From CERN: “So Forgettable, in Every Way…”

BBC News reported on the ousting of Professor Alessandro Strumia.

CERN is the major particle accelerator of the world and, at least, Europe of the early 21st century so far. It has an important status in the world of science. Within this framework for understanding the world of science, we can see its intersection with the world of politics and social views.

Indeed, Strumia was a guest professor. He stood by the remarks. The statements that had him ousted from this particular scientific community.

“Some people hated hearing about higher male variance: this idea comes from Darwin, like other offensive ideas that got observational support… Science is not about being offended when facts challenge ideas held as sacred…” Strumia opined, “For months, Cern kept ‘investigating’ if my 30-minute talk might have violated Cern rules [requiring an] ‘obligation to exercise reserve and tact in expressing personal opinions and communication to the public’,” Prof Strumia said.

He argued on the position that procedure was not followed in his case. In that, if a standard procedure had been followed, then this would have “never happened,” in his opinion.

Strumia, in September of 2018, said that physics is not by invitation and was built by men. This was during a workshop presentation. Within the workshop, probably for humorous effect but not coming off in the end as he may have liked, Strumia included cartoons with jokes about the campaigns for equality in science by women.

In Strumia’s analysis and argument, he considered women physicists not as good as the male counterparts within the community.

Strumia argued, “Extra checks confirmed that my results are correct and in line with the specialized literature… This will be shown in a scientific paper, if it can appear.”

In that, he was arguing that his research or views were not being permitted, or potentially would not be allowed, to be published within academic journals, based on the conclusions of the analysis and research.

CERN, in a public statement, said:

The incident was investigated in light of the internal Rules and Regulations and the Organisation’s Code of Conduct, which is based on Cern’s core values… As a result of its own investigation and following the decision taken by the University of Pisa, Cern decided not to extend Professor Strumia’s status of Guest Professor… Cern reaffirms its commitment to the paramount importance of respect and diversity in the workplace.

A physicist from Imperial College London, Dr. Jessica Wade, was present at the workshop during the time of the controversial remarks of Strumia. Wade considers the statement, by CERN, an important and “powerful message” for the scientists of the world. Of course, others will see as, certainly, powerful, but a silencing effect on scientists who may disagree or present socially controversial views.

Wade said, “Well-funded senior academics should not use their of power to attack colleagues or demean the work of women.”

Based on an analysis of some papers available with a database of research on particle physics, Strumia constructed a series of graphs for the workshop or the presentation. In it, more women were shown to be hired than men; even though, in the research citation listing, the men may have had more citations. More citations tend to imply greater quality, as the implication.

BBC News stated, “This evidence, he said indicated that men produced better research than women. But a group of physicists posted their take on the analysis at particlesforjustice.org and stated that they believed it to be ‘fundamentally unsound.’ They said the correlation was a reflection of the difficulties faced by women in research rather than their abilities.”

One example statement of this is given in the fact that more men are present in particle physics and, therefore, more men will cite colleagues who are men. This becomes especially true for the most prominent and more senior researchers within the field of research of particle physics.

Most of these senior researchers and physicists are men who have built long-term careers for themselves. This, in turn, presents the issue of the social facets of science on another level of analysis. As noted in the article, a disproportionately higher number of women leave the field of particle physics.

“Prof. Strumia is not an expert on these topics and is misusing his physics credentials to put himself forward as one. Those among us who are familiar with the relevant literature know that Strumia’s conclusions are in stark disagreement with those of experts,” BBC News concluded, “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.”

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights.