Scientists Respond To Male Physicist's Claim That Men Are Better Physicists

"Physics was invented and built by men," senior scientist Professor Alessandro Strumia claimed during a recent speech.

A senior scientist has sparked online community after delivering a speech in which he was quoted as claiming that "physics was invented and built by men, it's not by invitation."

Pisa University's Professor Alessandro Strumia reportedly made the sexist remark during a diversity workshop in Geneva attended by mostly young female physicists. And his troubling comments didn't stop there. According to the BBC, Strumia also went on to suggest that male scientists were being discriminated against because of ideology rather than merit.

"Physics is not sexist against women. However the truth does not matter, because it is part of a political battle coming from outside," he reportedly claimed, pointing to graphs that he claimed proved that women were hired ahead of men whose research had been cited more by other scientists.

During his presentation, he also stated that "men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people" and suggested that female researchers earned benefits that men didn't. "Oxford University extends exam times for women's benefit," he reportedly said, also adding, "Italy offers free or cheaper university for female (research) students."

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The professor's series of offensive remarks quickly drew an adverse reaction. Dr. Jessica Wade, a physicist from Imperial College London who attended the event, told BBC' Radio 4's Today program that the speech was "really upsetting" and based on ideas that have "long been discredited."

She also expressed disappointment at CERN, the organization behind the diversity workshop, questioning why "a forward-thinking organization... which does so much to promote diversity in research, could have invited him to speak to young people just starting off in their research careers when his ideas are so well known."

Others from the scientific community took to Twitter to express their anger. "For me, the most astonishing aspect was that a highly experienced scientist could think a 'quick check' could debunk decades of research about the sexism of science and how women's progression is not simply an outcome of aptitude," Jennifer L. Rohn, a cell biologist at University of College London, wrote on Twitter.

As scientists continued to speak out against the ideas expressed, the public furor prompted Cern, which appointed its first female director-general, Fabiola Gianotti, in 2016, to issue an apology. "@CERN considers the presentation delivered by an invited scientist during a workshop as highly offensive, and supports the many members of the community that have expressed their indignation," the organization said.

In addition to its apology, the organization, who says it wasn't aware of the context of Strumia's speech, also removed slides from the professor's talk from its website in order to adhere to its code of conduct, which it says "does not tolerate personal attacks and insults."

The Telegraph reports that Strumia has defended his comments.

"This is why #WomenInSTEM movement is needed," Dr. Natasha Dowey, an industry geologist, tweeted of his statements. "Strumia believes men built physics. The truth is until relatively recently women were not even given the chance to be at the table. This rhetoric is not just harmful to women, it's harmful to science. We should *all* push back against it."

Cover image via  Matej Kastelic/ Shutterstock.

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