CERN. Image: Motherboard
The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), one of the leading physics research institutions in the world, suspended one of its physicists on Monday after he gave a sexist talk at the organization’s first ever “High Energy Theory and Gender” conference last weekend.
Last Friday, Alessandro Strumia, a research associate at CERN, gave a talk at the conference that was later described as a “Damore-esque manifesto against women in STEM” by Jessica Wade, a physicist at Imperial College London widely known for her efforts to increase diversity in scientific fields. The reference is to James Damore, a senior software engineer who was fired from Google last year after he circulated a memo that argued men were biologically better suited to software development.
In a copy of Strumia’s presentation seen by Motherboard, Strumia frames his presentation as an effort to get to the bottom of the “mainstream” and “conservative” positions about gender equality in physics and science more generally. Strumia framed his presentation as an attempt to “use data to see what is right.”
A number of slides show what Strumia described as data about the percentage of women in different fields, sexism in citations, sexism at conferences, and gender asymmetry in hirings. These data items conflict with a number of other studies that point to rampant discrimination in STEM, however. For example, a study published earlier this year by Pew Research found that nearly half of women in STEM say sexual harassment is a problem and that they have experienced some form of discrimination.
Strumia’s presentation also claimed sexism against men, on the grounds that scientists were killed in wars and that universities have made hiring decisions based on equal gender representation “irrespective of merit.”
According to Wade, who wrote an op-ed for New Scientist about Strumia’s talk, his presentation “claimed that women weren’t as good at physics, were promoted too early, and received disproportionate funding given their ability.”
Strumia’s slides have since been removed from the conference website, a decision justified by CERN on the grounds that “the presentation, with its attacks on individuals, was unacceptable in any professional context and was contrary to the CERN code of conduct.”
In a statement posted Monday morning, CERN said that Strumia had been suspended from “any activity” pending an investigation into the presentation.
When I reached out to Strumia, he characterized the critiques of his presentation as “libel.”
“I summarized the ideas of others that they did not want to hear at previous editions of the conference,” Strumia told me in an email. “ The problem is that the objective results of the analysis (good news: women are not discriminated in physics) was not appreciated. Please tell me what is offensive.”