The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, has suspended an Italian theoretical physicist, Alessandro Strumia, whose research is currently funded by the University of Pisa and the European Research Council (ERC). During the seminar on gender issues in physics that took place at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, on 28 September, the scientist sparked fury by claiming that male scientists are being discriminated against based on ideology and that “physics was invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation.” The suspension was announced on 1 October pending an investigation the comments made during the presentation.
A statement released by CERN suggests Strumia’s remarks have violated the “fundamental values” of the university, which state that “CERN is a culturally diverse organisation bringing together people from dozens of nationalities. It is a place where everyone is welcome, and all have the same opportunities, regardless of ethnicity, beliefs, gender or sexual orientation.” Another statement released by ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon does not mention Strumia by name but states “I would like to stress that the ERC strongly supports the principle of equal opportunities between women and men, and is committed to improving gender balance and tackling potential gender bias in all its operations.”
The director general, Italian physicist Fabiola Gianotti, described the presentation as “highly offensive” and the slides used by Strumia in his presentation on the role of women in physics have now been removed from their website “in line with a code of conduct that does not tolerate personal attacks and insults.” Senior managers at CERN are still deciding whether to release all or part of a video recording of the presentation.
Strumia responded to the fierce social media reaction with “I trust that the honest majority will understand that it is the truth and that it was worthwhile to suffer such lynching for not submitting to censorship”. He told correspondents of the journal Nature, “I hope they [CERN] will want to talk and tell me what it was about my talk that was illegal.”
The talk was given in front of a predominantly female audience as part of the lab’s first Workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender. Based on a study he performed of all the published (online) research papers in physics, Strumia produced graphs purportedly demonstrating that women have been hired over men whose research is more cited. He also presented data that he claimed shows male and female researchers are equally cited at the start of their careers but as their careers progress, men score progressively better. According to Strumia, his results “proved” that “physics is not sexist against women.
Strumia also suggested that “men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people” and claimed there is a “difference even in children before any social influence,” adding that these conclusions may “not be fully right… (but) the opposite assumption of identical brains is ideology”. As further evidence of discrimination against male researchers, Prof Strumia claimed that “Oxford University extends exam times for women’s benefit” and “Italy offers free or cheaper university for female (research) students.” He also asserts that he himself was overlooked for a job that he was more qualified for, which was given to a woman.
Dr Jessica Wade, a physicist from Imperial College London who attended the event, told the BBC that Strumia’s presentation was “really upsetting to those at the workshop,” and that his analysis was “simplistic” and was grounded on ideas that have “long been discredited.”