Italian professor Alessandro Strumia worried that men weren’t getting enough credit for their scientific discoveries. So in a speech last week, he tried to set the record straight.
Physics was “invented and built by men‚ it’s not by invitation,” Strumia told a crowd of mostly female researchers at a workshop on gender and high energy psychics. He went on to say that female researchers in Italy have an easier time getting scholarships, meaning “free or cheaper university.” Strumia also claimed that women are allowed to take longer on their exams at Oxford.
Strumia, a researcher at Pisa University, said he’d conducted his own investigation of gender and physics, and had “proved” that “physics is not sexist against women."
To make his case, he unspooled several graphs and charts. One, he argued, showed that women were chosen for jobs over men whose research had been more widely cited. (Other studies, including a major 2012 article published in PNAS, have shown a persistent bias against hiring women to research and academic jobs in the sciences.)
Another suggested that the research of women and men is cited equally at the beginning of their careers. But as they advanced, men were cited more often. Strumia suggested this is evidence that men do better work.
However, he said, “the truth does not matter, because it is part of a political battle coming from outside.”
The talk was organized by CERN, a major European nuclear research center in Switzerland. Strumia is a senior scientist with the organization. On Monday, the organization said it was suspending Strumia, deeming his comments “unacceptable.”
“CERN always strives to carry out its scientific mission in a peaceful and inclusive environment,” the organization said in a statement. Strumia’s presentation was “contrary to the CERN Code of Conduct.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Strumia defended his talk as a presentation of what he said were “facts.”
Critics are “trying to paint me as a monster who discriminates against women,” he said. “This is not the message they wanted at this conference,” he told the news organization.
Jessica Wade, a physicist from Imperial College London who attended the event, told the Guardian the session was “terrifying and simplistic.” She said she worried that young researchers would leave less excited about their work. “It’s such a rush, [especially when] you realize that you’ve done a cutting-edge piece of science that no one’s ever done,” she said. “But to have all of that enthusiasm sucked away because someone tells you that you are only there because you are a woman is the most horrible feeling in the entire world.”
Wade also took issue with Strumia’s methods, suggesting that he cited discredited research and that using number of citations as a metric for ability was flawed. “I have no personal vendetta against this man, I just don’t like the toxic and incorrect messages he propagates,” she told the Guardian. “I’d rather he had some training in unconscious, or rather conscious, bias and read Angela Saini’s ‘Inferior.’”