Scientists should not ask questions that may have uncomfortable answers.
Peter Conradi in The Sunday Times interviewing Alessandro Strumia, the Italian professor of theoretical physics who was fired by CERN, sanctioned by (his employer) the University of Pisa and publicly shamed in a letter signed by 3.000 physicists after giving a lecture dismissing claims that female physicists face gender discrimination.
Strumia’s crime: trawling through databases showing that papers by female physicists receive citations than men, and that women write fewer papers than men as their careers progress. Strumia also argued that the underrepresentation of women physicists (making up 20% of experimental and 12% of theoretical physicists) reflects: “sound scientific evidence of gender differences in interests”. And: “It is not as if they send limousines for boys wanting to study physics and build walls to keep out women”.
But Strumia’s slides including blasphemous titles such as “Physics was invented and built by men” was obviously too much for the scientifically open-minded audience at CERN.
Much better to bully Strumia to silence than confront the debate lurking beneath the surface: the “greater male variability hypothesis” – that claimed the head of then Harvard president Larry Summers in 2006.
Why did Strumia risk his career? Because he is disappointed in CERN’s failure to follow up the 2012 Higgs boson/God particel discovery with other breakthroughs. “If CERN had made more big discoveries in physics, I would have remained silent,,” Surely the 3.000 signatories of the shame letter to Strumia must be having their scientific priorities straight.