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CERN physicist accused of “sexist” comments

One of CERN’s lead contributory theorists, Professor Alexander Strumia, has been suspended after causing widespread outrage over his remarks in a gender equality seminar.

In a workshop organised by CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research) on Friday 28th September, Strumia claimed that “physics was invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation”. It was during a presentation at the first conference for ‘High Energy Theory and Gender’, which had was aimed at addressing and tackling gender biases in physics. Despite being led by its first female Director-General, Fabiola Gianotti, women continue to comprise only 20% of employees at the European Nuclear Research Centre.

During the workshop, Strumia claimed to be “presenting biblio-metric data about fundamental theory and gender”. Various sets of manipulated data sought to prove Strumia’s “Conservative Theory” of sexism in physics and STEM. The professor claimed that male scientists were suffering more from gender discrimination due to political ideology “coming from outside”.

To a predominantly female audience of physicists, Strumia also quoted gender inequalities in other sectors besides STEM, noting that labour in industries such as construction and fire-fighting were male-dominated. He used this to oppose quotas, stating, “quotas in the best jobs only is not equality.” The theoretical physicist further states, “I don’t like it when there’s social engineering to decide how many men, women and categories there should be.”

He presented graphs which claimed to show how “the [percentage] of women in theory and STEM anti-correlated with the ‘gender equality index’.” He continued to challenge the ‘gender equality paradox’ arguing it only exists “if you believe the wrong theory.”

Strum went on to claim that men are “only over-represented in science because they are over-performing.” Including an array of examples of sexism towards men, such as female STEM undergraduates paying lower university fees in Italy. He used this to exemplify that women have been “promoted into positions of power unfairly” and have been “allocated too much funding”. Before complaining that anyone who spoke out against this disparity risked being attacked or jeopardising their career.

Critics of his speeches have described his comments as “upsetting” and “horrible”. Professor Becky Parker, fellow of the Institute of Physics and Director of the Institute for Research in Schools, has worked in collaboration with CERN many times. Upon reports of Strumia’s talk, she said “the concept that somebody at CERN, which is led so brilliantly by a phenomenal woman, could say such things is unbelievable. Women make brilliant contributions to physics and my hope is that the outcry against this will spur women on further.”

The Italian professor has now been suspended for behaving contrary to the CERN code of conduct. In a statement released by the organisation’s media spokesperson, CERN condemned the talk as “highly offensive” and reassured that it “supports the many members of the community that have expressed their indignation.”

Tags: CERN, gender equality, physics, sexism, STEM

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