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Science

CERN suspends physicist after ‘offensive’ lecture about women and science

Professor Alessandro Strumia sparked fury when he said at a seminar that male scientists were being discriminated against because of ideology rather than merit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 9:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 10:30pm

Europe’s physics lab CERN has suspended a scientist over a lecture that suggested physics was “built by men” and accused women of demanding specialist jobs without suitable qualifications.

The presentation by Alessandro Strumia of Pisa University was delivered Friday at the Geneva lab during a workshop on the relationship between high energy theory and gender.

The presentation -which includes various slides, charts and graphs – appears to claim that men face discrimination in the field of physics.

One pictorial series suggests that women line up to take gender studies and then later protest over a lack of jobs in stem fields, an umbrella term that covers areas like chemistry and engineering.

“Physics invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation,” one slide says.

“CERN considers the presentation delivered by an invited scientist during a workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender as highly offensive,” the lab said in a statement.

“It has therefore decided to remove the slides from the online repository, in line with a Code of Conduct that does not tolerate personal attacks and insults.”

In a second statement, the lab said it had “suspended the scientist from any activity at CERN with immediate effect, pending investigation into last week’s event.”

The presentation was one of 38 delivered at the workshop, CERN noted, warning that the offensive material “risks overshadowing the important message and achievements of the event”.

In a phone interview with Associated Press, Strumia said he wanted to debunk what he insists was a misconception, and said he doesn’t believe men are better than women in physics.

“This workshop was continuously telling (saying): ‘men are bad, men are sexist, they discriminate against us’ – lots of things like this,” he said.

“I did a check to see if this was true … and the result was: That was not true.”

“There is a political group that wants women, and other people, to believe that they are victims,” he said.

Noting the suspension, Strumia lashed out at the Geneva centre, but expressed hope that it would come around to his way of thinking.

“I believe CERN is making a mistake,” he said.

“They suspended me because it’s true … and it’s contrary to the political line. And I hope CERN will at some point understand. I hope this is just the first self-preservation instinct.”

“Somebody had to speak.”

CERN, the French acronym for the European Centre for Nuclear Research, is for the first time being led by a female director general: Fabiola Gianotti, an Italian expert in experimental particle physics, took charge in 2016.

The lab has said that despite efforts to close its own gender gap, women still account for less than 20 per cent of staff.

The lab notes that it has backed initiatives aimed at boosting female participation in the sciences.

“Diversity is a strong reality at CERN, and is also one of the core values underpinning our Code of Conduct,” the statement said.

“The Organisation is fully committed to promoting diversity and equality at all levels.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press