Physicist suspended for talk that sparks sexism concerns

October 01, 2018 - 1:59 pm

GENEVA (AP) — Officials at the world's largest particle accelerator have suspended an Italian physicist pending an investigation of his "highly offensive" presentation on gender issues that raised new concerns about sexism in science.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, said Monday that Alessandro Strumia of the University of Pisa was out of line in his talk Friday for a seminar on "High Energy Theory and Gender." The Geneva-area center said it had no prior knowledge of the content of the presentation and cited its "attacks on individuals" as "unacceptable in any professional context."

A CERN spokesman confirmed a slide presentation on Strumia's talk found online but said a recording was not immediately available. One slide read "Physics invented and built by men, it's not by invitation."

Laura Covi, who studies cosmology at Georg-August University in Goettingen, Germany and was at the Friday seminar, said Strumia's comments didn't go over well.

"He was claiming that some of the positions women were getting, they're getting positions with fewer (journal) citations than men," she said. "I'm not so sure his thesis was supported by the data."

Covi acknowledged that some of the world's most eminent physicists have been men, but said that was "mostly a historical bias" since men have been able to study physics longer than women.

She also disputed that citations are an indicator of quality and said it wasn't her experience that female physicists were able to land jobs with fewer journal publications than men.

Covi said Strumia has frequently made provocative comments in the past and said after his presentation, he was challenged by many at the seminar — so much so that the chair had to abruptly end the session when it ran overtime.

"People were upset by what he was saying. And then he later started to make statements that were completely unscientific," she said, declining to elaborate.

"I don't think he represents the majority view," Covi said. "There were a few men who were there but they didn't support his view."

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