Backlash Over Male Speaker's Offensive & Sexist Comments, Made At A Diversity Talk

Photo by Nycholas Souza
A senior scientist giving a speech at a workshop about the role of gender in physics isn't usually the stuff of headline news, but one male physicist's "highly offensive" lecture has angered women everywhere.
Why? Speaking to an audience of young, mostly female physicists at a diversity workshop, Professor Alessandro Strumia of Pisa University used his platform to give a highly sexist speech that undermined the mission of the event.
Strumia made a string of remarks that have shocked people both within and outside the scientific community. He said male scientists were being discriminated against because of ideology rather than merit, and that "physics was invented and built by men, it's not by invitation," reported the BBC.
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In his presentation, he cited research from an online library which he said "proved" that "physics is not sexist against women. However the truth does not matter, because it is part of a political battle coming from outside."
He also showed graphs which he said showed that women were hired ahead of men whose research had been cited more by other scientists, and others which he said highlighted that female researchers are cited less frequently as they progress in their careers compared to men.
Even more shockingly, Strumia explained the disparity by referring to research showing that "men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people," and another that he said proved there was a "difference even in children before any social influence".
He also said "Oxford University extends exam times for women's benefit" and that "Italy offers free or cheaper university for female (research) students". He also seemed to have a personal interest in his argument, claiming that a job he had applied for had been given to a woman with fewer qualifications.
The audience was understandably aghast and the European nuclear research centre CERN, which organised the diversity workshop, has responded accordingly. In a statement, CERN described the speech as "highly offensive". It said it was "not aware of the content of the talk prior to the workshop," and that it had removed slides from Strumia's talk on its website in line with its code of conduct "that does not tolerate personal attacks and insults."
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Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday morning, Strumia defended his remarks, saying that in physics nowadays, "if you want to be hired, it's easier if you are a woman than a man."
Dr Jessica Wade, a physicist from Imperial College London who was at the event, described the speech as "really upsetting" and based on ideas that had "long been discredited". She told the radio programme she believed Strumia "knew full well" when he was preparing his speech that the conference would be attended predominantly by women.
"He proposed an abstract [for his speech] that looked at women's historical representation in academic publishing. Instead, he used this opportunity to insult the people who'd spent an awfully long time putting together the conference, an audience of young women and women scientists all over the world."
She continued: "There were young women and men exchanging ideas and their experiences on how to encourage more women into the subject and to combat discrimination in their careers. Then this man gets up, saying all this horrible stuff."
She criticised CERN, "a forward thinking organisation... which does so much to promote diversity in research, could have invited him to speak to young people just starting off in their research careers when his ideas are so well known."
The evidence that women face barriers in science, technology, engineering and maths careers is overwhelming – women account for only 14.4% of the UK STEM industry, despite being about half of the workforce, and sexual harassment in the industry is reportedly rife.
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