Friction among physicists at blatant sexism within the industry

Friction among physicists at blatant sexism within the industry

As a result of historical social practices we as a society have essentially come to understand sexism as a common, misogynistic occurrence, driven by the innate patriarchal nature of our culture. However, on the 28th of September Professor Allessandro Strumia depolarised this argument by claiming physics was “invented and built by men” whilst presenting to a predominantly female audience at Cern, the European nuclear research centre in Geneva. Strumia’s controversial presentation included concise graphs illustrating what he believes to be the widespread issue within physics of an unfair prejudice against men, losing work to women despite often having their work cited more frequently by peers (an indication of quality). CERN, the operator of the largest particle physics laboratory in the world have condemned Strumia’s presentation for its tone and content, describing it as “unacceptable”. In addition to this, the signatories at particlesforjustice.org wanted to “state, in the strongest possible terms, that the humanity of any person, regardless of ascribed identities such as race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, gender presentation, or sexual identity is not up for debate”. The outcry following the controversial commentary resulted in over 1600 fellow scientists rebuking the Professor at the University of Pisa. Additionally, the seemingly narrow-minded physicist has been suspended pending further investigation.

…the widespread issue within physics of an unfair prejudice against men, losing work to women despite often having their work cited more frequently by peers.

Physics is a fundamental branch of science and originates from ancient Greece, in which the philosopher Thales of Miletus suggested that every event had a natural cause and henceforth rejected religious or supernatural ideals as explanations for everyday occurrences. Indeed, physics was originally driven by men (for example, Aristotle, Plato and Newton) yet this trend is most likely to be correlational than causal as women living in the developing eras of physics were largely oppressed and seen as inferior to the “dominant” male population, therefore denying them the opportunity to ‘invent and build physics’ as Strumia so assiduously put.

Recently, Donna Strickland became the first woman in 55 years to win a Nobel prize in physics.

Our progress as a society and movement towards gender equality is evident within many occurrences, one of which being the current achievements of women in science. Recently, Donna Strickland became the first woman in 55 years to win a Nobel prize in physics. The Canadian physicist won due to her outstanding work in laser physics, which has potential uses in laser therapy in cancer treatment. Strickland takes a very different stance in relation to sexism within physics and science generally, dismissing Strumia’s comments as “silly” and pointing out that she feels she has “always been treated as an equal”. In an interview with the BBC, the physicist acknowledged the skill and competence of the two male scientists who won the award alongside her. Such attitudes highlight the inspiring social progress within this field, but the movement is hindered by individuals such as Strumia with their archaic beliefs, beliefs which must be fought if we are ever to truly achieve a world in which gender and achievement are not reliant on each other.

By Abby Carroll

 

image source: https://www.weforum.org