappy people doing life/death jobs, and not whether they have a penis or not.

          • E. Olson says

            “Diversity is our Strength” can only be true if the diversity results in higher standards of performance and quality. Unfortunately, the reality is that it almost always results in the opposite, as achieving politically correct levels of diversity almost always requires lower standards to get sufficient numbers of “victim” class representatives.

      • Rich says

        That said, science always has and will exist within prejudice and politics. It could never exist in a politically immune bubble.

    • Brent says

      I can not wait for some sanity to return to Universities. I believe it will start in the science fields because truth is need to prove any scientific theory and the truth doesn’t care how you feel about it.

  2. Farris says

    Solzhenitsyn on truth:
    “Truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”

    Science is the pursuit of truth. Is it any wonder many find the discommoding fruits of science repugnant?

  3. m.k.a. says

    The two individuals dealt with here, astro-anonymous and Strumia, both illustrate reactions to social issues, not within their disciplines, but rather within their academic cultures. The first seems rather incapable (or unwilling) to deal with external, and irrelevant, static, while simultaneously pursuing their science (in contrast to multitudes of astronomers in the west who successfully do both) and the other–a physicist, that is so politically tonedeaf as to utterly, deliberately, and predictably rouse the ire of those who have nothing whatever to do with the actual practice of physics: psychologists. (Why, Don, do you joust at that windmill if all you want to do is be left alone to do physics?)

    These scientists are not being harassed; they are harvesting the sour fruit of their lack of focus and political ineptitude respectively. Perhaps Marcus Aurelius could help them achieve professional peace–hopefully, because it’s patently obvious they are beyond helping themselves to do so.

    • Ray Andrews says


      ” to deal with external, and irrelevant, static, ”

      External and irrelevant you say? When one is forced to make political loyalty oaths, and when the entire culture in which one works is increasingly political it seems to me that the problem is neither external nor irrelevant. As you say, probably all of these guys would prefer to duck or side-step and hope to be permitted to just get on with their work, but that becomes increasingly difficult. I suspect that the entire edifice of the hard sciences at one time believed that the baloney of the SJWs would bypass them, and when it did start to infiltrate that it wouldn’t last. So everyone did nothing to stop it and now a few are speaking out, but it’s too late to save the hard sciences either. When engineers start employing ‘indigenous ways of knowing’ in their designs we can expect a body count.

    • Douglas Kennedy says

      Are you seriously saying that the problem is with the scientists presenting studies and not with they dishonest slander committed by other “scientists” against them?
      You are an example of the civilizations rot described

    • Morgan Foster says


      Scientists who are not politically savvy deserve to be slandered and sent into exile?


    • George Antrobus says

      Typical. The biggest words. The most complex sentences. What a wonderful, abstruse, convoluted, politically correct sentiment. Go pat yourself on the back. I hope I live to see the day when all of you affirmative action extremists are thoroughly discredited – to put it mildly. You are destroying Western Civilization.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @George Antrobus

        And they will be pleased to hear you say that, since that is their intention. They think that things will improve under the caliphate.

  4. Victoria says

    What as silly, misleading headline for a superb article. I’ll suggest once again that Claire and Co. take a break from self-adulation on Twitter and actually read items before posting them.

    I just have a hard time believing the headline was crafted by a person who actually read the article. Neither “activists”, nor “harassment” are apt terms to describe the systemic domination of universities by neo-Marxists and the parallel phenomenon on social media.

    These zealots don’t “harass,” a term not only routinely misused to disparage mere criticism or incivility, but one that generally implies things that are ostensibly forbidden or at least considered markedly uncouth by the general public or associated authorities. Rather, they destroy people’s professional lives in public with the backing of their institutions and most of the left intelligentsia, because the perpetrators are part of the cultural elite.

    • BJ Beresford says

      I believe that in many if not most cases, it is the editorial staff that writes the headline, not the author.

  5. Morti says

    We should recognize that two things:
    1) scientific work and inquiry
    2) political activism
    are mutually exclusive and one should choose only one.

    Academics should be like judges. They should follow similar rules. I’d even consider outright ban on any political activism in scientific institutions. As long as you are either a student or scholar you should stay out of politics.

    Joining a political party or NGO as well as making public statements endorsing any side of political discourse should get you expelled from academic institutions.

    • E. Olson says

      Morti – Scientific inquiry is driven by research grants, and research grants are most often awarded for political reasons (i.e. desire of politicians to support researcher diversity, desire to support research that will generate results that support political or industry agendas, etc.). Higher education is driven by government funding, and government funding by its very nature is political. Government tends to be dominated by Leftists, and everything is political for Leftists.

      • Charlie says

        One of the first groups the communists persecuted after the Russian Revolution were the engineers- it was called the Wreckers Trial. The trials are described in the Gulag archipelago.

    • Jack B. Nimble says


      ‘…….Joining a political party or NGO as well as making public statements endorsing any side of political discourse should get you expelled from academic institutions…..’

      I’ve seen people make lots of crazy comments on Quillette since I started commenting 2 years ago, but this one takes first prize.

      Academics should have to give up their right to free speech as well as their right to vote*? WTF?

      *In many US states, one has to join a political party to participate in closed-party primary elections. Registered independents only get to vote in the general election.

      • Kencathedrus says

        @Jack B. Nimble @Morti: you are both right. Academics themselves are people and therefore politically inclined too. However, I recently received a nice compliment from one of my students not so long ago, about how I keep my politics out of the classroom and let students form their own opinions.

        When I asked her further about this, he told me that most other professors lectures are laden with political doctrine, both conservative and progressive depending on the professor.

        I’ve always felt that goes against the very essence of what education is about, and I think that this is what Morti is warning against. We don’t want to raise students who rap out a bunch of politically acceptable answers without truly thinking about them, yet academia seems to have gone deeply down this path.

        When I was a student in the 90s, I remember having a discussion about political correctness with one of my professors and how concerned I was at how it could be a tool to enforce political compliance. She said I shouldn’t succumb to ‘slippery slope’ fallacy, yet here we are.

        • Jack B. Nimble says


          The AAUP gets this topic exactly right. Note the section I bolded in this excerpt. Faculty should generally adhere to the course syllabus and shouldn’t claim a right to speak out in the classroom on random topics, even though the temptation to talk about current events can be almost irresistible:

          “….. The professional standard of academic freedom is defined by the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which was developed by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities) and has been endorsed by more than 250 scholarly and professional organizations. The 1940 Statement generally holds that “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties,” and that they “are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject.” Courts have relied on the 1940 Statement’s definition of academic freedom in various rulings, including in the US Supreme Court’s rulings in Tilton v. Richardson (1971) and Roemer v. Board of Public Works of Maryland (1976)…..”

          Having said that, I should note that this provision is nearly unenforceable, and having an opinionated, outspoken professor can sometimes be an educational experience in itself.

      • Peter from Oz says

        ”*In many US states, one has to join a political party to participate in closed-party primary elections. Registered independents only get to vote in the general election.”
        Why have primary elections at all? They are a waste of time and money. Members of a party should be responsible for picking the party’s candidates. That is what happens in just about all the western democracies.

    • Shatterface says

      Joining a political party or NGO as well as making public statements endorsing any side of political discourse should get you expelled from academic institutions.

      You’d have expelled Einstein?

      • Joe says

        Hitler and the Nazis pulled the welcome mat for Einstein and other Jews in science, mathematics and philosophy throughout the ’30s.

    • scribblerg says

      @Morti – Bravo, and isn’t it interesting how the reaction goes here? Immediately it goes to rights, not privileges. One has no right to a college professorship, particularly one that grants something as valuable and extraordinary as tenure (which I think needs to be outlawed, actually). It’s good that you cited judges.

      I know lots of people in the military and secret service and elsewhere who do the same. I know some military guys who don’t vote due to not wanting to pick sides and get involved in it emotionally. Sure many have opinions, but we are talking overt political involvement. I also think that professors uniquely bring their politics into their jobs in ways that would be unacceptable in most workplaces. It would be seen as inappropriate and presumptuous, in that such a climate pre-supposes that that disagreement isn’t valid or morally possible. It’s so creepy and absolutist, and I’ve felt it myself in some of the places I wander in my life. It’s really hard to believe I live in a free country anymore with just how slanted the academics have become. It’s staggering. And something radical has to be done. Your suggestion at least is large enough bore to address the problem.

      I also know for a fact that many folks become professors as a way of expressing their Progressive or Socialist activism. They feel entitled to that space ideologically and revel in their propaganda-driven bubbles.

      They need a shock. I’d love to see academia left with only those who want to pursue a merit-based approach to scholarship, who wish to pursue only the advancement of ideas and are only too happy to leave the dirty and immoral world of politics behind as much as possible.

      But then again, I think academics should be in their offices 5 days a week, all the hours they aren’t teaching from 9-5 at least. I think they shouldn’t have so much time off. I think they should teach more classes and have less adjunct profs. I think many should not bother with research and instead just be able to make a living as great teachers.

      I have academics in my family. The cosseted world they roll in is simply unbelievable. Regular conferences that require travel, sometime international. Amazing benefits, good pay now. Flexible hours, work from home 2-3 days a week. Long breaks over the holiday and summer and just lots of days off. It’s some racket.

      • Jack B. Nimble says


        ‘……….I have academics in my family. The cosseted world they roll in is simply unbelievable….’

        Based on my 40+ years in academia, I also find your account to be totally unbelievable.

        Faculty in STEM often have a 50/50 research/teaching appointment, which means that they are expected to be writing manuscripts and grant proposals, plus doing lab or field research and service, when they are not teaching. Service can include reviewing other academics grant proposals or manuscripts, advising students, committee work, service on state or federal advisory panels, etc. etc.

  6. Barney Doran says

    This rot must be stopped lest slip back into the Dark Ages.

  7. https://testosteronecivilization.com/sex-wars-the-fall-of-western-dominance-2/

    We live in a period of history in which intensifying gender, race and religious wars are leading to political disputes over nationalism versus globalism are threatening Western liberty with a return to primitive tribalism. Each side in the conflict, from conservatives and libertarians on the right, to liberals on the left, has its own high ideals and vision for the “social good” and the appropriate structure for our cultural, social and political institutions, which are deemed morally fit in accordance with each ethical view. Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt terms this as “morality binds and blinds”, binding us together into social groups and blinding us from appreciating the moral values that guide the opposite side.

  8. This is the new Lysenkosim, and just like the old Lysenkoism it will end with the deaths of a lot of people.

    • Anonymous says

      That was my immediate thought. Lysenkoism. When science takes a back seat to political ideology – there can only be one eventual result – crap science.

      • Errol says

        I believe the correct expression is Swamp Science, which makes them swientists!

  9. Pingback: Activists Must Stop Harassing Scientists https://quillette.com/2019… | Dr. Roy Schestowitz (罗伊)

  10. dirk says

    I must admit, didn’t read the article, only saw the title. And thought immediately: of course they should go on and on and on harassing, because, science is poison for activism, just imagine, for having to wait for scientific facts and results (think of climate change only), where is the action then?? No dynamism any more, no French revolution, no 1848, no civil war, nothing, nada niente!

    • Blue Lobster says

      Stop commenting on articles that you (apparently proudly) have not read. You may as well be hitting keys at random.

      • dirk says

        You are right Lobster, I reacted on the title, but this title (see Victoria’s comment) seems not to fit at all with the content and message of the report. Maybe the comment on an article still to come forward, because it is hot material on Quillette, anyhow.

  11. TJR says

    To be fair to CERN, there is some truth to the “personal attacks” and “unprofessional conduct” bit.

    Most of Strumia’s talk (i.e. the slides) was fine, but he did unforgivably mention another researcher by name, who got a job ahead of him even though he had a better publication/citation record than her.

    See the Areo article on this from last year.


    • C Young says

      That piece is so turgid and unreadable I doubt the author’s authority to pronounce on anything at all.

  12. Kristina says

    The social pressures have trickled down to entry-level scientists. I recently resigned from the Board of Directors group attached to a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge. The final straw was that the Refuge’s biologist stood up to give a presentation on wildlife management plans and began with “my pronouns are they/them.” This was a bird refuge–a refuge for migratory birds species, many of which are very sexually dimorphic. This biologist was in charge of counting the birds every season, including how many males and females. As a biologist, she presumably would have to acknowledge the sexual dimorphism of birds, in order to be able to count them accurately. And yet she was prattling on about her pronouns, seemingly oblivious to the sexual dimorphism of humans. I was aghast at how far down this nonsense has trickled.

    • Brendan says

      We now see how far the termites have spread; I will presume that this will eventually make its way into serious scientific publications. I currently work in biotech, and the research I see on a daily basis is still the dry, professional, non-woke, presentation of data, but there will be a day when the Abstract will be replaced with a paragraph long virtue signal.

      • Jay Salhi says

        “I will presume that this will eventually make its way into serious scientific publications.”

        It already has. Have you not heard of feminist glaciology?

    • E. Olson says

      Kristina – on a practical level, how does such a biologist count the male and female birds? Does they just make the usual sexist transphobic assumption that a particular bird is male or female based on coloring or other physical features, or does they ask each bird whether they feel male or female or “other”?

      • Bill says

        I wondered the same. Isn’t said biologist microaggressing the birds by assigning them a gender based upon immutable characteristics when it is the social activity of the flock that are responsible for this unnatural dichotomy?

  13. Sounds like a great idea. But why should freedom from harassment by activists be limited to a tiny group of specialists? Shouldn’t it be the right of everyone?

  14. LasseLiten says

    While I cannot condone what happened to Strumia, I have to admit that, when I read his speech, many things he said made me cringe. Not because he made patently incorrect claims, but because he draws conclusions from them that anyone would know would spark controversy. My conclusion was that this was an example of extreme progressivism that will die out over time and should be seen in the context of all the good that progressivism, or the systematic exploration of new ideas for societal norms, has brought.

    But what makes me reconsider this position the most are two relatively recent trends. The first is that the culture of extreme identity politics have moved out of the realm of the humanities and social sciences, where progressivism has reigned supreme anyway for the good part of the past half century (save for a few pockets of at times equally radical right wing outfits), into the hard natural sciences – a place that I have so far seen as more or less immune (gender is irrelevant to the bizarre abstractions of quantum physics by any logic).

    The second is the notion that Western scientists feel they have more freedom to operate in China, a, at least on paper, Communist country with an ancient tradition of subjugating academic thought to Confucian and, lately, Communist dogma. In a country where it is hard to imagine a nuanced analysis of, say, human rights, now in the eyes of at least some Western researches offers the academic freedom for which the Western, particularly the Anglo-Saxon, world typically prides itself.

    What is even more bizarre: even in my own, predominantly left-wing bubble I find few people, or rather no one, that would support any of these instances of extreme progressivism – at least upon any closer inspection. Most are passionate about social justice and agree that systemic racism and sexism exists, but oppose, or at best overlook and downplay, the kind of overreach that drives most dissent on the issue.

    I find this development fundamentally undemocratic. A few extremists in academia, the blogosphere, and the media are successfully dominating the discourse – but the counternarrative is driven by a right wing that is at times equally extreme and probably more driven by partisanism and an instinct to stick it to the left than they are by concern for academic freedom or gender equality. The fact that outlets like Gillette gets lumped in with this coterie is merely a symptom.

    • I had two versions of the talk: the version 1 I presented, and a version 2 that tried to minimise controversy. Still, the scientific result was not politically correct. While discussing what to do, we read what happened to James Damore, who tried to minimise controversy. And somebody sent me a link about the vanished article by the mathematician Ted Hill (the first time I ever read Quillette). So, after knowing what happened to others in similar situations I feared that version 2 would have just disappeared in silence. To avoid this worst-case possibility I choose version 1. Surely it’s not optimal, but I am a physicist, not a politician. For me it was like jumping in the unknown

      • peterschaeffer says

        Dr. Strumia,

        I have read your presentation with considerable care. You should not be surprised that I agree with almost all of it. I have put considerable effort into defending your work. A few notes.

        I don’t rate the citation data as highly as you do. I would not argue that your data is wrong. However, I am not quite so sure that the overall caliber of a researcher can be judged using citation numbers. Of course, I don’t have a better metric to offer.
        Some folks have criticized your mention of Anna Ceresole. That criticism might have some merit. However, if the situation was reversed, I can’t imagine any of the feminists objecting to the same tactics being used against a male. Of course, your comments about Anna Ceresole were never the real issue.
        The fact that Anna Ceresole has not hesitated to use her position to promote bigotry and discrimination is germane.

        In CERN had any moral legitimacy, Anna Ceresole would have been immediately suspended pending a full investigation of how she got her job. Of course, that won’t happen.

  15. S Snell says

    The problem is not that a few clueless dweebs are making insensitive or needlessly inflammatory remarks and being called on it. The problem is that academia is now enforcing a code of political conduct, which is antithetical to the idea free inquiry. Do you see the difference?

    In Stalinist Russia, to avoid the Gulag you had to maintain just the right level of political activism. Too little and you were insufficiently revolutionary hence a parasite. Too much and you were overly ambitious and therefore a threat. This is the definition of totalitarianism. It is also mindful of what is now happening in the universities and in the culture at large.

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  17. Lightning Rose says

    Everyone needs to simply start IGNORING “activists.” Just don’t take their bait. Let them tweet and provoke into the void. They’ll get bored . . .

  18. “But according to Strumia, such an assessment would be based more on an ideological prejudice he labeled “cultural Marxism” than on tangible and measurable reality. ”

    Thats what did him in….they stay in the shadows, and don’t like being named for what they are…….

  19. Serenity says

    Lightning Rose: “Everyone needs to simply start IGNORING “activists.” Just don’t take their bait. Let them tweet and provoke into the void. They’ll get bored . . .”

    Wishful thinking. They won’t get bored, Lightning Rose. Their psychopathic behaviour is driven by the urge to intimidate, to dominate and control. The ultimate prize is political power and totalitarian state.

    S Snell: “In Stalinist Russia, to avoid the Gulag you had to maintain just the right level of political activism. Too little and you were insufficiently revolutionary hence a parasite. Too much and you were overly ambitious and therefore a threat. This is the definition of totalitarianism.”

    No, S Snell, balanced political activism was not a panacea in Stalinist Russia. Local branches of NKVD had quotes — number of people to be persecuted. And they exceeded these “planned limits” multiple times. They tried so hard because NKVD was also subject to purges. All were scared for their lives — and ‘this IS the definition of totalitarianism’.

    • neoteny says

      Local branches of NKVD had quot[a]s — number of people to be persecuted.

      Indeed, as documented for example by Simon Sebag-Montefiore in his Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin:_The_Court_of_the_Red_Tsar ). But that was the Terror; those quotas weren’t in place for the full rule of Stalin. At other times, Snell’s just the right level of political activism worked for many, maybe most.

      This isn’t about relativising Stalin’s rule: it was a total & utter catastrophe, when a frank psychopath gained ultimate power over life & death in a country sized like the Soviet Union (and then over the Eastern Bloc countries after WWII). I just wanted to point out what the circumstances were when those quotas — of which you correctly reported — were employed.

      • Serenity says


        “the right level of political activism” was just a coping mechanism.

        Totalitarian state is not only about a psychopathic ruler, it is about fostering and mobilizing psychopathic behaviour en masse.

        NKVD did not have to go out looking for victims. The information was usually provided by the members of general public using a perfectly legitimate way to get rid of successful competitors, obtain the next-door fellow’s belongings or to relieve a grudge. Grass-roots psychopathic behaviour – a pillar of totalitarianism – instilled fear and self-censorship. You had to worry more about your neighbours, than the state’s surveillance.

        • neoteny says

          “the right level of political activism” was just a coping mechanism

          No question about that; the point is that (not all, but most of the time) it was a successful coping mechanism for many.

          Totalitarian state is not only about a psychopathic ruler, it is about fostering and mobilizing psychopathic behaviour en masse.

          True again; the presence of a psychopathic rules was a necessary but not sufficient condition for the regime’s existence. OTOH the en masse ought to be quantified in some manner: I would venture the notion that an active & aggressive psychopathic/sociopathic minority was able to operate the system on which the regime was based.

          […] You had to worry more about your neighbours, than the state’s surveillance.

          This too: for example in Hungary, there were some 800,000 members of the Party (meaning the version of the Party which was constituted after the 1956 uprising), but they weren’t the most successful informers on their fellow citizens, as their status as Party members were usually known. The really dangerous ones were those who got into various dissident circles on their own volition and then were ‘turned’ to report to authorities.

    • Stefan Mochnacki says

      The Stalinist episode was not just totalitarian but an exercise of unimaginable terror, unfortunately replicated several times since, e.g. in China’s Cultural Revolution and in Cambodia. Totalitarianism can exist with much less killing, and in my definition it is the suppression of civil society, the prevention or control of every activity where people get together and is seen as a possible seed for the growth of opposition to the ruling entity. This would, for example, describe Communist rule in Eastern Europe in the post-Stalinist phase, 1956-1989, more intense in some countries than in others. It describes Fascist and Nazi rule, which moved on to deadly terror and mass murder pretty quickly.

  20. There never is, never was and never will be anything such as “pure science”. Science always operates within some culture, under the authority of some set of cultural values. Only a particular culture, with particular values supports and encourages what is called pure science.

    Scientists are free to insist they are only pursuing truth . . . and pigs are free to imagine they can fly. It is true that scientific methodologies are, or can be universal. But how these methodologies are applied and to what subjects reflect some kind of cultural values.

    For the last several decades scientist have presumed what they do to be immune from the vicissitudes of ideology. They thought and even, to this day, think of themselves or least their methodologies to be pure. They think of what they do as above or beyond ideology.

    It seems the time has come for scientists to acknowledge their dependence and gratitude for the kind of society and values which have allowed them the freedom they so value. The conceit of a pure science is coming to an end. Scientists are not and have never been virgins.

    When scientists think they are above and beyond taking a stand they should not be surprised to find themselves confronted with this question raised in a popular song:

    “ . . . What are you going to do when they come for you?”

    • S Snell says

      Science is a human activity, therefore political, trendy, and vulnerable to groupthink, just as is every other human activity.

      However, I suspect that the rapid, forced feminization of science has aggravated the effect.

  21. ZimbaZumba says

    There are analogies with the Chinese Cultural Revolution here.

  22. Alan Gore says

    The identity radicalism this article focuses on is not nearly the biggest threat to science from the left. The harassment of ESA space researcher Matt Taylor for the shirt he happened to be wearing at a press conference and the attempt by primitivist activists to prevent construction of a new world-class telescope in a Hawaiian astronomy reserve that was established by mutual agreement back in 1960 tell me that science is finished in the US and EU. Bad human rights record notwithstanding, the research and engineering that will define the future for us all is going to have to take place in China.

  23. So what do those politically correct left-wing scientists do, … those happy to work the system? For example, heroes of the left: “climate scientists”.

    The first thing I say to “climate scientists”, of the self-styled “climate consensus” is, … by 2017, you published (a) over 15,000 climate modeling studies. To date there is not one single published (b) controlled experiment measuring surface warming due to infrared radiation emitted by carbon dioxide. Yet all those climate modeling studies (a) assume the results of (b).

    Can they explain that, do they address my point, or brush it under the carpet? They generally entirely ignore me, blank me, answer with pseudoscience, or even anti-science by belittling the scientific gold standard: the controlled experiment.

    Modeling is often pseudoscience. It dresses itself up in the language of science, but has little relationship to the scientific method. Climate models are not testable; and not always built on results from precise controlled experiments. Climate modelers have no interest in satisfying falsifiability constraints. Demand that and they’ll likely call you a “denier”. We can’t learn anything from many models. Modeling gives researchers too many degrees of freedom. Model authors may ignore or undervalue models which don’t project what they want to see. They often overvalue worst-case projections. In many cases, the model is built on other models. “Climate scientists” don’t believe they need do controlled experiments. It is so much easier to publish a modeled result anyway. When your computer program gives a result you don’t want you can always tweak it with a parameterization here or there. You cannot tweak a controlled experiment when it gives a “wrong” result. You can only repeat it, or forge it. Modeling is a kind of forgery; where you convince yourself you’re not forging anything. Because “climate models are simple physics”; or so you convinced yourself. Plus: you’re on the good side of history: “saving the planet” from evil fossil fuel and “climate deniers” who “persecute” you. Some of these climate “scientists” also rationalize what they do by calling their model projections “experiments”. Science envy syndrome come full-circle.

    • neoteny says

      Modeling is often pseudoscience.

      I’m glad that you out there that often. Modeling can be useful: I recall an article from a long while ago when IBM built a custom supercomputer to do quantum chromodynamics calculations regarding hadrons (IIRC) and the simulated values were within some 8% of the experimental values. That’s good (enough) modeling.

      But of course the rules of QCD are known (or so we think); applying them a few trillion times takes only lots of parallel processing capability. Climates are chaotic systems; they can be modeled, even the feedback loops can be mapped out properly, yet the minuscule differences in the initial conditions necessarily lead the model away from any plausible real time development of the climate. Just the same way as weather can’t be predicted with any predictive power better than chance over two weeks, climate predictions are inherently non-predictive of anything concrete. This doesn’t mean that there’s no point to climate modeling (for example theoretized feedback paths can be tested for plausibility &c.), but they can’t conceivably provide a solid basis for large-scale societal programs led by governments, i.e. applied by the backing of coercive state power.

      • S Snell says

        I think we can all agree on the value of modeling in general. However, is it also possible to place too much value on models. Proponents of AGW have lately taken to referring to long-term predictions as “evidence” of climate change, which is nuts.

        The sheer complexity and scale of the climate guarantees that any workable model of it will be a crude approximation at best, operating at very coarse resolutions, employing lots of shortcuts, and making many assumptions. With chaotic systems this is a formula for large errors. The longer the model runs, the larger will be those errors. Therefore it is only common sense to take the output of such models with a generous allowance.

  24. peterschaeffer says

    My undergraduate degree (BS not BA) was in Chemistry. My entire career has been in Technology (where I work to this day). I have tutored students in Calc I,II, and III along with Statistics, Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Comp Sci, and Physics.

    I think I can “do science”.

  25. S Snell says

    Yesterday there were a hundred twenty something comments to this article. As of right now there are sixty two. What’s that all about?

  26. dirk says

    That’s funny what I came across in my newspaper today !? Apart of scientists and activists, there is a hybridic “Scientivist”, in this case a professor transition, knowing all the science of climate change, and making a lot of propaganda to take action right now! This professor refuses to discuss with another professor (who challenged him) and is more of the opinion not to react too quickly and too massively, just to have that 0.0003 degree gain as foreseen by the models, costing a few 100 billions to install these measures.

  27. dirk says

    I agree Pinkot. I,m also a scientist and with quite some publications in serious journals. From the first thoughts of such an article, the trials laid out and done, the writing up, literature studies, the checking by colleagues , uptil the ultimate publication, there is sometimes a timespan of 4 years. Here, on Quillette (where I react quite often), this timespan is only a few minutes, sometimes even less, and no others being involved of course. However, why should those last reflections or ideas or criticism be any less important than the real thing in those scientific journals?? Though, I realise very much, that I,m not “doing science” here on Quillette!

  28. dirk says

    After 4 comments launched here, finally have read the article itself, and saw the date. Now, as recently as 10 years ago, such type of articles would have been immediately recognized as a jolly April Fool joke. No longer, I fear, now it’s all reality to the core, AND rotten to the core ? (see, above, Victoria, with backing of the institutions, professional lives in public destroyed, unheard of,… 365 days of the year Foolday!! )

  29. Jett Rucker says

    Scientific inquiry today is no more factual today than it was in the day of Galileo Galilei. It is often political, with the “scientist” either trying to advance his career, or perhaps keep her family from being murdered.

    Anyone who overlooks these facts is but a participant in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Drink up!

    • dirk says

      A scientist can be politically motivated Jett, but the system science cannot. Science is not only providing theories and facts for evaluation, but as much for falsification. Though, true, politics may hinder this process (freedom of publication),at times or in regions. But even Lysenkoism was defeated in Sovjet Rusland, after some time (you always need some time to have the system science find its way.

  30. Cameron says

    To paraphrase Diderot: We will have neither freedom nor justice until the last bureaucrat ia strangled by the entrails of the last activist.

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  32. Bruce Wilson says

    The example of the Astro physicist in this in this article is unsupported by any evidence and doesn’t sound convincing. It could be they could not find a tenured position in Australia (which is not unusual).

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