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Alessandro Strumia: Another Politically-Correct Witch-Hunt, or a More Complicated Story?

In recent and even not-so-recent years, the quest for gender balance in science and technology has taken some troubling turns—from the collection of male scalps over trifling offenses (such as the pillorying of British physicist Matt Taylor over a shirt adorned with comic-book-style scantily-clad babes) to the squelching of dissent on whether gender gaps in STEM are caused solely by discrimination (heresy that got software engineer James Damore fired from Google two years ago and cost Lawrence Summers his post as Harvard president in 2005). In this climate, it’s easy to see another “politically correct” witch-hunt in the recent drama surrounding Italian physicist Alessandro Strumia. Last month, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, elected not to extend Strumia’s guest professorship after previously suspending him over a controversial presentation at a CERN gender diversity workshop in September 2018.

From the start, the Strumia scandal elicited warnings about an orthodoxy that disallows questioning claims of pervasive anti-female discrimination in science. In a recent article in the French weekly Le Point (reprinted in translation in Quillette), science journalist Peggy Sastre describes Strumia as the latest victim of “the enforcers of contemporary moral orthodoxy,” even comparing him to Galileo—like Strumia, a professor at the University of Pisa. Strumia’s own article in Quillette argues that the reaction to his talk exemplifies the triumph of ideology and identity politics over scientific objectivity.

The anti-Strumia backlash is certainly a cause of concern. But the story in this case is more complex than the “political correctness gone mad” narrative, and includes some facts that are missing from both Sastre’s and Strumia’s accounts. And, given those facts, the rights and wrongs are not so easy to sort out.

Strumia’s 35-minute talk, entitled “Bibliometrics data about gender issues in fundamental theory,” has sometimes been described by him and his defenders as a data-based argument that women in physics face no sexist bias. In fact, his claims were substantially more controversial: Strumia asserted that the field is currently rife with discrimination against men and favoritism toward women, and that female physicists are generally less productive than their male counterparts.

And there was something else: a slide using Strumia’s own experience as a “case study” in anti-male discrimination. Last year, a post he had sought at Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN)—research coordinator for theoretical physics—went to a female scientist who had far fewer citations. The slide in question (see below) named not only that scientist, Anna Ceresole, but the commission member allegedly responsible for the hire, Silvia Penati. Both women were at the workshop, and Penati was one of its organizers.

In the audio of the talk, at around 20:20, Strumia says, “The commissar [Penati] was a gender expert who hired only gender experts, and I am also a great gender expert but I was not hired.” (While some have questioned his use of the word “commissar” with its Soviet connotations, Strumia told me in an email that he thought it was the proper translation of the Italian commissario.) While the wording is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the swipe at Ceresole and Penati does not seem particularly humorous. In an added touch of what looks like trolling, the slide also features a quote from a 2016 document co-written by Ceresole for a gender equity project: “The oppressive ambient started to open.” (I don’t know what that means either.)

This was, at least officially, the principal basis for the charge against Strumia. The CERN press release on his suspension last October noted that “the presentation, with its attacks on individuals, was unacceptable in any professional context and was contrary to the CERN Code of Conduct.” A subsequent email from the CERN press office to a Strumia supporter further stressed that the problem was not with his opinions or data analysis, but with the “personal attacks.” The press release from the INFN, which also suspended ties with Strumia, accused him of violating its code of ethics by making public statements “detrimental to the image of the institution and…damaging to the reputation of [its] researchers.”

Strumia has asserted, both in the Quillette article and in our email exchange, that CERN found no code-of-conduct violations on his part since it declined to initiate disciplinary proceedings (and simply unpersoned him). However, CERN’s March 7 press release says that the organization’s decision not to extend Strumia’s guest professorship was made “[a]s a result of its own investigation and following the decision taken by the University of Pisa,” which leaves open the question of whether he was deemed to be guilty of any violations. The University formally censured Strumia on January 18, though without any penalties.

Was the issue of “personal attacks” at least partly an excuse to punish a heretic who had dared to question the “diversity and inclusion” creed reaffirmed by CERN and the University of Pisa in their press releases? Probably. (“One can always find some casus belli,” Strumia told me in an email.) Nonetheless, even the anonymous physicist who strongly criticized the backlash against Strumia in Areo magazine conceded that he “acted very unprofessionally in naming a competitor for a position he ultimately lost, and in comparing his citation count to hers.”

(When I raised this issue with Sastre on Twitter, it turned out that she had missed the slide with the reference to Ceresole and Penati because Strumia had removed it from the file with the slides now posted on his website.)

Thus, Strumia actually did what Damore was wrongly accused of doing: he disparaged his female colleagues, not by insinuation but overtly and by name. He also made what was, in effect, a grave accusation, suggesting not only that Ceresole undeservedly got her job because she is a woman but that Penati used her position to hire a less qualified candidate because of gender favoritism.

The elephant in the room, of course, is whether that accusation has a factual basis—an impossible question to answer without inside knowledge. In a post last October, retired science journalist Sylvie Coyaud, now a blogger for the Italian newspaper La Reppublica, wrote that the INFN commission ranked 10 candidates more highly than Strumia and that four of the first five “research coordinator” posts went to men. (Coyaud told me in an email that this information came from Penati.) According to Strumia, two of the 10 openings were in theoretical physics and both hires were women, selected from a pool of 10 women and 34 men.

It’s a fact Ceresola has far fewer papers and citations than Strumia, or than the other four INFN research directors at her level (three men and one woman). Did she receive preferential treatment, either because of her sex or because she and Penati were both part of a network promoting women in physics? Again, no one can tell without being privy to the internal decision-making  process at the INFN. Strumia’s detractors counter that Ceresola may have had an edge in “experience leading national and international collaboration,” one of the job criteria. However, an excerpt from the commission’s evaluation which Strumia posted on his website gives him the highest grade on this item—“più-che-ottimo,” or “more than excellent.” Critics also accuse Strumia of inflating Penati’s role in Ceresole’s hiring when she was one person on a five-person commission of three men and two women. Strumia told me that Penati was the only theoretical physicist on the panel and thus presumably had a greater input in the hiring decision for the theory post.

It’s possible that Strumia was treated unfairly, for gender-related or other reasons. (Interestingly, his blogpost on the controversy mentions a 15-year-old incident in which he was passed over for a less productive male rival—in the context of arguing that women’s experiences of shabby treatment are not necessarily due to their gender.) But if he does have a legitimate complaint, a potshot at his adversaries in a gender diversity workshop is surely not the way to pursue it.

What about the rest of Strumia’s presentation?  He undeniably had some solid data suggesting that hiring practices in STEM (in this case, physics) now favor women overall, at least at the faculty level; this is consistent with other recent research. His claim that female physicists are less productive—with the apparent inference that they are, on average, not as good as the men—has been questioned by German theoretical physicist and science writer Sabine Hossenfelder, who argues that the citation disparity is almost entirely due to more women dropping out, for full-time child-rearing or for other work after publishing only one or two papers. (One may debate whether including such cases in the overall count is an appropriate comparison.) Hossenfelder’s initial calculations showed that the gap virtually vanishes if one counts only currently active researchers. Her subsequent analysis, presented in a talk at California’s Chapman University last fall, found that the gap still persists but is partly due to more self-citing by male scientists. However, in contrast to Strumia—who argued that sexism cannot explain the citations gap since men get cited more by researchers of both sexes—Hossenfelder reports that in the last 15 years or so, men tend to “undercite” women but women tend to cite male- and female-authored papers at the same rate. Whether this means that there is some (conscious or unconscious) gender bias among men or that some women are (consciously or not) making an effort at “equity” is anybody’s guess.

More fundamentally, Strumia’s talk challenged feminist claims that the gender imbalance in physics is due to sexism and offered alternative, “conservative” explanations rooted in biology: greater male variance in high-level mathematical ability, differences in interests, and the uneven distribution of “systemizing” traits. One may agree or disagree; but to suggest that such an argument is offensive and unacceptable is bizarre, given that studies reflecting this perspective—often authored by women—routinely appear in scientific journals. (When Strumia brought up the research of neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen, other workshop participants dismissed it as “discredited” and mocked it as “neurotrash”—which certainly doesn’t reflect the consensus view of Baron-Cohen’s work.)

Unfortunately, Strumia also gave some ammunition to detractors who would later accuse him of “mistruths [and] false facts.” At least two of his claims were flat-out incorrect and apparently based on misread headlines. Thus, he asserted (in slide 18 and at 22:35 in the audio) that “today, Oxford gives extra time to women on examinations.” In reality, as a British attendee pointed out, exam time was extended for everyone in the hope of narrowing the gender gap in math and science scores. (It didn’t work.) Strumia also claimed that “in Italy, women don’t have to pay university taxes” under a feminist minister’s decree. This was, at best, a dramatic exaggeration: his source, an article on a three million-euro program to encourage female STEM participation, mentioned that among various incentives “universities may provide for partial or total exemption from taxes.”

It also didn’t help that, in trying to debunk claims of rampant present-day sexism, Strumia made some dubious claims of his own that appeared to discount historical inequities. He declared that, while “physics was invented and built by men,” women were welcome if they could prove they were good, as evidenced by Marie Curie’s two Nobel Prizes. (On his blog, Strumia makes a rather jumbled attempt at clarification, asserting that the founders of physics built institutions where “[n]obody has privileged access,” and that Curie was honored “[d]espite the fact that at the time it was unheard for a woman to even study physics.”)

The notion that physics was a gender-blind meritocracy in Curie’s day—let alone earlier—bears little relation to reality. Curie herself was nearly cheated of the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics which she shared with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel: she was initially omitted from the nomination and added only after Pierre Curie complained. In the previous century, Sophie Germain, a largely self-taught mathematician and physicist whose work was hampered by lack of a proper education, won the Paris Academy of Sciences’ grand prize in 1816 for a paper on elasticity but was still barred from Academy sessions until seven years later, when a male colleague arranged for her to attend as his guest. Strumia’s glib dismissal of the overt barriers once faced by female scientists made it much easier to paint him as a clueless sexist.

Sexist or not, it seems obvious that Strumia’s talk was deliberately provocative. He seems to admit as much in a post in the comments beneath Sastre’s Quillette article, revealing that he had prepared a less inflammatory version but was worried it would have “disappeared in silence.” (As an example, he cites Ted Hill’s paper on male variability and gender disparities in mathematics—even though the removal of Hill’s article due to apparent political pressure got quite a bit of attention.)

Had CERN punished Strumia and deep-sixed his talk and slides for a factual presentation of the kind offered in his Quillette essay, it would have been inexcusable. As it is, the organization’s actions seem more legitimate (though specific details remain disturbing, such as Strumia’s claim that he was dropped from a workshop without being told about it in advance). It’s worth noting that Strumia retains an associate professorship at the University of Pisa, and the European Research Council grant for his team is being transferred from CERN to the University.

This case still has worrying implications for academic freedom—especially since the University of Pisa reprimand does not single out the personal issues but suggests more generally that Strumia’s public statements about “the effect of gender on competitions in certain scientific fields” violate the rules of “respect” and “responsible conduct.” But one cannot fairly discuss those implications without knowing the full picture.

Acknowledging problems with Strumia’s presentation does not mean overlooking the problems with the backlash.

As the Areo article noted, the anti-Strumia screed titled “Particles for Justice”—signed by over 1,600 researchers—made numerous questionable assertions, even misrepresenting some of the material it referenced. (It is telling that the author of the Areo critique, a high-energy researcher, chose anonymity due to career and social concerns.)

Meanwhile, a report on the LiveScience website dismissed as “laughable” the claim that greater male variance in cognitive skills explains gender imbalances in physics—only to concede that it could well be a factor, though not sufficient to explain all the disparities. (Strumia never claimed it was.) On another science website, in a post entitled “Alessandro Strumia, The Mansplainer,” INFN/CERN physicist Tommaso Dorigo compared the denial of “woman discrimination in STEM” to the denial of “human-made global warming.” He also blasted Strumia as a disgruntled job-seeker prone to padding his citation count with “useless ambulance-chasing articles.” Even fellow CERN researcher Andrea Giammanco, who wrote his own blogpost highly critical of Strumia and his analysis, had some scathing words for attempts to portray him as “not that good a physicist.”

Virtually none of Strumia’s critics made a genuine effort to engage with the data he presented. Hossenfelder—who believes women in science are still held back by sexist cultural biases but also opposes preferential treatment as a shortcut to equality—is a welcome exception.

Lastly, one can disapprove of the way in which Strumia chose to throw down the gauntlet to the “gender experts” and yet recognize that he was responding to a genuinely toxic atmosphere created by the feminism-in-science movement in its current form. Summers was defenestrated over a very measured talk suggesting that biological differences (along with cultural norms and entrenched sexism) might contribute to the underrepresentation of women in science and technology; he was also widely misrepresented as saying that women can’t do science. More recently, Cornell psychologist Wendy Williams spoke of an “outpouring of vitriol” in response to the 2015 study in which she and colleague Stephen Ceci found that women have an advantage in STEM hiring.

The same year, British Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher Tim Hunt fell victim to a disgraceful public trashing over a misreported joke about the troubles caused by “girls in the lab” in a brief talk at a women-in-science luncheon at a conference. In the social media and in opinion pieces, Hunt was savaged as a misogynist, despite his record as a supporter of women in science and his marriage to a prominent female scientist, immunologist Mary Collins. The tone of the mobbing can be gleaned from a Twitter exchange in which someone using the account of the Journal of Experimental Medicine joked about Collins beating up her 72-year-old husband, and science writer Deborah Blum—who currently heads the science journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—replied, “I wish I’d said that.”

A month after the storm, Hunt—who had lost an honorary professorship at University College London and had been forced off the science committee of the European Research Council—was essentially vindicated. A belatedly discovered partial recording of his talk, published by the London Times, confirmed what his supporters had been saying: his remarks were clearly facetious and self-deprecating, were met with laughter (rather than “stony silence” as some had claimed), and were made in the context of praising women’s achievements. Yet no apologies were made, and none of the people who smeared Hunt were censured for far worse attacks than Strumia’s jab at his colleagues.

Given this history, it’s not surprising that some Strumia supporters have asked whether a female scientist who used a lecture on sexism to air a personal grievance against two men would have been denounced as unprofessional or praised as courageous.

Perhaps, contra Strumia, there is more to be done to improve opportunities for women in science. But a movement for gender equity cannot rest on double standards. And, no less important, both the defense of academic freedom and the defense of equity in science must rest on a commitment to truth.


Cathy Young is a Russian-born American journalist and author. You can follow her on Twitter @CathyYoung63.

 

101 Comments

  1. gda53 says

    Everything is made so much better, and more efficient, when we pick employees by gender, colour, sexual proclivity or victimhood. Said no-one with any modicum of common sense, ever.

    I’ll wager $1,000 that the two female two selectees in theoretical physics (from a pool of 10 women and 34 men) both had IQ’s less than the IQ’s of 90% of the men NOT selected, and neither were as competent or talented as at least 75% of the men NOT selected.

    One day coming soon, someone will expose the Emperors conundrum once and for all, and we can throw all this intersectionality nonsense in the dustbin of history where it belongs.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @gda53

      “when we pick employees by gender, colour, sexual proclivity or victimhood”

      But discrimination is always implicit if the selection is made by people, who, even if they aren’t white, may be infected with internalized whiteness. Therefore, only Equitron can be entrusted to hire anyone for anything. Like Facebook and Google do already, Equitron will know everything about you, all your intersectional scores, and exactly how many gay albino euphonium players are required to achieve Equity in whatever job is being considered. Equitron knows what your job will be and how much you will be paid.

      • gda53 says

        Who programs Equitron controls the world.

        Since FB/Google/Twitter/MSM already are able to control the minds of a large proportion of our voting public (at least in the Dem archipelago), the most important goal of the Trump 2020 admin will be to bring that monopoly to a screeching halt.

        It’s likely too late already. I’m amazed that Trump is still allowed to reach his people through Twitter.

    • David of Kirkland says

      To assume women aren’t there because they are ignorant, versus never had a preference/interest or cultural support, is sad. Men are under-represented in teaching and nursing; does that mean it’s because they are too ignorant, or men don’t have any sense of compassion, or men hate children and the sick?

      • Charlie Rode says

        There are other factors than competence that explain why men and women excel in different fields. Women are clearly more socially oriented and hence there are many more teachers, nurses, councilors, social workers, etc. Men are more individualistic and are overrepresented in idea/thing/performance areas.

        Additionally, men are more genetically diverse than women. This is to say that for any heritable trait–take IQ for example–the male bell curve that describes the distribution of that trait is wider and shorter than the analogous female bell curve. This means that at the extremes, there are more men than women. This is a very good place to start to understand why men stubbornly continue to dominate the top positions in society: CEOs, entrepreneurs, politicians, high-paying tech jobs, grandmasters of chess, employees at CERN, etc.

        I find the “cultural support” idea super weird. Pioneers of any field have to trailblaze without any role models at all, let alone role models in their image. Most of those people happen to be men too. It kind of smells like the god-of-the-gaps argument… oppression-of-the-gaps. Once we outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex, and reconfigured the education system to, basically favor women, and did everything administratively possible to promote women in STEM (there have been studies that demonstrate that women are favored in hiring for educational position in STEM) and found that men STILL occupied the top echelon of society… then the argument becomes “Oh, well, see, it’s because women don’t have enough female role models!”

        It almost seems like the patriarchy theory is unfalsifiable.

  2. Ray Andrews says

    “Strumia’s jab at his colleagues.”

    I ask this as an honest question: Data is built up from specific examples. Strumia used his own case as a specific example. Should he not be complete in his facts? If he had anonymized his data would he not be open to the accusation that he made it up? Surely being complete is a requirement? Or is there some rule that he must not use his own case as an example? Is it a ‘jab’ to report objective facts? If one accepts that it is a jab then one presupposes that Strumia’s case is accurate — that something reprehensible happened thus CERN is jabable. CERN. Is there any suggestion that the winning candidate did anything wrong by applying for the job? But if there is nothing to hide — if the hires were not examples of reverse sexism — then how is reporting perfectly proper facts a ‘jab’? You do not jab me by reporting that I voted Green in the last election, because I did, and because I’m entirely proud of it. I see no jab here.

    • I wanted to exemplify how the problems that everybody at the workshop wanted to interpret as gender discriminations happen to men too. But having presented data (accessible to the public) that contain names gave unfortunately the impression of a personal controversy. I focused on this particular competition because a commissioner was the same theorist who organises conferences according to which physics discriminates against women. The competition was won by 2 female theorists, who, together with the commissioner, signed open letters asking for the presence of more women in conferences. All other theorists were declared “unsuitable”. But these “unsuitable” theorists are very good theorists. Let me try to provide some data more objective than my opinion: 26 of such “unsuitable” applicants had more fractionally-counted citations than the 2 winners. Similar results are obtained using other bibliometric indices strongly correlated to scientific merit. The data above are anonymous and unverifiable because some Italians think that it’s the correct thing to do (while I think that full transparency would reduce some problems). The data above do not include experimentalists, because, as a theorist, I am not competent enough to talk about them. Concerning myself, the final judgement was “optimal” but the practical conclusion was “unsuitable”: this discrepancy would be enough to open a court case, but I am not interested in this. Actually, under INFN regulations, I could have got a position equivalent to that of the competition, as I had received an advanced ERC funding.

      • E. Olson says

        The interesting thing about calls for more women in conferences of male dominated fields is that it invariable reinforces beliefs in the inferiority of women. Since there are few women researchers to invite, the same few female “superstars” invariably get invited to most conferences, and will also invariably refuse many invitations due to time commitment issues and/or fear of having their “superstar” status undermined by sharing the stage with even more “superstar” males. If the superstar women refuse to participate, or even if some say yes, the pressure to have “more women” on panels will then lead to dipping further down the productivity hierarchy to find the requisite number of women, which again will invariably reveal their relative lack of productivity relative to the more numerous men in attendance and on the panels. When a 30 year old freshly minted female PhD shares the stage with 50+ year old male veterans with hundreds of publications and big name recognition it becomes very clear that the female is not truly a peer of the male panelist, but instead merely a token to the diversity cause.

        Thus social justice warriors who demand more female (or black/Hispanic/transgender) hiring, recognition, and promotion are asking something impossible to achieve without greatly lowering standards and reinforcing biases against the promoted group by those being discriminated against and the general public.

  3. Angus Black says

    The easiest (and, in my view, most illuminating) way to conceptualise this would be through a thought experiment in which we turn the issue around, genderwise.

    Could you seriously think that Strumia would not have got the position had he been female?

    If he did not, could you seriously think that CERN would have un-personed “her” had “she” spoken about the issue in exactly the same terms?

    I think the answer is obvious, isn’t it? So we clearly have clear double standards.

    Having said that, I’m in two minds about whether the successful candidate for the position should have been named in the talk (I have no problem with the Commissaria being named) … it’s not necessary to be secretive (the matter is of public record) but the unethical behaviour highlighted is not the responsibility of the selected party (so it seems poor form to name her), but of the selectors. Nonetheless, no one would even be asking that question in my thought experiment, would they?

    • E. Olson says

      Good comment Angus, I agree with you that a name reversal would have given a much different result, but I disagree with you that it was bad form to name names. The point of the comparison was to demonstrate possible/likely reverse discrimination, and simply showing the much lower cite count of the winning female candidate versus the losing male candidate does provide that evidence. Thus I don’t see how showing the objective facts of citation numbers disparages the female “winner”, because he didn’t suggest her lower cite count made her some sort of untalented hack or say she had no business applying for the position. Of course he might have made the same comparison with missing names, but given the small size of the profession it would be fairly quickly determined who the people involved were and that Strumia would therefore almost certainly face the same criticism and punishment.

      The PC police were clearly looking for any little thing they could punish him for daring to show research results that contradict the discrimination in physics hypothesis.

    • scubajim says

      Couldn’t Strumia have declared himself a lesbian trans-woman and thus gotten hired instead of those other women? He would then have more Equitron intersectionality points.

  4. Yassine Motaouakkil says

    Does anyone know of any other presentation given that day?

  5. Angus Black says

    I should also say that a gender diversity workshop seems to me an entirely appropriate place for Sturmia to raise this issue…unless, of course, the only purpose of the workshop is as a safe space for activists to foment the “we are always being robbed” meme.

    Is this case not absolutely relevant to understanding the issue and the consequences of alternative paths to investigate and react to the issue?

  6. Blue Lobster says

    It’s too bad Strumia didn’t have the balls to stand by what he did. It was pretty funny.

  7. Substitute “white candidate” for female and “black candidate” for male, and under those facts there is no doubt that the hiring of the white candidate would be attributed to racial prejudice.

  8. Lightning Rose says

    Can I ask a strange question here? What difference does it make to STEM if there is “gender parity” or not? Is physics “gendered?” Do equations get different solutions based on whether the problem solver is male or female? Does a particle alter its velocity or position in space because its observer is black, white, brown or yellow? DOES THE WORK GET DONE?

    I believe that’s the only question that really matters. The rest is a made-up straw-“person” issue.

    Fewer women choose non-medical STEM fields. So what? As matters of aptitude and choice, fewer women also choose to be linemen, firefighters, tree surgeons, septic-tank pumpers or commercial fishermen. Are any of those fields necessarily diminished as a result? THE WORK GETS DONE.

    You could turn it around and bemoan the tiny numbers of MEN working as obstetrical doulas, ballet teachers or house cleaners. To each their own, I say. Chase the career that attracts you.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Lightning Rose

      “DOES THE WORK GET DONE?
      I believe that’s the only question that really matters.”

      To the people who award grants – the people who authorize the checks – social justice is the first question that matters. If they don’t like the answer, the other questions go unanswered.

    • E. Olson says

      LR – you bring up a point that always get lost – what exactly is the goal or mission of the job or project? In research it is usually to find answers to questions that increase knowledge in an area that might be useful for something, and prestige and status is based on the quantity and quality of knowledge generation. Quality is assessed by the prestige and peer review process difficulty of the publishing outlet and the number of other researchers who cite the work, while quantity is simply the number of completed projects and/or published papers and other scholarly output. Research money is hypothetically granted on the basis of the interest in the research project and the reputation of the researchers/institutions involved, although increasingly grant money is linked to political aspects so that more money is allocated to research that seeks to demonstrate the effectiveness of the desired (usually Leftist) policies of the granting agency and to projects with more “diversity” on the research team. More grant money typically means more research output as more research assistants can be hired, more data can be collected, and teaching hours can be bought out, thus the rich researchers tend to get richer unless the research grant criteria lower overall knowledge generation productivity.

      So does using more women as STEM researchers increase STEM knowledge faster or better than with fewer women? The answer is almost certainly NO, because if women consistently added to the productivity of research teams and institutions then any job call for the “most productive researchers” would yield a large number of fully qualified female candidates and there would be no need for extra female recruiting efforts as is the case today. If women were productive contributors to knowledge there would also be many among the “big names” in their field, but interestingly the only female “household name” in science continues to be Madame Curie. And if toxic masculinity was holding women back from their rightful place at the top of the field, it also seems likely that some all female school or all female research team would have emerged over time to demonstrate their equality/superiority in research quality and quantity. Thus calls for “more females in STEM” is not about “getting the science job done” but about social justice, which invariably means discriminating against men, and less productive science.

    • LR, the purpose of building a highway is social justice. The point of space exploration is social justice. The point of medical research is social justice. The point of the chicken crossing the road is social justice. The point of taking a dump is social justice. Etc etc

      Remind you of anything? Communist countries perhaps? There is only the revolution – no other purpose need apply.

  9. Tim says

    If a woman did the same thing – name a man by name and accused him of sexism with compelling data, she would have been exalted as a hero. A Feminist Hero of the People.

    The fact this article was even written proves how unequal the treatment is between men and women in physics.

    • BrannigansLaw says

      @Tim

      That’s a good point Tim but Alessandro still shouldn’t of named anyone. He’s still right about women and STEM though.

      • zephirawt says

        Why not to handle Strumia as a whistleblower? How could you criticize let say Trump without naming a Trump?

  10. johno says

    I have worked in software for over 30 years. In all that time, I have never seen any evidence of discrimination on race or gender. I have seen discrimination based on intelligence and capability… or more correctly, lack of. Yes, I find the idea that journalists should ‘learn how to code’ to be utterly absurd.

    I have also seen extensive age discrimination, although they’re quite clever in how they pursue it.

    What’s concerning about this is the shallow, superficial criteria that ‘social justice’ is based on, while PC ignores genuine cases of discrimination, because one fits their political agenda while the other does not.

    If you have to cherry pick and omit to make your case, you might want to re-examine your case.

    • @johno
      Like you I have worked in SW for more than 30 years.
      I have seen sex discrimination but it has always been in favour of women.

      Professor Strumia needed to be careful that his talk was beyond reproach as he was always going to be heavily criticised. He was foolish in giving his opponents things that could be seized on.

      The problem is that sexist discrimination against men and outright misandry are ubquitous in western society to such an extent we hardly notice the constant references to men as the cause of problems, to the need to advantage women in education, the law, STEM, health. Men, and paticularily heterosexual men, are acceptable to criticse for no other reason than sex and age. What other group is this true of?

      Every professional oganisation I know of in male dominated areas such as engineering, physics, maths etc have speciffic programs to encourage girls and women. I know of no such programs to encourage men in female dominated areas. Most shockingly if you look on the teaching unions web sites and search for gender equality they have long sections about the actions they are taking to help and encourage girls preferentially above boys an dnothing whatsoever about helping boys. This in a profession dominated by women, in which their male pupils do far worse than girls, and in which there have been a series of studies most notably by the OECD showing a strong anti-male bias in marking by female teachers against male pupils.

      • anonymous says

        @AJ. You say that Prof. Strumia was ‘foolish’ to give his opponents things to seize upon. Granted, his talk was careless in a number of ways Cathy mentions in her article (the way Marie Curie was presented indirectly as evidence for absence of discrimination stands out for me as the ‘worst’). But OK, in a tolerant world, I’d like to feel that people should be allowed to make claims in a somewhat careless way, as long as they are prepared to engage in an honest discussion thereafter. I find Prof. Strumia’s engagement in the comments here and elsewhere to be mostly pretty thoughtful. And by the way, trying to be ‘beyond reproach’ did not help James Damore all that much… I’m commenting anonymously, by the way, out of cowardice as an academic in a STEM field.

        • All your points are valid but all the same given what was to come was entirely predictable, why give the gender ideologues any unnecessary ammunition? Anything that can be used to protray Professor Strumia in a negative light will be used to portray his entire argument as the product of a bigotted mind rather than being based on the available evidence.

          I didn’t want to convey anything negative about Professor Strumia. I think he has been incredibly brave. Careers have been destroyed through innocently getting in the way of the feminist victimhood juggernaut so consciously putting yourself in opposition to that takes bravery and a willingness to see yourself traduced and your career ended.

          A brave and principled man.

  11. peterschaeffer says

    A. Strumia has been criticized for mentioning Anna Ceresole by name, and asserting that he was far more qualified, than her for the position she obtained. This has been described as a ‘personal attack’ on Ceresole. Indeed, that may or may not be true.

    However, the reaction to Strumia’s presentation was not and is not a consequence of his alleged ‘personal attack’. Go read the denunciations of Strumia from the usual suspects. His comments about Anna Ceresole either never appear at all, or are mentioned in (short) passing. Strumia’s real crime was to suggest that the Earth is not flat and that the Earth orbits the Sun. Another Pisa professor (Galileo Galilei) got into trouble for daring to challenge the repressive orthodoxy of his time. Some things don’t change.

    Only later, was the ‘personal attack” claim made, because the other charges against Strumia had failed (the Earth is actually roundish). Here is easy way to consider the ‘personal attack’ charge. If a woman publically made a comparable claim, showing that she had been passed over in favor of a less qualified male, would anyone dare to raise the “personal attack’ claim? It is far more likely, that she would lauded and her intended target immediately suspended.

    The truth is that Strumia’s attack on Ceresole was that of a whistleblower. He blew the whistle on corruption in the European science establishment. Of course, they don’t like it. Their response has been a textbook example of ‘how power speaks to truth’. The fact that he offended the gods of PC/SJW/Cultural Marxism made him persona non grata.

  12. Chad Chen says

    Scientific activities are socially funded. Because society provides the resources, society’s decision-makers are justified in requiring broader standards for hiring scientists than the “pure individual merit” standard assumed by so many of the professoriate

    But even if that were not the case there is no reliable way to consistently operationalize a pure merit standard. So the professoriate often disgraces itself when it gets involved in debates over citation counts.

    There is always too much petty politics in academia.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Chase, I think you need to understand that government and society are not the same thing. And the bosses at CERN are not society’s decision makers.

    • Asenath Waite says

      @Chad Chen

      Why am I not surprised that you are against merit-based hiring in the sciences and in favor of hiring based on superficial characteristics like sex and race? I recall you implying in one thread something to the effect that the supreme court should have racial quotas and that the appointed judges would need to subscribe to the majority opinions of their racial group in order to properly represent them. Between comments like that and your repeatedly professed admiration for Mao and Stalin I am beginning to suspect you of trolling.

      • Chad Chen says

        Either that, or East is East, and West is West …

  13. Sol Invictus says

    Excellent article.

    p.s.
    *La Reppublica → La Repubblica

  14. The article mentions the “more self-citing by male scientists” found by Sabine Hossenfelder et al.
    To understand what it really means one must take into account possible confounding reasons:
    1) men have more reasons for self-citing because they wrote on average more papers, especially solo papers (partly because of their higher average age, partly because of their higher average number of papers per year);
    2) furthermore, not all papers are equally significant: authors who write better papers cite themselves more frequently because of scientific reasons.
    To get a meaningful result one needs to renormalise away such factors. By looking at the fraction of self-references or of self-citations, the self-citation gap disappears, see fig. A1 of https://alessandrostrumiahome.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/artgender.pdf

    • Joana George says

      The most common way to game the system and artificially increase citation numbers is to spread the same research over a larger number of papers that reference each other and only contain a small amount of new results (if at all, in some extreme cases). Looking at the fraction will therefore not reveal citation “padding”. Moreover, the same research can be presented in 1 or in 4 papers (which would require referencing previous paper in the series), depending on the researcher’s priorities and personal style, even if no ethical boundaries are crossed.

      Just to be clear, I am not accusing you personally of padding your numbers, nor do I think that this small issue invalidates your conclusions.

      • Joana, I got originally interested in bibliometrics because I wanted to develop bibliometric indices not affected by 1:4 salami-slicing and other techniques. While writing a paper about bibliometrics CERN organised the 1st gender workshop, so I had the dangerous idea of testing gender claims trough bibliometrics…

      • Asenath Waite says

        @Joana George

        I think for most scientists, it is much more desirable for one’s career to publish one study in a prestigious journal than to publish several smaller studies in lesser journals. A few studies in top-tier journals look a lot better on a CV than many studies in no-name journals. And a comprehensive paper in a high-impact journal would likely receive more citations than the combined citations of several less important papers. I really don’t think that this is a common strategy to pad citation counts, although maybe I’m naive. Certainly none of the labs I’ve worked in have employed it. I did have a collaborator who was known for weaseling his way into being a co-author on many papers for very minor contributions as a way of inflating his publication count, though.

        • Joana George says

          Asenath, I found out about that tactic in a class I had to take on ethics in research. It’s also not common at all in my field (at least not above splitting in 2). The examples in the class were mostly from Economics. Maybe in that field this tactic makes more sense because you deal more with people outside academia that aren’t really familiar with the reputation of different journals?

          There seems to be a lot of variation in practices between different fields. Touching on your question below as well, according to Strumia’s paper (linked above in the original post I replied to), the vast majority of papers in the database had the authors listed in alphabetical order. Apparently that, as well as having over 100 authors is quite common in his field.

          This kinda sucks, as if the issue wasn’t complex enough to begin with…

          • Asenath Waite says

            @Joana

            Oh, that is interesting that the authors are simply alphabetical. If that’s the case it seems like it would be difficult to gain very meaningful information from bibliometric data about the relative contributions of researchers in the physical sciences. I think in biology if the studies have many authors, such as in the case of a genome annotation study, they also alphabetize the authors since it would be too difficult to rank a hundred people accurately according to their various contributions.

          • More than 100 authors (up to 3000) is common among experimentalists, not among theorists, who work alone or in groups of few authors. Then bibliometrics can identify individual merit among theorists

    • Joana George says

      If you happen to check back on this, I would very much appreciate if you could satisfy my curiosity regarding another issues.

      When looking at possible confounding factors for productivity and the increasing gap with scientific age, the first thing that popped in my mind was the number of papers which are written by graduate students and other subordinates. The argument would be that academic position plays a bigger role on paper output than individual research after a certain scientific age (e.g. someone with 20 graduate students would appear more productive than someone with 2).

      Does scientific age correlate equally with academic position for both genders? If not, aren’t we stuck in a chicken-egg problem on this issue? Looking at the hiring data as well, I can’t figure out how the position the person was hired for is taken into account.

      • I considered fractionally-counted citations (this means: a paper with 2 authors counts as half paper for both authors). And I considered generic hires, without knowing details of the positions, because there are many possibilities in the world, and because what makes the most difference is having a salary or not.

        Scientific age fakes a gender difference because the F/M ratio increased with time, so that M are now on average older. The differences I discussed remain after correcting for this confounding factor.

        By the way, in some fields status/age helps access to resources, but in my field (theoretical physics) the most important resource for research is free time, which is usually negatively correlated to academic status. Young scientists start being really productive only around the post-doc level. At this level, good post-docs can usually avoid old professors who take credit for their work. So, being young is better than being old.

        • Joana George says

          I disagree that at that level what makes the most difference is having a salary. When looking for discrimination, the level of the salary and the position are quite relevant, especially if you want to tackle the “glass ceiling” argument as well.

          Anyway, it’s really a shame that you couldn’t have these discussions with somebody more qualified than myself and out in the open. I got too distracted by the data to also mention that there is no excuse for how you were treated. I am sorry you had to go through that and I really appreciate you took the time to answer my questions. Good luck!

        • Asenath Waite says

          @Alessandro Strumia

          Did you take author order into account? There might be a huge difference between the amount of input a first author had on a paper vs. a second author, so it seems strange in your analysis to distribute the credit equally between the two authors. It seems like to assess productivity of individual researchers, at the grad student and post-doc level you should look only at first author papers, and at the professor level you should look only at last/corresponding author papers. I’m coming from the perspective of the biological sciences though, so maybe authorship works differently in physics.

          • Stephanie says

            Asenath, my understanding is that the study leader is the last author in bioscience, but in most other disciplines the first author wrote the paper and did most of the work, and if the first author is/was a student, the second author is the supervisor. Some universities give coauthorships to lab technicians who operated the instruments used to collect the data, and there is an informal obligation that anyone providing samples be given a co-authorship as well. It is never the case that all authors put in equal amounts of work, and when there are more than 2-3 authors, typically the contribution decreases exponentially with author number. If Dr. Strumia didn’t take that into account, that introduces the possibility that lower publication counts for women reflect in part greater tendency to extend coauthorships out of courtesy.

  15. Joe says

    Strumia comes across as if he’s looking for grievance and wanting to pick a fight. I may be wrong, having never met him or anyone else in the article, but I do wonder how much the issue has expanded due to his own behaviour.

    Using your own name in a slide, and then complaining about not getting a particular position is never a good look irrespective of the truth. And then commenting the “oppressive ambients starting to open”. WTF. Talk about self-inflicted reputational damage.

    You also need to get your facts right (esp for a physicist/scientist) and it appears that Strumia has let himself down here. There is no excuse for being loose with the truth, ever. The truth always wins out, even if the wait is long.

    Strumia comes across as hard work, and not likely to be good for office morale. Would you want him in your office or research group? I don’t think I would irrespective of number of citations.

    • Joe, I don’t like to fight. But, unfortunately, a quiet constructive discussion is nowadays impossible about these topics. Everybody who tries gets attacked. Damore said similar things as mildly as possible, he was fired. Others have been silenced. Given the bad circumstances, I choose the less bad option. The attempt of silencing backfired. This is all what I could do.

      The sentence according to which physics is an “oppressive ambient” is not mine; I read it in a gender talk that attributed it to Anna Ceresole. This is why I mentioned her: depicting physics as “oppressive ambient” is something that deserves an answer, because it’s not true. Later Anna told me that that this sentence was misattributed to her due to to a mistake of others, and that she does not think that physics is an oppressive ambient. The misunderstanding has been clarified, let’s forget it.

      • @Alessandro Strumia

        I just wanted to say I admire your bravery. Somone needed to say it.

        I suspect in hindsight you may have wished to alter some things but the key point is to get these subjects discussed.

        Once discussed the data will speak for itself to anyone honest enough to look at it dispassionately. Unfortunately I am not sure this will be enough. Total career destruction awaits anyone not already well established in their profession who dares suggest that women rather than men are the ones advanatged in modern society.

        Public silence and private suppport is what I expect will be the result.

      • I second AJ, you are a brave guy and you deserve support. (You should have anonymised the names in your anecdote however, but that’s a small fault, not deserving of termination.)

  16. Marc Domash says

    https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/10/culture-of-fraud/

    Krugman in this post basically calls out fellow economists as motivated by ideology over science (the economists referenced were supporting Romney’s campaign with arguments that were, to say the least suspect–and furthermore, that contradicted their previous work).. Its something to keep in mind when concerning academic propriety.

    • Stephanie says

      Marc, wasn’t Krugman the one predicting the economy would collapse if Trump won, and had to admit his ideologically motivated presupposition was wrong when that very much didn’t happen?

  17. Harold Porter says

    The thing that the “there are no women in STEM because of Patriarchy” crowd never account for is howcome fields such as Psychology, Veterinary Science, (and even authors of fiction) are fields now dominated by women, despite being all-male 120 years ago? Howcome women managed to overcome ‘the oppressive patriarchy’ in those fields so successfully, but not in STEM…or is it just the simple fact that women are not as interested in STEM as men and the numbers reflect this…

    • E. Olson says

      Harold – what you state would seem to be obviously true, but what you fail to see is that physics, computer science, engineering and other STEM fields that remain male dominated feature the most hyper-toxic-masculinity. Just look at the beefcakes Einstein and Damore, or those well-muscled Alpha males on the Big Bang Theory, how could they not scare off any female with their hyper aggressiveness and competition for fame, glory, and trophy wives that physicists, coders, and engineers are known to have in abundance.

      • peterschaeffer says

        E. Olson,

        “Just look at the beefcakes Einstein and Damore, or those well-muscled Alpha males on the Big Bang Theory, how could they not scare off any female with their hyper aggressiveness and competition for fame, glory, and trophy wives that physicists, coders, and engineers are known to have in abundance.”

        In their dreams…

      • Asenath Waite says

        @E. Olson

        I consider the Big Bang Theory to be a highly problematic example of exploitative nerd-face minstrelsy.

        I did laugh at “the beefcakes Einstein and Damore,” though.

      • Asenath Waite says

        @E. Olson

        I should also note, however, that Einstein is now primarily known for being a virulent racist and misogynist. It’s very important to mention that each time he is discussed.

  18. Joana George says

    Citing somebody is not really a personal favor (though I am sure that happens as well). If you used their research, you cite them, if you didn’t you don’t.

    I doubt that many researchers even look at the names before deciding to cite a paper. The peer review process is quite rigorous for serious scientific journals and it’s double blind. This means that if the paper was published in a respectable journal you don’t really feel the need to check the author’s credentials before using their work as a reference.

    • Geofiz says

      I have been a reviewer/ associate editor for one of best known periodicals in the geosciences for 28 years. Reviews are NOT double blind. The reviewers may elect to keep their identity from the author, but they all know who the author(s) is.

      But I agree with the rest of your statement. The idea that any scientist would decide who to cite based on sex is ridiculous. In addition, many multiple authored papers list only the authors initials for their first and middle names. I commonly don’t know whether the authors I cite are men or women unless I know them personally. I certainly do not care.

      • TJR says

        It depends on the subject area. In my experience most cases of reviewing or being reviewed are single blind (the author does not know the reviewer, but can often guess), but there are some journals which are double blind and some which are unblinded.

  19. Jean Levant says

    My sum-up of this poor piece : Strumia was right in the most part of his talk by far. But he (perhaps?) commited one minor mistake, as you could find in every work if you search long enough and so, he (perhaps) deserved all the backlash he received. that’s one of the most usual tactics in controversial topics : use any wrong you can find in (if not making it up) to dismiss the whole right thing.

  20. Cynical Old Biologist says

    As a scientist who has followed the Strumia controversy rather closely, I congratulate Cathy on an excellently balanced article. Yes, Strumia had some very eye-opening data on the real career situation for female physicists but the personal attacks he made during his presentation were very inappropriate. It is unfortunate that he did such an effective job of undermining the impact of his data! Yes, there may be a higher proportion of hyper-intelligent males than females in physics but such extreme intelligence can also be accompanied by narcissism and retarded social awareness.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Why is it that lefty SJWs can make as many real personal attacks as they like and succeed in life, yet good people who don’t make personal attacks are falsely accused of doing so and rubbished by moderates who are scared of SJWs.
      Grow a pair, Cynical Old Biologist and join us in ridding the arena of bad thought. A mere mention of a woman being unfairly promoted is not an attack on her, but on the person who did the promoting.

      • E. Olson says

        Peter – even though you are 100% correct, where has your chivalry gone? Don’t you know it is bad form to make girls cry?

    • ianl says

      ” … such extreme intelligence can also be accompanied by narcissism and retarded social awareness”

      Oh dear … that possibility changes the laws of physics and maths ?

      If not, why is it relevant, then ?

  21. Roseanne Consolini says

    By the way ‘La Repubblica’ is spelled with one ‘p’. Thanks.

  22. Rose Motta says

    Poor article, and, btw, ‘Repubblica’ has one ‘p’.

  23. E. Olson says

    I find it interesting that women accuse men of discrimination in not citing female authors, because virtually no academic papers in science fields are single author, and in fact it is more common for there to be 10 or more co-authors on a single paper. Thus unless there are lots of all-female packs who write articles together, it would be impossible to discriminate against female authors without also discriminating against their male co-authors. It’s silly to even imagine some “sexist” physics professor working on his paper’s reference list and deleting articles that have girl authors, particularly when there are major efforts in many male dominated fields to encourage researchers to go out of their way to include the research of women in their reference lists.

    As for more male self-citing as a reason for greater male citations, that too would seem likely to be reflection on greater male publishing productivity than some sort of patriarchal plot against women. If a researcher is working in a literature stream where he has contributed 30 previously published papers, it would seem reasonable to expect that he would cite more of his own papers in new research than a female researcher who has previously published only 20 papers.

    Finally, there is the issue of “fairness” of including women who drop out of their field due to motherhood duties, “burnout”, or other reasons when conducting studies of gender productivity gaps. If female and male PhD students each consume approximately same amount of university resources during their doctoral training, shouldn’t their career contributions be counted the same way? For example, if the males average 100 papers during a career that averages 33 years, and females average 50 papers over 20 years, doesn’t that still mean the females are half as productive as men in utilizing the investment made in their PhD? This would seem particularly relevant if an equal or better qualified male PhD applicant was passed over in favor of female applicant for purposes of diversity and inclusion.

  24. Andrew Mcguiness says

    An unusually well balanced article.

    “Perhaps, contra Strumia, there is more to be done to improve opportunities for women in science. But a movement for gender equity cannot rest on double standards.” True enough. If there is more to be done to improve opportunities for women in science, the only way to find out what can be done is to investigate and discuss the matter openly and honestly. Overall, I don’t think it fair to characterise Strumia’s presentation as in anyway misrepresenting the facts. People may disagree with how to interpret bibliographic data but what he has achieved, with all the controversy, is precisely that such a discussion has begun.

    The other thing which I think needs to be explicitly noted is that improving opportunities for women in science should not be done in such a way as to disadvantage men – something which I suspect is left up in the air at times. Selection for posts should be gender-blind.

  25. Geofiz says

    Cathy:

    Your conclusion that Strumia’s firing may have been justified is not backed up by the facts in your own story You note that Strumia states:

    1) the field is currently rife with discrimination against men and favoritism toward women,
    2) That female physicists are generally less productive than their male counterparts.

    You acknowledge in your essay that that Strumia presented “solid data suggesting that hiring practices in STEM (in this case, physics) now favor women overall, at least at the faculty level; this is consistent with other recent research”.

    And you acknowledge that papers written by men are cited more that papers written by women, However, you note that this is because “more women drop out”.

    What you fail to mention is that this “dropping out does not occur in fields like medicine, psychology, sociology, JOURNALISM, and other fields in which women dominate. Almost half of women engineers leave the field by mid-career. Are we to believe that physics, math and engineering, as opposed to all other disciplines are dominated by evil males? Or perhaps women drop out of these professions, because they do not enjoy them. Evidence shows that in countries with the fewest gender barriers, women are most likely to pick “people-oriented professions.

    You fail to ask the question why we want to push women into positions that some (NOT ALL) do not want to do. You fail to address the argument that If you require that physics be “equal gendered” and that that are many more men applying for scarce positions in this field than women, then the men accepted will be more qualified than the women. It is the same reason why it is necessary for Asians to score 250 points more on their SAT’s than African Americans to get into Harvard.

    Are we to believe that because Strumia, may have made some arguments that may have been provocative” or weak that he deserved to lose his job? If making a few weak arguments (Madame Curie’s Nobel Prize) is cause to be fired then there would be no journalists Does the fact that he is still employed by University of Pisa, make this witch hunt OK? As you point out, the arguments made by the other side are well beyond provocative.

    You decry the double-standard at the same time you are trying to enforce it.

  26. TJR says

    Fair enough, but the “more complicated story” mainly seems to be the by-name mention of some people, which was mentioned and commented on in the Areo article months ago.

    This was clearly Not The Done Thing as well as being a bad tactical move, as it gave people rocks to throw at him, as he pretty clearly realises now, given his comments above and elsewhere. However, we all do, say and write silly things sometimes, before metaphorically smacking ourselves round the head and wondering why on earth we did it.

    • Geofiz says

      Yes, I am sure Ms. Young has never done or said anything stupid, even when she was a teenager. Yes he made a bad tactical move. But nothing she wrote changes the basis of the story that he was unfairly fired.

  27. peterschaeffer says

    Males are known to have three advantages over females in Physics (on average). They are GMV (Greater Male Variability), male preference for things versus female preference for people, and greater male math skills.

    It turns out, these are easy to model.

    For example, assume that the mean IQ is 100 with an SD of 15, and a minimum IQ of 145 is required for High-Energy Physics. If the males are 7% more variable than females we can expect that 0.188% of the male population to be qualified (based solely on IQ ) to work in High-Energy Physics. By contrast, just 0.0951% of the female population to be qualified (based solely on IQ ) to work in High-Energy Physics. That works out to be a ratio of 1.97 to 1.

    While males are only slightly more variable than females, the difference in interests is huge (roughly 1 SD). Assuming that High-Energy Physics requires a 3 SD things vs. people preference and that male and female SDs are the same (in this case), we find that 0.621% of males are interested enough to work in High-Energy Physics. By contrast, only 0.0233% of females are interested enough to work in High-Energy Physics. That works out to be a ratio of 26.69 to 1.

    Males are also better at math (notably visualization) than females. I don’t have enough data to model this difference. Of course, the assumption of normality (as in the normal distribution) is unproven and other flaws can be found in the analysis. However, the bottom line should be clear. Tiny and not so tiny differences between men and women (3 SDs to the right of the mean) easily account for the relative number of men and women in Physics.

  28. F. E. says

    I love that certain people on Quillette act as If the GMV hypothesis is some kind of proven fact rather than a explanatory model…

    • peterschaeffer says

      F.E. GMV is an empirical observation about the real world. It is not an explanatory model. The liquid drop model of the atomic nucleus was an explanatory model of heavy atoms. The energy released by fission of heavy atoms is an empirical observation.

      If we observed high male/female ratios in STEM fields and sought an explanation, we might come up with GMV as a possible explanation. However, the actual direction of causality is inverted. We observe GMV and use it to partially explain high male/female ratios in STEM.

  29. What is the truth or lack thereof of Strumia’s words? Who knows? It’s undeniably more complicated than the simple trope Young refers to. Strumia and his defenders have their points, some of which are questioned by others. That means this is all subject to principled debate. What’s not subject to debate is the fact that he lost his position due to the comments he made. There’s every possibility that he stated the truth throughout and yet no one seems to grasp the idea that stating the truth (or at least a defensible version thereof) shouldn’t get one fired. When feminist academics make the most vitriolic, bigoted and hateful claims about men, do they get fired? Funny how making “offensive” statements only works one way. As to Hossenfelder, her “rebuttal” of the claim that female physicists aren’t as productive as are their male peers is no rebuttal at all. Saying that they’re less productive because they take time off to care for children is an admission that he’s right.

  30. Hmmm says

    More first-rate journalism from Cathy Young. She’s always a pleasure to read.

    • ianl says

      Nope.

      There is an entire earlier thread of comments infilled almost to exclusion on the fact that women prefer careers in areas other than maths and science. An entire set of threaded comments exists almost completely on this specific empirical point.

      Yet Young makes no reference to it all. She prefers to avoid this for scratchy little goes at the white male club. One would wish that journalists could advance beyond the crib.

  31. Mec B says

    @ E. Olson
    How can you not see that using the winners name is in poor taste. Just because you can, does not mean you should and it was clearly enough to warrant it becoming part of the criticism against him . His research into the corrupt hiring process is laudable, but making it into a personal issue will always cause a backlash. It is unprofessional(at a conference of peers) at a time when he needs to critically show that he above personal critique. I get he is angry as I’m sure I would be, but it does not help his cause one iota.

    • E. Olson says

      Mec B – it is certainly possible to argue that naming names and using a personal example were not optimal strategies for getting his point across, but as others have pointed out, if the situation were reversed nobody would have any objection at all (i.e. a woman showing her superior record was not recognized in favor of a less cited male). Also as noted by other commenters, the more subtle and gentle approach used by James Damore didn’t save him from getting savaged in the media and fired by Google. Thus I think it really is a moot point to look at minor issues such as naming names and slightly inaccurate retelling of the Curie story as justification for shutting down discussion and facts that “woke” physicists don’t want to address.

  32. BrannigansLaw says

    Great article. I’m pretty supportive of Alessandro but this is a very fair look at the controversy.

  33. BrainFireBob says

    Said this before and will again: Human systems are also subject to relaxation times and stabilization periods.

    Academia: Due to tenure, 40 years.

    If your idea is that non-representative faculty reveals discrimination, say gender based, then hiring 50% of each gender for 40 years will correct the issue.

    SJWs, as incompetent and amateur social experimenters, don’t want that. They want it fixed now, which means nearly 100% minority hires. Problematic, since human ability has a long tail, and even if all ethnic groups followed the same distribution, the most numerous group will be numerically overrepresented at the top of the curve.

    For Strumia: My degree was in physics. I noticed in STEM a further item: women, even brilliantly talented mathematicians, seemed more drawn to what I considered scientific custodial work- not designing Michaelson’s interferometer, but analyzing the results to determine the governing equation. I was always leery of introducing this in conversation, but, crudely, always Schrodinger or Planck, never Born, Pauli, or de Broglie. Is there any way to analyze your data from that reference point? I’m an engineer these days- design monkey for components- and don’t have data access.

  34. peterschaeffer says

    BrainFireBob,

    “I was always leery of introducing this in conversation, but, crudely, always Schrodinger or Planck, never Born, Pauli, or de Broglie.”

    I wouldn’t be so hesitant. Schrodinger and Planck aren’t names to be ashamed of. Perhaps in the Physics world, they are. In the larger technical world, not so much.

  35. markbul says

    In the early 1990s, my undergraduate biology department at New England state university was told that in order to get funding for the position they were already interviewing for, they had to hire a woman. It so happened that they had invited four men and one woman to speak and meet the faculty. Not knowing the background, after hearing all five speak, I told me advisor that four of them sounded really interesting, but the woman seemed mediocre. That’s when my advisor nodded and told me the story. She got the job. Twenty years ago. This is not new, folks, and EVERYONE knows it’s been going on.

    • Bill says

      What? That’s been going on for 20 years? Next you’re going to tell me that casting couch “auditions” are not just mythology but have been really happening too! 😛

  36. Donnerhauser says

    Good article, nicely balanced.

    Yeah, I was thinking at the time that Strumia did screw up a bit. He had, at the core, a sound and reasonable argument, but the mess ups and provocation ended up doing damage to it (no offence to you Dr Strumia if you read this, I just think it wasn’t your best decision there). While there were some legitimate criticisms to make, there were also some really, really unreasonable ones and he was indeed badly misrepresented. I mostly remember the hostility he received and how it reminded me of other incidents – when I tried to argue in favour of Damore’s memo way back when, I expected disagreement but the profound hostility was what shocked me the most. The Areo article by the anonymous physicist discusses this

    I have sometimes wondered if ironically there are some very old gender roles going on in the response – the idea that women are vulnerable and need protection, so people respond with overwhelming hostility (I believe this phenomenon is called benevolent sexism). I can’t actually prove this but I do have my suspicions. Or maybe it’s partially down to males trying to get into women’s pants by showing off how good an ally they are.

    On a side note, I can understand the Areo author’s desire for anonymity – I personally avoid discussing gender issues amongst several groups I am in because in the past I have found several members of said groups just cannot debate this issue in a rational and mature manner, instead responding with hostility, wilful misinterpretation of my arguments or just try to shut down the conversation via social sanction. At best I can insert some of my arguments if I phrase them in an incredibly conciliatory manner and avoid talking about them too much. Granted the issue lies more with a few very loud and militant members of the groups – I have a feeling more group members would agree with me but they don’t like to say so for fear of being yelled at.

  37. No offence, but Damore tried avoiding any provocation, and it does not work. Inserting the minimal amount of provocation needed to avoid disappearing in silence is not easy.

  38. A comment to Cathy Young. You quoted as source Sylvie Coyaud on La Repubblica. Today Sylvie Coyaud on La Repubblica attacks everybody I quoted. For example, Jordan Peterson is attacked as “fanatic psychologist, soporific, conspiracist and more ignorant than a mega-lobster” (psicologo invasato, soporifero, complottista e più ignorante di una mega-aragosta). I hope you see that the level of your source is so low that Jordan Peterson cannot sue it for libel.

    • TJR says

      Are mega-lobsters well known for their ignorance, then?

      Whereas normal lobsters are quite knowledgeable?

  39. Philip says

    Strumia is right. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you are presenting and any information that contradicts the cultural narrative, then you are condemned without a hearing. And the problem is that is happening not in politics but in science which depends on the honest handling of data and the search for truth regardless of consequences. When science puts ideology before truth then we are all lost.

  40. Hamilton Sunshine says

    He certainly acted unprofessionally by naming his female colleagues but we’ve seen lots of instances of feminists naming and shaming male colleagues who they see as being paid more because of their gender. Where was their censorship for being unprofessional. Many if not all were celebrated for doing so.
    Double standards.

  41. Cathy Young is very good at rationalization.

    She admits that “[v]irtually none of Strumia’s critics made a genuine effort to engage with the data he presented,” but Young tries to defend the official response to him anyway.

    Pathetic, but this is what I’ve come to expect from Cathy Young. Reason takes a backseat to identity politics in the battle fo the sexes, immigration, issues of Jewishness, and of course, Trump.

    As others have noted, I’ve never seen a liberal-left female academic denounced for “personal attacks” for using personal anecdotes. In fact personal anecdotes are the lifeblood of feminism.

  42. Supernaut says

    Good article, thank you; the overall situation is indeed nuanced. Strumia may have had good data to back up his claims, but as you stated, he gave ammunition to his critics in his original slides which contain the ‘snapshot’ shown where he names the female colleagues (that’s unprofessional). In his website where he host his slides, this snapshot is gone. Had his original slides not contained the offending snapshot, the response would still have been vitriolic, but I think CERN would have had a harder time looking for an excuse not to renew his position.

  43. Nobody Important says

    In social sciences, when studying “bias” or “discrimination” against the groups eligible for affirmative action benefits, the conclusion is always foregone, the “proof” just needs to be provided with a p-value.

    What is that, you say?

    A p-value is a calculation of the probability that a dataset will have certain values given a null hypothesis.

    What is a null hypothesis?

    A null hypothesis is the hypothesis that whatever factor you are studying such as “bias” or ” discrimination” has no effect. The lower the p-value, the less likely you will get those results by chance. In most journals a p-value of .05 or less gets you published. This means the probability these results are due to chance is less than 5%.

    Now, one thing that everybody in academia “knows” is that discrimination is simply a fact. They have greater certitude about this than they do that water is wet and fire burns. The only question is how you get the data to show that. Now, there is simply a 1-in-20 chance that your study will have a p-value of .05 or less, but that isn’t high enough, you need to do some playing around to increase the odds.

    How?

    Imagine flipping a coin. Half the time you will get heads and half the time you will get tails if the coin is not biased–if you flip it an infinite number of times. Let’s say you want to show the coin is biased. You can keep flipping the coin until you have a streak where the results are what you want. It might take a sample size of 100, 500 or 1000 but given enough tries it will happen. As soon as it does, you stop the study and publish the results. This is how we “prove discrimination.” In fact, this is how all of the sensationalist factoids in the media about how coffee causes cancer or mastubation reduces the risk of heart disease always backed by the unchallengable authority of “peer-reviewed research.”

    Now, is Strumia just doing the same thing in reverse? Even the most honestly obtained p-value gives the probability of the data given the hypothesis (P[D|H]), and not the probability of the hypothesis given the data (P[H|D]), which is what we actually want if your goal is to pursue knowledge. To find the latter we need two more things. First, we need the prior probability of the data (P[D]) and the prior probability of the hypothesis (P[H]).

    The whole formula (Bayes’ rule) is:

    P[H|D]=(P[H]×P[D|H])/P[D]

    What is a prior probability?

    A prior probability is the probability that something will happen independently of the considerations of the study.

    Let’s first consider the prior probability of the hypothesis.

    Academicians already “know” the probability of the hypothesis that “bias against women” has no effect is absolutely zero and that “bias against men” has no effect is a certainty (probability =1). While that assumption makes it impossible even in principle to question “bias against women is irrelevant “we can still question “bias against men is irrelevant ” because the results of a study could change the probability of the hypothesis.

    That leads us to the final term in the equation, the probability of the data. Now, this is where it gets interesting. In a truly random sample space, the prior probability of the data is one. Since there is really no such thing, we need to calculate the probability of the data given the hypothesis and add this to the probability of the data given competing hypotheses. Among those competing hypotheses are that Strumia is using a biased sample. Precisely because he is choosing people with whom he was already acquainted, that seems unlikely. He did not seek out people who would confirm his expectations. To me, his “unprofessionalism” actually lends credibility to his conclusions.

    • My study considered all authors worldwide who contributed to fundamental physics since ≈1970, as listed in the public InSpire database maintained by CERN.

  44. zephirawt says

    /* It’s a fact Ceresola has far fewer papers and citations than Strumia, or than the other four INFN research directors at her level (three men and one woman). Did she receive preferential treatment, either because of her sex or because she and Penati were both part of a network promoting women in physics? Again, no one can tell without being privy to the internal decision-making process at the INFN.,, */

    …WTF? Of course that EVERYONE can tell, once Ceresola got position instead of Strumia, despite that she has “far fewer papers and citations” than Strumia… 🙂 This is just the point: and Ceresola – not Strumia – should be prosecuted for this misconduct.

  45. Fran says

    As a female with at least moderately successful research career, I have seen the gymnastics a chair has to go through to hire the best candidate – evidence from applicant pool about those not interviewed, evidence that interviewed pool was fairly chosen, evidence why chosen one is not POC or female if such is the case. On the other hand, much less documentation for the Dean if the candidate chosen is female or POC. Some chairs just give up and others actually believe the ‘diversity and inclusion’ crap. This has been going on since the 1990’s at least. The fact that you have to justify a white male but not a black female is proof of a double standard. The easy path is just to hire the woman or black or whatever.

    I resent this double standard, because it makes people think I might have had an advantage in getting my job. Any woman worth her salt would feel the same.

  46. Aristodemus says

    Does it strike anyone else as weird that Strumia would have been summarily terminated (as were Damore and Summers) by the very old boys network responsible for perpetuating the gender imbalance in STEM? Shouldn’t it have rewarded him with a promotion and a commendation for his staunch defense of the patriarchy? Has there ever been another society anywhere in history in which it was so dangerous to one’s career and reputation to toady to the powerful and justify the status quo?

  47. Professor Strumia:

    I am in no position to comment on your analysis or conclusions about physics as a field, but let me add myself to the chorus who believes it was incredibly to poor form and a truly head-scratching decision by you to include a slide in your presentation (now removed from your posted copy of it) offering yourself as a case study to show a man (you) being passed over for a job by a less-qualified woman as evidenced by the man (you) and woman’s (and for some reason the commisar’s, apparently the person making the hiring decision) citation counts. The job in question is labeled on the slide by you as “INFN positions in theory, 2018. Gender ‘experts’ only:” (The slide can be seen towards the end of this article: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-tuesday-edition-1.4846987/scientist-s-claim-physics-was-invented-and-built-by-men-is-false-physicist-1.4846991)

    A comment on on a blog post about you–http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2018/10/gender-bias-in-academia-case-strumia.html– states:

    “”This job” was a directorate level position, that of course includes management and diplomacy(footnote 1), dealing with ministries and so on, which are things possibly not very well measurable using a citation count.”

    How do you respond to this?

    You state on your website that this job was “competition 10182 of Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare.” I could not find anything related to a full position description for this competition (my googling skills searching for something in Italian are admittedly going to be poor), so could you post that, as well as the complete set of criteria by which you and the other candidates were evaluated?

    Thanks!

  48. Don’t trust anonymous comments, full criteria are here: https://alessandrostrumiahome.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/infn.jpg
    Out of 6 items, 4 are research, 1 is doing scientific administration, 1 is getting in charge of scientific committees (this is mostly relevant for experimentalists who work in big collaborations with lots of formal positions). The position is called “dirigente di ricerca” but it’s just one of the 3 main scientific divisions inside INFN, somehow analogous to junior/associate professor/full professor. About the opportunity of discussing this case, I think that if you organise a conference with claims that male physicists systematically discriminate against female physicists, you must allow open discussions about this topic. I just presented correct public data with no comments. Numbers are not personal attacks.

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