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CERN suspends professor after saying men are discriminated against in STEM fields

But a study supports his claims

CERN has suspended Professor Alessandro Strumia for a controversial presentation he recently gave that claimed the field of physics is not sexist toward women, but that the truth does not matter because of a “political battle” from the outside.

The talk drew criticism and blowback from large swaths of the science community who accused Strumia of promoting a perspective that was biased toward women. This despite a recent Cornell University student that found women are preferred to men on the STEM tenure track by a ratio of 2:1.

In his Sept. 28 talk at CERN laboratories in Switzerland, Strumia, a physicist at Pisa University in Italy, claimed men are being discriminated against in the STEM field because of ideology, not because of merit.

“Physics invented and built by men, not by invitation,” one of the slides Strumia presented read.

He delivered the presentation to a predominantly female group of physicists at CERN, a European research organization that focuses on high-energy physics research.

He also presented data he “claimed showed that male and female researchers were equally cited at the start of their careers but men scored progressively better as their careers progressed,” the BBC reports.

CERN condemned the presentation and suspended Strumia from his position in the organization shortly thereafter.

“CERN considers the presentation delivered by an invited scientist during a workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender as highly offensive,” CERN said in a Sept. 30 statement.

An updated statement, released Oct. 1, affirmed that “CERN, like many members of the community, considers that the presentation, with its attacks on individuals, was unacceptable in any professional context” and that “CERN suspended the scientist from any activity at CERN with immediate effect, pending investigation into last week’s event.”

Strumia’s comments also received massive backlash from a large group of particle physicists in the form of a letter on a site titled “Particles for Justice.”

The letter characterized Strumia’s statements as arguing “that the primary explanation for the discrepancies between men and women in theoretical physics is that women are inherently less capable.”

It then blasted Strumia’s evidence as scientifically unsound.

“He frequently made the basic error of conflating correlation with causation, and while Strumia claimed to be proving that there is no discrimination against women, his arguments were rooted in a circumscribed, biased reading of the data available, to the point of promoting a perspective that is biased against women,” the letter stated.

It also listed several specific substantive objections to Strumia’s talk, and concluded, in part, by claiming his presentation “will add to the obstacles that women and gender minorities, as well as men from traditionally underrepresented communities, struggle with on a daily basis.”

It was signed by an extensive number of scientists and researchers at various universities across the United States.

But at least one professor took to social media to defend Strumia.

“A leading physicist gave talk: male scientists are discriminated against in favor of less qualified women. Posted evidence. It was taken down. Lost his position. Other studies verify claim,” David Millard Haskell, a professor at Laurier University, tweeted in response. “If false, refute with evidence not censorship.”

The professor linked to a Cornell University news article about a study conducted by Cornell professors in 2015 about sexism in the STEM field. The study found that women are preferred to men on the STEM tenure track by a ratio of 2:1.

One of Strumia’s slides had also linked to this study as evidence, claiming it showed proof that women are favored in the STEM field.

Professors Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams conducted the study titled “National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track.” It was published in the April 2015 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the official scientific journal of the National Academy of Science.

The study found “a 2:1 preference for women by faculty of both genders across both math-intensive and non–math-intensive fields, with the single exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference,” according to its abstract.

The study concluded that efforts to fight “formerly widespread sexism” have been largely successful.

“These results suggest it is a propitious time for women launching careers in academic science,” it reads. “Messages to the contrary may discourage women from applying for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) tenure-track assistant professorships.”

When contacted by email, Professors Ceci and Williams both stood by their study.

“We stand by our data and to our knowledge no one has published data to the contrary,” Williams wrote. “Moreover, our findings are mimicked by the actual tenure-track hiring data which also show a preference for hiring women (although, of course, real-world hiring audits cannot control for candidate qualifications, unlike our experiments, which did).”

She continued that it’s unclear why they found that women are preferred in the hiring process. She speculated that “perhaps they are the beneficiaries of concerted efforts to boost the representation of women, especially in fields that are historically and currently male-dominated.”

She also dismissed the idea that it was based on merit, writing they were able “to conclude that women were preferred over men with identical accomplishments.”

On the issue of Strumia, however, Williams said they had not been following the story.

“As far as Alessandro Strumia’s September 28th presentation on sexism at CERN, we have not followed the story and therefore have no informed opinion, other than that we stand by our 2015 experiments,” she wrote.

Strumia did not respond to multiple email requests from The College Fix for comment. He is still teaching at Pisa University.

The National Association of Scholars responded to an email inquiry from The Fix by clarifying that the organization focuses on the United States and also on universities, not on scientific centers.

However, it still criticized CERN’s suspension of Strumia.

“That said, an institution such as CERN that aspires to seek truth should be in the business of welcoming arguments that dissent from the orthodoxy of the day, not in punishing dissenters,” Chance Layton, communications coordinator for the NAS, told The Fix. “CERN may have the right to exclude Professor Strumia, but it should be chastised for doing so.”

MORE: Prof given $500K to ‘advance social justice’ in STEM field

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