Physics ‘invented by men’? Scientist faces backlash after ‘highly offensive’ talk on gender bias

A senior scientist at Pisa University has sparked anger following a talk he gave on the role of women in physics at Cern, the European nuclear research centre, in which he said that physics was “invented and built by men”.

Responding to the backlash, Cern released a statement which said the talk given by Prof Alessandro Strumia had been “highly offensive” to women in science.

During the talk, Strumia said that male scientists were being discriminated against and that men were being passed over for jobs in favor of women based on “ideology rather than merit”.

Strumia presented the results of a study published scientific research papers which he said “proved” that physics was not sexist against women, rather that this notion is “part of a political battle coming from outside”.

Strumia also claimed that research by male scientists was cited more by other scientists in their own publications, which he said was an indication of higher quality work. He also showed data which he said showed that male and female scientists were cited more equally at the beginning of their careers, but that as they progressed, men scored better.

Cern has removed the slides used in Strumia’s talk from its website “in line with a code of conduct that does not tolerate personal attacks and insults”. The senior scientist, however, has said he was just delivering factual information, telling the BBC that “people say that physics is sexist, physics is racist. I made some simple checks and discovered that it wasn’t, that it was becoming sexist against men and said so.”

During the presentation, Strumia also said that “men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people” and said there was a “difference even in children before any social influence”.

To back up his points, Strumia said that Oxford University “extends exam times for women’s benefit” and that Italy offers “free or cheaper university” for female research students.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone was delighted by his presentation and it sparked an angry online reaction, with some pointing out that it was important to provide incentives for women trying get their foot in the door in a male-dominated field.

Some also suggested that Strumia’s presentation was the result of anger he felt at being passed over for a job by a woman scientist — an event which he made reference to himself.

Some also pointed out that it was a woman, Marie Curie, who was the first person ever to be awarded two Nobel prizes for science — one of which was in physics.

It’s not the first time a male scientist found himself in hot water over comments made about females in science, either. Nobel laureate Tim Hunt ended up resigning from University College London in 2015 after he told a room of young female scientists at a talk in South Korea that the “trouble with girls” in science laboratories is that “when you criticize them, they cry.”

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