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CERN cuts ties with 'sexist' scientist Alessandro Strumia (bbc.com)
114 points by kgwgk on Mar 9, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 263 comments

I am reminded of Larry Summers, then the head of Harvard, who said something similar:


I think that previously there was a distinct issue with not enough women going through the degree programs. If the degree programs are 80% men and 20% women, statistically the men will outperform the women in outlier achievements just because there will likely be more positive outliers in the larger group by definition even if the means are similar. I think that just because the sample size for women is smaller, it will appear that the variance is smaller as there are less samples to spread it out. Thus it is possible that this will address itself if women equalize with men or exceed them in terms of graduation numbers in the relevant fields.

Given that women have actually come to dominant a lot of previously male dominated fields, fields where prominent men said women would never succeed at, I think that mathematics and physics could fall as well. It may take longer, but it is very possible.

If male variance is higher, there are likely both benefits and downsides to it, and I wouldn't be surprised if while statistically women are different there are unforseen benefits to that.

I feel like he has found one statistical difference between men and women and believe that this defines forever men and women performance in the very complex field of physics. This is over simplifying everything and I'd never bet on such an oversimplified prediction based on cherry picking by an amateur.

I think that when some people discover there are third rail/hot button issues that "can not be talked about in polite company", they take stronger positions on those issues in a reactionary way than are actually warranted by the evidence.

EDIT: What about this comment is causing this to be downvoted?

I've been reading recently about a structural/sociocultural/technological phenomenon that's actually holding women back in a field where women tend to dominate in representation at the academic level, but are regularly outcompeted by men at the professional level.

Piano playing.

It all comes down to the shape of the instrument, and hand-span, which is unquestionably (and uncontroversially) larger in men than in women: http://www.smallpianokeyboards.org/uploads/3/4/1/6/34165129/... (from http://www.smallpianokeyboards.org/hand-span-data.html)

The interesting thing is that there is a solution to the problem, the 7/8 piano, which has an octave spacing of 5.5" as opposed to the 6.5" on a typical piano.

The thing is, no one really takes it seriously outside of a few universities and a dedicated group that's trying to advance this cause.

Even women who learned to play long ago grouse that "I can play a regular piano, you just have to use different technique!", but won't admit to themselves or to others that the technique they're required to use is a detriment to playing the instrument with ease.

The other issue is that these pianos are hard to come by, since almost every manufacturer makes pianos of the same keyboard size, and pianists are one of the few musicians expected to play on whatever instrument they're given.

The other interesting thing is that the majority of men would actually play better on these pianos, because they would suddenly have "rachmaninoff hands", but the legacy of having hundreds of thousands of existing pianos just sitting around prevents progress from being made toward this goal.

P.S. if anyone wants to make a startup company for building 7/8 digital pianos (of which there are none currently on the market), hit me up.

That would be an enormous waste of institutional knowledge and technology (in the form of extant pianos and pianists).

If you're going to make such a drastic change to the piano, at least cut the keyboard into two halves at middle c, then invert both halves.

Now when the right hand starts at what used to be middle c and plays a chromatic scale upward, it's going from high pitches to low pitches. E.g., middle c is now the highest sounding c on the instrument.

(For purposes of this thought experiment, suppose there are two middle c's. I'm describing the middle c to the left below...)

Mirroring that, when the left hand starts at what used to be its middle c and plays a chromatic scale downward in the lower half, it's going from low pitches to higher pitches. That is, what used to be middle c is the lowest sounding pitch.


* when the right hand plays a melody the strongest fingers-- thumb, index, and middle-- are most likely to be playing. The ring finger and pinky-- the weakest fingers-- would be relegated to inner voices most of the time.

* the bass notes-- the most important notes of the accompaniment-- are played with the strongest fingers of the left hand. Again, that's thumb, index, and middle. Ancillary notes, and inner voices of chords, are played with the weaker fingers-- ring and pinky (and possibly middle if thumb is playing the bass note).

That way you vastly improve the ergonomics of the instrument. Otherwise you're just normalizing a big, expensive instrument so that it is guaranteed to be equally uncomfortable for all sizes of hand.

...so your 30 second idea to ruin the keyboard by making it impossible to play a melody that crosses middle C with one hand is better than simply making each key a little more narrow?

This reeks of the silicon valley stereotype of "I don't know why you're doing it this way, let me come in with zero experience and tell you how to do it better, with technology™. In this case, it's really clear that you are not a piano player, and have not attempted to learn in any serious way.

In the case of the 7/8 piano, there have been case studies, physiological research, actual testing of different sizes of keyboards, etc.

And this research suggests that a concert pianist who can play the virtuosic repertoire on the modern piano can play that same virtuosic repertior on both types of piano with the same accuracy?

Remember, if you're successful in pushing the 7/8 piano you're going to have both sizes in production for at least a century.

> That would be an enormous waste of institutional knowledge and technology (in the form of extant pianos and pianists).

taking something built using relatively coarse tolerances by today's standards and scaling it down by 1/8" is a 'enormous waste'?

if this is the case, human manufacturing technology is in serious trouble.

i don't think anyone is arguing to simply toss out the existing pianos, but to standardize on the smaller one and gradually replace them as time goes on..

What's the plan for this gradually phase-out? Especially considering that even the heterogenous timbres of pianos of the 1800s are now largely gone with everything standardizing on the Steinway timbre?

How do you make it so that a generation of pianist mustn't learn to master two different sizes of piano?

> How do you make it so that a generation of pianist mustn't learn to master two different sizes of piano?

I've played guitar, I've played drums. Not at the world class level of course, but enough to have a sense of adapting to different layouts/sizes/shapes, etc.

While yes, one has a preference, it's not like this is changing from being a race car driver to a commercial airline pilot - also, plenty of these know how to drive/fly several types. I believe this is a fairly apt analogy.

> While yes, one has a preference, it's not like this is changing from being a race car driver to a commercial airline pilot - also, plenty of these know how to drive/fly several types.

That isn't true with regard to the virtuoso repertoire.

We're talking about players who make close to 0% mistakes in their daily practice regimen. And when those players perform the most physically demanding pieces-- Chopin etudes, Liszt Transcendental Etudes, Ravel's Gaspard, etc.-- that is still no guarantee they will be able to play with perfect accuracy in a given performance. It's that technically demanding.

There are even some pieces like those Godowsky mashups of Chopin etudes which most players simply cannot perform with any accuracy at all. I think even Jorge Bolet would make a disclaimer before he played them that they could break down at any moment.

Players at that level are indeed as methodical and detail-oriented about their performance regimen as commercial airline pilots are about theirs. The only way to adapt that kind of virtuoso repertoire is to actually practice for hours a day on the 7/8 piano. And given that the current musical world values virtuoso repertoire most highly, there's simply no way around it.

If you don't believe me, try telling a concert pianist the day before the concert that you heard the venue sold the Steinway for a fascinating new piece of technology: a 7/8 piano! I guarantee you they won't mince words about their risk assessment.

I'm not saying that virtuoso pianists aren't able to adapt to different key sizes. But there's an obvious cost to doing so, and current touring pianist would be extremely unlikely to take that on.

Edit: clarification

So interesting, thanks for sharing!

I have been learning to play piano later in life after growing up playing violin and viola. Although virtually all professional adult violinists play a "full size" violin, smaller sizes exist for children, and I remember wondering as a child whether smaller pianos existed as well. Now, as an adult, I wish there were larger keyboards---the best-practices techniques that my teacher with average hands shows me are physically not possible for my larger hands. So I can easily imagine the inverse would be true.

Violas are an interesting case where, in contrast to the violin, many "full" sizes exist, anywhere from 15 inches to 17 inches to accommodate arm length. I would be curious to see a comparison of whether female violists are better able than female violinists to compete with their male counterparts given the size range of professional violas in contrast to the standardized violin (although I suspect the sample size of violists could be too small).

I can relate to that. I am male but I have pretty small hands. When I tried to learn piano and guitar I had a lot of trouble reaching keys that were really easy for others in my group. I remember wondering how I would do if I didn't have trouble already with the most basic chords.

Guitar is definitely similar. Look at most world famous guitarists & you'll see big hands. John Mayer, Jimmy hendrix, Steve Ray Vaughn, etc

This could go the other way, like you might be seen as saying that women don't have hand-spans as big as men, meaning that they're not as good as men when it comes to their physical capabilities and as such "providing" them with smaller pianos might be looked at as "demeaning" towards said women (you're thinking about them as not being as good as men are). Gender politics can be fun like that.

So producing shoes or coat's in women sizes is also "demeaning" towards women? I can't imagine why producing smaller pianos would be any different.

Because someone would say that it shows that a woman cannot play a proper piano like a man can - she has to be provided with a smaller(and therefore obviously inferior) one.

But it's important to keep in mind no one is saying that. It's dangerous to get wrapped up in what people might say because that relies on your imagination, not reality.

This was certainly why no teenage boy wanted to be seen playing a 3/4 size guitar! But one would hope that adults could behave better.

At least some companies (Meral - cycles Cyfac) are producing bicycles in women's sizes which are not just their male counterparts painted in pink and turqoise.

> Gender politics can be fun like that.

No, only strawman made-up gender politics is like that.

This isn't an issue in the WNBA and Women's basketball in general where the ball is smaller than the men's ball.

Are they paid the same? Are they the same level of famous? I don't really watch basketball, but I don't think they are, and a "they are not as good as men" bias could very well be at play here.

The economics of sports are dominated by one factor, the size of the audience. If women started to watch female sports in anywhere near the numbers men watch male sports then the economics would change.

As it stands, women are just not as interested in watching sports as men are, with some exceptions like figure skating and gymnastics.

This leads to a couple of questions: Why do men prefer to watch men sports, why do women prefer to not watch sports, and is the "watch same gender preference" the same for men and women? For the latter, my impression is that women mostly prefer to watch men teams too.

Also, the audience=the customer, so isn't this true for almost all fields? If we are OK with wildly different pay scales in sports because of audience preference, couldn't Hollywood claim the same?

>If we are OK with wildly different pay scales in sports because of audience preference, couldn't Hollywood claim the same?

Isn't that the way it is though, movie stars are paid tons more than the rest ?

> The other issue is that these pianos are hard to come by, since almost every manufacturer makes pianos of the same keyboard size, and pianists are one of the few musicians expected to play on whatever instrument they're given.

This is a good point, but it seems to be determined by the fundamentals of pianos. Moving a piano is difficult enough that I wouldn't expect this to change. We could all switch to keyboards...

pianos have had different sized keys throughout history, the recent standardization came about in the early/mid 20th century, and the size that we see today was actually driven mostly by piano companies competing to see who could produce the piano with the loudest, fullest sound.

what you may not know about pianos is that the "action", the keys-and-hammers bit, is a totally separate piece that can be removed in about 3 minutes. Most of the 7/8 keyboards manufactured today are actually just smaller actions that can be swapped into normal sized grands.

I think that's probably why GP is interested in making 7/8 digital pianos (as seen in the "PS"), which are much more portable

This is really interesting. I had no idea about 7/8 pianos but I’m certainly going to Google then up now.

Thanks that's interesting. I'm astonished there are no 7/8 digital keyboards.

Also, is there an explanation for "dominate in representation at the academic level"? Does it need one?

From the website I linked: "Christopher Donison (1998) has commented on the relatively small proportion of female piano competition winners at a senior level, given that they generally greatly outnumber male students in universities."

> If male variance is higher, there are likely both benefits and downsides to it

Yes, but the general concept is that the benefits and the downsides occur in different people. A single person doesn't illustrate "the benefits and the downsides" of greater variability any more than a single person can illustrate variability.

WRT issues of pure sample size, you can see one of the standard supports for GMVH in the SAT Total Group Report for 2018 here: https://reports.collegeboard.org/pdf/2018-total-group-sat-su...

Of the 2,135,788 students who took the SAT during high school, graduated (high school) in 2018, and had a gender, 1,117,329 were female and 1,018,459 were male. (751 had no gender.) 7% of the females, or ~78,000, scored 700 or above on the math section. 12% of the males, or ~120,000, did the same. So at the 91st percentile males are already outnumbering females by more than two to one after being pulled from similarly sized samples.

The greater-male-variability hypothesis says that males should equally outnumber females among low achievers. These tables don't support that -- 1% of females score below 300 in math, compared to 1% of males; 12% of females score below 400 compared to 11% of males.

The usual response to this is that we assume the SAT comprehensively samples high-ability students -- if you'll get a good score, you are strongly encouraged to take the test -- while mostly overlooking low-ability students, who may see no reason to bother.

And what I find frustrating in this discussion is that people don't like to think in term of distributions. The 78k female aren't less capable in any way than the 120k males, there is just fewer of them. But then a journalist will summarize that as "women scoring less than males in math at SAT". And then we go into a sterile flame war of blanket statements about gender, etc. The debate on the Damore memo in that respect was depressing, particularly from educated engineers who should know better.

As a mathematical comment, if these are two distributions are gaussians, and one has 120k above some cutoff, the other 78k, then the distributions above this cutoff are not the same.

They will typically have slightly different means (not far above the cutoff) and quite strongly different tails.

This is a great point and I wish these kinds of discussions always had someone to point out that kind of important detail. I think the parent's idea would be better expressed by saying that we can't say anything about individuals in either population without more information. You don't know where in the tail that individual lies. Assuming a continuous distribution it could be anywhere. So while it might be more likely for a random individual from population A to outperform a random individual from population B, there is no way to know a priori if it will happen for specific individuals. Obvious, I know, but it's the kind of thing that people often miss when they get into a heated discussion.

Being that someone appears to be my regular job :)

It's absolutely true that, if all you know about an individual is membership of one of these populations, then you know very little. Any new information about the actual person will quickly swamp this signal. If you've actually met A & B (or seen their work) then group membership is irrelevant. This is the situation in hiring people.

But it's also true that these distributions lead you to make predictions about the tails. While any one individual is vanishingly unlikely to win a Nobel prize, you can predict that (if they are fairly awarded) there should be a huge slant in how many go to each group. And I really mean huge, this ratio (if things are Gaussian, etc) grows exponentially in how far along the tail you go. Seeing such a skew is thus no evidence that hiring/prize-awarding is biased.

Right, but if you define the skill as "good enough", i.e. score of 700 and above, then my point stands.

My point is really that individuals aren't defined by the distribution, just the number of individuals is defined by the distribution. But many people take these distributions personally.

Edit, too late: of course 120:78 is not a 2:1 ratio; males are outnumbering females better than 3 to 2.

Would the drop out rate of men (assuming higher) provide an additional control? If low achieving men selected out of the data set before it was collected at the SAT level, there could be a long tail of underachieving men. This would certainly effect averaging, and if number of dropouts were greater than the 90th percentile, there could be some selection/survivor bias in play on how males appear as a group.

From some quick googling, it sounds like less than half of high-school students take the SAT. In which case the bottom end of the scores will probably tell you nothing about the population.

"3.8 million students took the PSAT -- the practice version of the SATs ... 1.7 million students from the class of 2015 took the SAT"

If we want to look at the long tail of intellectual ability, the opposite side would be intellectual disability. Either measured by IQ, diagnosed as neurodevelopmental disorders or now days more commonly both.

Both side of the bell curve has poor definitions and IQ tests are far from perfect as it is said to optimize the accuracy between IQ 70 and 100. That said, we do see more men in practically every kind of type of data set for both side of the bell curve.

To cite a professor of both biology and neurology, no society on earth like to talk or even think about the mentally disabled. The "downsides" of greater variability is a group that most people treat as they don't exist, so I would not be surprised if many people really believed that the only explanation for a different top 1% is discrimination.

Dropout rate is not relevant, because we're only looking at high achievers and we believe their dropout rate is negligible. There are roughly equal numbers of boys and girls graduating high school (technically, there are more girls!), but there are many more high-achieving boys than girls. Boys are much more likely to excel.

This is not a statement about the group average, but about the group variance. The SAT is not a good tool to use to assess group averages; I already mentioned this.

Last September, Professor Strumia stated that “physics was invented and built by men, it's not by invitation" at a presentation at the Cern the workshop.

He also showed cartoons deriding women campaigning for equality in science and presented the results of an analysis that he claimed showed that work conducted by female physicists was not as good as their male counterparts.

Did Larry Summers do anything as overt as this? CERN had to apologize after his presentation, which now includes a note:

Alessandro Strumia applied to give a presentation on “Bibiliometrics data about gender issues in fundamental theory”. The committee was skeptical of his motivations but decided to allow him to give a scientific presentation on data analysis. The committee is deeply disappointed that the presentation, which had not been shared prior to its delivery, included attacks on individuals and was contrary to CERN’s values, as set out in the CERN Code of Conduct. CERN’s official statement on the matter can be found here: https://press.cern/press-releases/2018/09/updated-statement-...

Thanks for posting this. I remember in great detail what happened when Summers was essentially sacked from Harvard, and I thought it did a great disservice to the institution. He was presenting the mere idea, at an academic conference, that innate differences in gender could account for some of the difference in academic achievement in various fields is something that should be studied, and he was pilloried for it. God forbid someone suggest a topic be studied at Harvard. There was definitely an undercurrent that he was really fired for other reasons (the faculty basically didn't like him), but even then using his comments as a pretext for getting rid of him is even worse.

All that said, discussing controversial, emotional topics requires the utmost care. Showing a cartoon of any type relating to this topic shows extremely poor judgement.

While he was president at Harvard, Summers had a fairly obnoxious demeanor. Maybe that is his demeanor in all situations, and he has had a lot of personal success, but it was ill-suited to that particular job. The president is supposed to schmooze donors and not piss anyone off. That's it. Summers pissed someone off on at least a weekly basis. By the time he made these impolitic remarks, there was a long line of pitchfork-bearing villagers. All it took was one person to complain about him in unimpeachable fashion, and the Fellows started hearing about how terrible he was all the time. One of the Fellows resigned because Larry hadn't resigned quickly enough! In exchange for a loan forgiveness, the rest of the Corporation convinced him it was time.

Also he made a number of errors as president, e.g. the Shleifer thing and the unfortunate changes made by his people at HMC.


Could you please not post in the flamewar style to HN, like you did here and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19185203? That's exactly what we're struggling, collectively and slowly, to move beyond. The site guidelines explain: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

For an example of a comment on a divisive topic that stays within the guidelines, I'd say the one you replied to is pretty good.

Besides the guidelines, you might also find these links helpful for getting the spirit of this site:





As an aside. Are you posting via a throwaway because: (a) You worry about HN attacking you with downvotes, or (b) You have a somewhat publicly identifiable username and worry this type of wrongthink could be punished by the modern-stasi movement?

(my money is on B).

Some people have a main account with "throwaway" in the name. Perhaps they just like oxymorons? And many throwaway accounts are not eponymous. You have to look at the account history, not the name, to tell the difference.

Bingo. Case in point, this is my "main" account :)

If we are seeking truth, as we do in science, we must accept that there can never be anything wrong with attempting to analyze whether A outperforms B, no matter what A and B are. It doesn’t matter if it’s offensive or politically incorrect. So, what he did seems to be no more “overt” than attempting to analyze which thruster design is most efficient.

If he’s wrong, the most appropriate and most effective rebuttal is a dispassionate fact-based one, not a moral one.

There are going to be some things we learn that we don’t like to hear. I have no idea if this is one of them, and I’m not the person to ask.

Either he is correct, and we have to deal with it, or he isn’t, and we don’t really advance (or worse, we regress) until someone examines the subject more closely and provides something closer to truth.

> His analysis was quickly dismissed as being unscientific and incorrect by experts in the impact of research.


Racists and misogynist have been using bad science to justify their views for centuries. (See, for example, phrenology.) Once identified as such, we are under no obligation to continue suffering such fools.

What do racists and misogynists have to do with anything being discussed?

See, you’re doing it too. Maybe one day you can consider accepting the possibility that a non-racist, non-misogynist might wonder if race or sex can influence general outcomes in a given domain!

Personally, I find the idea that it can only influence athletic performance (which I understand is a difference that polite society allows us to acknowledge) to be extremely unlikely. I actually would rank “women, in general, are inherently better than men at <currently male dominated field>“ to be more likely than “in general, men and women are exactly the same”.

He didn't call you a racist or a misogynist, or even Strumia (though I'll say it: Strumia is a misogynist). He simply pointed out that the basic mechanisms of scientific discussion have been abused to push dumb ideas in the past, which is obviously true. That is in fact a flaw in your argument. You're the one getting triggered here.

Do you know Strumia personally well enough to say what you said, or have you just bought into a smear campaign against him?

I have bought into the campaign against him.

When it comes to gender equality discussion, both side seems to always accuse the other of bad science. To mention a few:

The effect of estrogen on emotional stability.

The effect of testosterone on violence and crime.

The pay gap in respect to unadjusted versus adjusted data.

Blind audition and p values.

Domestic violence statistics and reported rate of abuse.

If there is a neurobiological change in victims of sexual assault.

Sexsomnia and how common it is.

Campus rape statistics and if its one-quarter of all college girls.

No, for several reasons.

First and most obviously, the purpose of this workshop was to further women's participation in high-energy physics (physics and computer science are the two most lopsided science fields; the need for need for more participation is obvious prima facie). It was not the purpose of the workshop to hash out Strumia's political beliefs, and had the workshop known what Strumia was going to present, they would have rejected it --- not for lack of truth, but for lack of relevance.

Second, Strumia's presentation was unserious. It was unserious because of the cartoons. It was unserious because of the invocation of "cultural marxism". It was unserious because it had a title chosen to obscure the purpose of the talk. It was obscure because it has a whole slide allocated to Strumia's grievance about losing an academic role to a particular woman. There can be value in presenting a contrarian point of view at a summit with almost any premise. There is no value in trolling a venue, which is what he did.

Third, as the sibling post observes, he was subsequently depantsed by his peers and sponsors, because he had neither the credibility in social sciences nor the credibility in his own field to be persuasive, and his underlying data did not rise to meet the dumb occasion he created for himself.

We're essentially recapitulating the argument HN had over Ted Hill's NYJM paper, which was, I think, a little embarrassing for the Ted Hill defenders on HN.

I stand by my summary: play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

> the need for need for more participation is obvious prima facie)

You lost me there, because in no way is that obvious prima facie.

[Trigger warning, because adults can’t have dispassionate conversations about facts and ideas, and will cherry-pick then knee jerk, probably even in spite of this warning: I’m not saying that women don’t want to enter these fields in the next sentence. I’m not saying that the lack of women is purely because they aren’t interest in the subject. I’m not saying the opposite, either.]

If women don’t want to enter these fields, there is absolutely no need to force them to. Taking this prima facie, and denying anyone the opportunity to even question the premise, is exactly the problem people have with this topic and the activism around it.

You could not be more wrong about your claim that he was unserious. He was very serious and he thinks this is an important issue worthy of his time. There is nothing unserious about using cartoons to make a point, nor with using the term “cultural marxism.” That’s far better than “mansplaining”, and I dare you to tell anyone throwing that term around that they are unserious.

And I don’t agree that he was depantsed by his peers and sponsors due to a lack of credibility. Personally, I think the motivations were emotion-driven. But it’s rarely productive to argue motivations.

I don’t know what the Ted Hill thing is, but when I read comments like that, I wonder if they were actually embarrassed, or if you just want them to be.

I think all of this posturing distracts from what really happened here. The guy is sick of identity politics (are we allowed to say that, or is it like cultural marxism?) and the distraction it’s causing in his field. That’s definitely a position I can relate to.

Edit: Oh, that Ted Hill thing. No, his supporters certainly were not embarrassed. I do agree that it was an embarrassing moment for HN, likely for precisely the opposite reasons.

I don't believe you could have looked at the other presentations in this workshop, read the workshop intro, and then read Strumia's slides and truly believe that this was a serious presentation. I respectfully (as much as I can be given what I'm about to say) call bullshit.

> I do agree that it was an embarrassing moment for HN, likely for precisely the opposite reasons.

So you think it was embarrasingfor HN, but haven’t yet decided why? :) Hah, yeah, that sounds about right from you.

Click the link below and have a look at the cartoon in question.

Though I can realize how some might be offended, it's not an offensive cartoon.

Or rather - the 'offensiveness of the cartoon' is only a function of one's sensitivity to intersectional issues.

So any cartoon/animation that is 'against' the intersectional view will be regarded as 'offensive'.

The very fact that this cartoon could be regarded as 'offensive' is ironically at the heart of this debate.

We all have a right to be offended, but we also have a right to express ourselves within reason. The cartoon I guess was a needless poke in the eye but it's really not that bad.

Your rebuttal is tautological; you're essentially saying "this presentation was only offensive to people who were offended by it". Well, sure. A gauge for how offended people were by it: CERN immediately apologized and ultimately fired Strumia for it.

I don't know how "offensive" I find it, and I'm not a physicist, but I try to put myself in the shoes of a physicist attending a workshop at CERN when someone gets up on stage with a presentation titled "Experimental test of a new global discrete symmetry" and it turns out to be a lecture about "Cultural Marxism", and I assume I'd have been pissed too.

"A gauge for how offended people were by it: CERN immediately apologized and ultimately fired Strumia for it."

That's a measure of how afraid CERN is of the reaction to it. It's a matter of PR and has nothing to do with Science.

Anyone who's offended by some data in slides might consider not being a scientist. Or rather just easily debunking it if that's the case.

The data in the presentation is uncomfortable, and maybe it's all utterly misrepresented, but these things have a place in polite society.

Finally, here's this juicy tidbit: he's making a case that men are discriminated against in Science. He's given many examples. Then - he's fired right away for highlighting the fact that he's ostensibly being discriminated against? I wonder if that makes a sneaky, upside down lawsuit.

I don't think CERN is the place for any of this, but there should be a place for it somewhere reasonable where people can talk about reality without losing their jobs.

I don't think we need raging bigots, but we need contrarians.

Maybe there should be those places, but Strumia is losing this particular role because he chose as his venue a stunt talk at a CERN workshop. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

What is your base for that conclusion?

The CERN apology, the CERN press release, the CERN email on JusticeForStrumia.com, the ParticlesForJustice page, the title of Strumia's presentation, and the slide in which Strumia complains that he wasn't hired for a role one of the women organizers of the workshop was hired for. Hope that helps!

CERNs apology is just a consequence of that presentation not an actual argument against it.

I'm not at all sure what your argument is here.

Strumia clearly did mislead CERN and the workshop organizers, pretty clearly gave a presentation to troll the workshop, and clearly launched an attack on another scientist (present at the workshop) during his presentation.

Is your argument that someone should have been able to give a contrarian presentation about gender disparities in physics at this workshop? I agree with you. But that's not what Strumia did. He tried to pwn the libs, and ended up depantsing himself.

The argument is obvious: the presentation itself is intellectually (mostly) valid and not offensive. The perception of it might be, by some, ergo, he was dismissed.

His dismissal is not an objective nature of the inherent 'offensiveness' of the presentation.

No, the presentation is not mostly valid. It purports to discuss disparities in intellect and preferences between men and women in high-energy physics, but digresses into the fact that men die in battle more often than women, that sexual harassment concerns are overblown, that it was unfair that he was passed over for a job when a (named) "less qualified" woman was accepted, that discrimination generally works out in favor of women since men are more likely to die on the job, that Matt Taylor was unfairly dragged for appearing on camera in a shirt covered in pin-up girls, that charges of homophobia at CERN are false, and that all this is due to "thoughtcrime" by the Cultural Marxist Minister of Truth (his words). He even cites that laughable Ted Hill paper.

Which illustrates the fundamental issue here.

This was not something that came from within, this was forced from the outside namely the media, in this case, BBC which made it politically problematic for CERN.

If a woman or man had launched an attack on the problems of being a woman in a male-dominated field nothing would have happened, in fact, he or she would have been applauded for speaking truth to power and celebrated for their courage they certainly wouldn't have ended up being called sexist or wouldn't have their ties cut.

You might as well chose to read him in the same manner, he certainly did think of himself as someone who spoke truth to power.

And it certainly wasn't something that was a bigger problem than someone could say. "What an idiot" and then move on.

But no, this had to be a question of sexism even though he was talking about discrimination against men.

This has James Damore deja vu all over it.

The code of Conduct hail mary is an excuse which is why their apology is not an argument it highlights the very problem.

this was forced from the outside namely the media, in this case, BBC

There doesn't seem to be any evidence of that. How do you imagine the BBC found out about it?

You know, the BBC, and the 8,000 academics, including more than 450 major-university-affiliated high energy physicists, who signed an open letter condemning the presentation. But, sure, the BBC couldn't have helped.

> EDIT: What about this comment is causing this to be downvoted?

That breaks the site guidelines, which ask: "Please don't comment about the voting on comments. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading." It also leads directly to off-topic dreck like this subthread, which I detached: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19346310.

(The rest of your comment is fine.)


Your response makes a lot of sense. It is a shame that after people like Summers (or that Google guy) talk about these issues, the talks about how to attack whoever wrote the piece drowns out attacks on the idea. It may vary well be that your theory is right. In that case I would hope that the discourse would go as follows. Summers submits an article about how variance is the reasons for difference between men and women in careers. Then someone like you submits an article explaining why the first theory is incorrect. Then Summers explains why your critic is incorrect. After enough back and forth, other scientists in the field start to join the conversation, some agreeing with Summers other with you. After enough time the scientific consensus gravitates to one side.

However currently whenever someone talks about this, the response is not "let's argue your conclusion" but rather "burn the witch".

>What about this comment is causing this to be downvoted?


> If the degree programs are 80% men and 20% women, statistically the men will outperform the women in outlier achievements just because there will likely be more positive outliers in the larger group by definition even if the means are similar.

This would predict 20% of outliers would be women. However this is not the case. A reasonable hypothesis to account for the gap in yoyr reasoning is that higher male variance in intelligence drives more male outliers in physics. I find your explanation for the lack of representiation of women to be comparatively unsatisying.

Now there is a better counterargument from the world of Chess. Chess has similar controversies about Men saying things about women having lower potential. Well a father didn't buy the nature based arguments decided to prove child rearing played a huge role in success and taught his daughters how to play chess. One of his daughters became arguably the greatest women player of all time although she wasn't ever considered world champion material.

Essentially though thia case may indicates its differences in early childhood rearing that causes the differentials. It's not participation in a specific educational stream that's the issue its girls being brought up in a fundamentally different way from how boys are in general. Yet I see much of the comtemporary political discussion focus on higher educational and workforce equity. Really groundbreaking physics tends to be discovered by younger physicists so if education is truly the problem this is waiting too long to address any potential childrearing problem.

> EDIT: What about this comment is causing this to be downvoted?

Perhaps because its not at all like summers's case. Strumia didn't suggest women are not suited for physics or anything like that.

You can't start neutral discussion with weak evidence, strong conclusion and open hostility. Strumia could have just presented his findings neutrally, without already made up his mind and having a clearly visible agenda and hostility.

There is a pattern that is repeating:

1. Scientist has a political opinion on difficult politically volatile issue that is outside his field.

2. Scientist finds some supporting evidence.

3. Scientist comes out with agenda, evidence and overly confident conclusion.

4. Backlash

5. Scientist claims that he is discriminated. He thinks that just because he had some hard data, his presentation was just cold neutral science.

6. Others find easily some evidence that explains his theories away (Women leaving the field in disproportionately higher rates in this case).

There are really strong parallels between this and the Ted Hill NYJM fiasco. And, like the physicists in this story, professional mathematicians pointed out that Hill's paper was wildly inappropriate for the venue. Both Hill and Strumia tried to launder their institutional credibility into authority to make political arguments. Arguably, Hill was more successful, even if his stunt was more egregious.

In the 19th century William Whewell developed concept of "Consilience of Inductions". Evidence from independent, unrelated sources can "converge" on strong conclusions. We should feel more confident about our conclusions when we have lots of lines of evidence that stand alone independently, preferably collected by different people, in different parts of the globe or at least different universities. Maybe they don’t even like each other.

Many contrarian views grow long time in small small minded groups or even withing one individual. They have high internal consistency and logic. When exposed to outsiders, they usually spot some obvious errors immediately.

Yes and no. As others pointed, Larry Summers wasn't provocative and suffered a similar backlash. And when you have a strong political pressure on a topic, it is logical that the only people who will speak up will tend to be the more provocative, anti-establishment outliers.

Are they really similar?

Did Larry Summers receive backlash, consequences and pressure from academia (his peers) like Strumia or just from from social media and public.

Public backlash is to be expected in the time of moral panic.

A long time ago I saw a presentation that started with the premise that 60% of everybody is crap at their job. Doctors, lawyers, airline pilots, and even scientists. Of course that's just a number pulled out of the air, but the idea was that even if a person studies something for a long time and even if they pass some standardised tests, they can still be bad at their job.

I've met completely incompetent programmers who had advanced degrees and tons of experience (not 60% of the field, mind you, but enough to realise it does happen). The field of science is not immune to this. I remember my brother telling me a frightening story of going to a first year science lecture and the professor saying that correlation implies causation. He put up his hand and said, "You mean does not imply causation, don't you?" The professor said that, no, if it's correlated it means that one caused the other. How can you get a PhD in science and also manage to land a job at a university (reasonably well respected at that) and be so confused at such a basic level? It happens, though.

Sometimes even very smart and capable people have huge blind spots in the way that they think. Again, I've worked with a number of programmers who were extremely talented and intelligent but were unable to program anything that didn't turn into a massive ball of spaghetti. They could barely keep it working (due to their intelligence and talent), and nobody else even had a chance. This is sucking at your job, even though you have the mental hardware and skills to do a good job. It happens -- everywhere. In all walks of life. I remember the case of the airline pilot who got sick of waiting for air traffic control to give him the OK to take off. He decided to go anyway and killed hundreds of people including himself. Apparently he was a very experienced and skilled pilot.

What you are seeing is not a pattern that involves scientists. What you are seeing is a pattern that involves people who are self-deluded and over confident. I mean we could put "Actor" in for "Scientist" in your points and it would read just as well. Yes, the field of science is not immune to this kind of problem.

I think the main thing is that if an actor says something stupid we think, "Oh they are just an actor". If a scientist says something stupid, we tend to think that maybe they should be doing better. A scientist's job is to think critically, build models and test them objectively against the data. When a scientist seems incapable of doing this basic task, maybe we need to wonder if they are actually able to do their job well -- because lot's of people are crap at their jobs. Even scientists.

You've described the typical gender science scandal. Except that it is usually the gender science that is disqualified.

>> He also showed cartoons deriding women campaigning for equality in science and presented the results of an analysis that he claimed showed that work conducted by female physicists was not as good as their male counterparts.

My underlined sentence, is most likely the reason Cern considered that Alessandro Strumia's actions would bring disrepute to the Centre. Holding and publicly discussing controversial views is one thing. Publicly ridiculing your colleagues is quite another.

Did you see the slides in question? If not take a look:


I see no great insults here, one cartoon suggests that the gender studies activists that are so concerned about the lack of women in STEM could have better addressed the problem if they themselves pursued careers in STEM rather than gender studies. The other cartoon is even milder. As to ridiculing his colleagues, from what I can see there is one slide in which Strumia states a female colleague that was hired over him has 10x fewer citations. Assuming that is true, how is that ridiculing a colleague?

Yes, I've seen the slides. They are offensive and the cartoons in them are offensive in the context of the slides. There is no question that they would harm CERN's repuation and that people at CERN would be livid at Strumio's talk as a result.

He is saying ”you got hired despite being dumb, and the girl that hired you was dumb too!”, which is clearly what he is implying given the context of the talk itself and that nice conspirational quote he put underneath.

I find it remarkable that you can read that slide, where he insults the selection comitte by proxy and one of its female members directly, and not come to the conclusion that he is correctly being kicked out.

What would it take to count as bad? A specific death threat with his signature underneath, or would his citation count balance that out too, as long as the wording is mild?

That's an excellent point that reminds me of the article that was recently on Hacker News: Our Culture of Contempt.


He could have handled this more professionally. But at the risk of committing a "motive attribution error" myself, it seems clear that that standard is being selectively applied; even the CERN staff who filmed a fake human sacrifice and released the video to the public were never publicly outted.

If Strumia were wrong, he would be no threat. He'd just be ignored or disproven. He's dangerous because he's speaking an inconvenient truth, and thus a real threat to certain people's agenda, and so he must be silenced and publicly excoriated, pour encourager les autres.

No, it is the insulting of named members of the selection comitte that didn’t hire him that is almost the entirety of the problem.

Your theory is that the whole reason for firing him was that he insulted CERN management? That's an interesting theory, but it certainly makes the CERN management look petty.

He didn’t publicly ridicule anyone. His comics are not offensive, and I found them to be pretty on point.

From the particlesforjustice link:

"As an example of the inappropriateness of citations as a metric, almost 1/3 of Strumia's citations come from being one of thousands of authors on the CMS Higgs discovery paper, to which we can safely conclude that his contribution (as a theoretical associate in an experimental collaboration) was modest. Hundreds more citations come from papers about the statistically insignificant 750 GeV fluctuation at CERN, which disappeared with more data."


And yet even if you throw out half his citations, he would still have over 3x as many as the woman who was hired over him.

He has 21,000 citations.


The woman who was hired has 3000.


Yes, the slide you refer to, where he publicly names and insults a member of the selection comitte that didn’t hire him is the slide that relly got him in trouble.

You are, quite obviously, going to get in trouble by demonstrating such lack of professionalism. Any selection comitte that considers questions such as: ”will the candidate respect collegues if they happen to be female” will from his presentation know that the answer is absolutey not.

> the slide you refer to

I didn't refer to any slides. Are you replying to the wrong person?

> ”will the candidate respect collegues if they happen to be female” will from his presentation know that the answer is absolutey not.

But now I will refer to slides, to counter that statement:

Physics does not depend on nation, race, sex ⇒ open to good people from any background.

Curie etc. welcomed after showing what they can do, got Nobels...

He doesn't object to women in physics. He objects to lower standards and "positive discrimination" for women in physics.

I'm nearly 50 and decided some years ago that life was just too short to bother accommodating people who are assholes. Perhaps he's brilliant, but there's quite a lot of brilliant people around and if there's a discovery just waiting to be made it's more likely that someone else will do than that the opportunity to make it will be lost forever.

I'm not arguing that everyone has to hold the same views, but if your need to have your views heard is so pressing that you're willing to damage the social cohesion of your peer group or team to the point that they can't get anything done then it better be something super-important like the lab being on fire or the discovery of fraud or catastrophic professional negligence.

> I'm nearly 50 and decided some years ago that life was just too short to bother accommodating people who are assholes. Perhaps he's brilliant, but there's quite a lot of brilliant people around and if there's a discovery just waiting to be made it's more likely that someone else will do than that the opportunity to make it will be lost forever.

Not just that but, how many (potentially smarter) people would refuse to work in that company/field/lab because of people like him?

By listening to him, he's potentially doing more damage to the field than he could ever contribute, because that then makes it clear to everyone thinking about entering the field (or even in the field) that bigots like him are listened to. By shutting him down and removing his platform, it's clear that speech like that is not accepted there, thus making bigotry of that sort less prevalent in the field as a whole.

The question boils down to "is this acceptable talk for the workplace, does this talk create a hostile workplace for anyone", and the answers to that are pretty clear cut.

That’s one way to look at things. But keep in mind, in that hypothetical world, we just erased Feynman, Einstein, Oppenheimer, and, well, probably the entire United States. Folks may disagree about whether that’s a net win or a net loss.

No, 'we' didn't. Einstein does not have a reputation for alienating his scientific colleagues or throwing tantrums at the IAS that I'm aware of.

So you've decided he's an asshole? On what grounds? The mere willingness to challenge the political status quo and call out discrimination against men where he sees it?

Hot take: maybe if he believes in biological differences in IQ, he's not as great a scientist as he thinks he is.

For those that would like to see the slides of his talk to judge for themselves they are available here [1]. The slides described as "cartoons deriding women campaigning for equality in science" by the BBC, are 5th and and 2nd from the bottom.

[1] - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1c_NyUhOZ8erdqU2AGZJZtNfFeA9...

The BBC's characterization I think is unfair, I suggest HN'ers actually read the presentation.

While controversial, I don't think it's poignantly offensive.

I'm wary of researchers getting into flame wars and I guess CERN does have the right to avoid such things, at the same time, he seems to be making some points with a lot of data - the best thing someone concerned with opinions could do is actually debunk them instead of having him silenced ... because the BBC's article trying to shut him down may in fact have the opposite effect.

It's a formal presentation at a CERN workshop that invokes "Cultural Marxism". CERN had to apologize for the presentation after the workshop. Of course they're pissed.

a formal presentation in a 'women in physics' workshop, not a physics workshop. you're implying it was entirely out of context

A contrarian presentation about the lack of discrimination or progress towards fairness in physics? Sure. An insult-studded rant about "cultural marxism"? Not so much.

They had to apologize because some people were going to be offended, surely, it doesn't mean the presentation is intellectually offensive.

'PR' is different than 'Science'.

'Cultural Marxism' is just a popular term for Intersectionalism, and it's a real issue, particularly on campus.

People should be able to talk about issues that are a little bit uncomfortable.

He misled CERN to get his talk into the workshop, didn't provide materials a priori, deliberately gave his talk an obscurantist title, and attacked the workshop (and specific individual scientists and organizers) during the presentation. It was a stunt; he played the workshop. Nobody is going to congratulate him for that.

While I agree with your other points, I have yet to attend a physics conference where I'm asked to provide my slides a priori.

I'm not suggesting he had to, just that he in several ways went out of his way to make sure nobody knew what he was going to say. It's not like the workshop accepted his talk knowing he'd be presenting a contrarian view; had they know, they would not have accepted him.

Yes, but adding fictive ways to your "several ways" makes it disingenuous. The things he did different from the normal process (title, abstract etc.) are enough to show that he deceived CERN.

Sure! Sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I thought you didn't have a point.

Seems like he'd be free to talk about his theories in an anthropology conference 1), but the presentation had no place in a physics research centre.

1) although it seems the sloppy research would've not been accepted by anthropology experts - just because he's a good physicist doesn't mean he's a good anthropologist, indeed he's not realised that he let his biases lead him to arguments made out of confirmation bias.

I'm not defending his talk.

I'm indicating that his firing isn't necessarily an objective measure of it's 'offensiveness', rather simply a measure of the political sensitivity of the situation.

Given that it was as other posters have indicated kind of a surprise 'gotcha' presentation etc. - it was obviously out of line.

I would probably have severed relationships as well were I in charge of the situation.

But an even better approach would be to address the information in the presentation, because it's going to 'get around' (i.e. the shock value of the presentation means it made the news cycle!).

'Cultural Marxism' is an overtly antisemitic conspiracy theory claiming a devious plot by certain Jewish academics a plot to subvert "western civilization" and attributing their influence as the cause of myriad social and political stances/events/developments that the advocates of this conspiracy theory disapprove of.

Even if you don't believe this (I think Jordan Peterson, who is fond of it, is a charlatan but not at all an anti-Semite), the term obviously occludes more than it clarifies, and was deliberately coined as a powerful negative emotional appeal; the choice to include it in a CERN physics workshop presentation is telling.

"Cultural Marxism" is neither about culture nor about Marxism. The term was coined by anti-Semite William Lind in a speech at a 2002 Holocaust denial conference: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/...

The fact that Peterson adopted the term does not necessarily imply that Peterson is an anti-Semite, but it definitely confirms that he is an idiot who cannot even be bothered to do basic research on the things he likes to rant about.

That's useful information, thanks.

I do agree it's important to basic research on the things one likes to rant about. Wikipedia in contemporary usage has become completely useless for controversial or social topics, but it used to be a reasonable source of information. This [1] is an archive of the Wiki page on Cultural Marxism providing some broad information and background. Suffice to say it was not coined in 2002 by anybody.

[1] - https://archive.fo/YzkIS

You are promoting a dog-whistle phrase that refers to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory: https://www.salon.com/2018/11/04/how-far-right-conspiracy-th...

But that "cultural marxism" label might be neither very cultural nor particularly marxist does not mean that what it labels isn't for the most part senseless bunk either. Oh, and marxism does happen to be more popular in academia than it deserves, too.

What does a simple idea like "stop treating women as though they were all idiots" have to do with any particular culture? If you don't understand the difference between "stop insulting your female colleagues" and Marxist economics or politics, obviously the problem is that there is not too much, but too little Marxism being taught in academia.

Really, the sooner marxism is completely forgotten the better. And what is usually called "cultural marxism" would make Marx and any classic marxist spin in their graves.

I would like to see some references of which groups or individuals, exactly, "treat women as though they were all idiots". Makes for a nice strawman but not anything that Strumia claimed, is it?

How can someone possibly call Jordan Peterson a charlatan? Are we redefining that word now too? Also, describing something as “telling” is a pretty strong signal that one lacks any substantive rebuttals but cannot resist throwing shade. It’s cheap.

Hang on, 'charlatan' is being 'redefined' merely by someone's opinion but the elaborated-upon use of 'telling', a word with a straightforward literal meaning, is fecund with secret malicious bias? It's hard hard to see how both of these can be true.

Have you read Maps of Meaning? I haven’t, but Nathan Robinson did, and wrote a review of the whole Peterson gestalt, which I found wholly convincing and you should find with no trouble at all.

I feel that what I found “telling” about the use of a controversial, poorly defined, culture-war term like “cultural Marxism” was pretty obvious: that the talk wasn’t given in good faith or with an intent that was productive with respect to the attendees.

Read the presentation. If anything, BBC's characterization is restrained.

This idiot should have been fired sooner.

I went into this leaning towards "they probably are mistreating the guy", but nope, dude's... wrong, manipulative, a liar to further his own goals?

The guy quotes the Istanbul Convention, article 4, as being

"Discriminations against men 'shall not be considered discrimination'"


But what it actually says is

"Special measures that are necessary to prevent and protect women from gender-based violence shall not be considered discrimination under the terms of this Convention."


So I don't know how much deeper I need to dig in light of this to figure out this guy was probably justly dismissed and will lie to and attempt to manipulate the media in his favor, given his obviously intentional misquoting the above. This doesn't further any cause of men's rights or anything, if anything it harms it.

Why would measures meant to protect somebody from violence ever be considered discriminatory in the first place?

People complain about government-funded women's refuges not accepting male victims of domestic violence.

I think those people are wrong, especially if there are male refuges available.

> I think those people are wrong, especially if there are male refuges available.

Personally I think they are right, _especially_ if there are no male refuges available. Which according to my cursory glances seems to be the case, at least in London[0].

[0]: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/there-are-no-male-safe...

You've failed to show whether there are any government funded domestic violence shelters for women in London.

And reading your link it seems the government funding is clearly for both men and women:

> “Tackling domestic violence is a key priority in the Mayor’s Policing and Crime Plan. He has provided £2 million of funding for the Pan London Domestic Abuse Service – the biggest of its kind in London – which is open to men and women.

> “Through Survivors UK, the Mayor also supports male victims of rape and sexual abuse with funding to help them receive counselling through one-to-one support and advocacy support should they wish to report to the police and proceed through the criminal justice route.

Domestic violence shelters in the UK are almost entirely provided by charities.

I wasn't aware that we had specified the criteria as being government run, because of course refuges are operating as independent charities...

I thought it was about government _funded_ refuges?

In July of 2018, while under austerity, the government gave 19M GBP to various charities who support domestic abuse survivors.[0]

Curiously, zero of those charities allow men to enter their shelters.[1][2]

[0]: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/19-million-fund-to-suppor...

[1]: https://localgiving.org/charity/safenet/project/janes-place/

[2]: http://www.cih.org/resources/PDF/presentations/arch2015/1Vic...

"Why would measures meant to protect somebody from violence ever be considered discriminatory in the first place?"

Well, if it's sanctioned discrimination by law, then it could clearly be seen as problematic.

For example, this convention may make it possible for police to 'err on the side of the female' during domestic 'he said / she said' interventions, i.e. requiring the male to vacate the premises during a cooling off period, even when it's a ambiguous situation.

The problem is that domestic violence is a two way street.

From the CBC (Canada) [1] " it looks like the average rate of violence perpetrated by men in intimate partner relationships is about 22 per cent, and by women it was actually found to be about 28 per cent" i.e. literally women it seems quite substantially more likely to commit violence against men than the other way around, in Canada. (Obviously doesn't take into account things like degree of violence etc.).

The reference to the Istanbul Convention I'm not sure is hugely relevant to the presentation, but on the presenters slide he is identifying that men face institutional discrimination: they are called to war, they die on the job, they have biased laws vis-a-vis domestic violence etc..

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/radio/the180/why-louis-ck-is-wrong-to-pol...

Unforunatately, the definition of violence is rather broad sometimes. Especially when such rules are in place.

The convention says this because the intent is to introduce measures which are clearly discriminatory (in the way they describe), but nominally intended to prevent violence against women in particular. Of course, a major error on their part is to limit it based on sex, which (regardless of your take on the expediency or righteousness of the distinction) is inherently discriminatory.

I wonder what would have happened if he had done a presentation in favor of the current favored political/pseudo religious orthodoxy with bad/inaccurate poorly done data. We will never know but, I'll bet you not much would have been said about it.

I'm not in the field, but from everything I've read the rest of his work is some of the top in the field. So we un-person this individual and start to dis-credit his work, not based on its merit, but because of the creators "moral character".

If someone dug back into Einstein and many other prominent scientists I'm sure that they could find plenty of issues with their moral character as well. For science to thrive it needs to be based on realism and facts. If someone presents inaccurate facts, they need to be refuted with with accurate ones and a lively debate needs to be possible to get to truth.

The mobs condemning someone does not achieve that goal. This is also probably one of the reasons why scientific innovation is continuing to slow down.

>> So we un-person this individual and start to dis-credit his work, not based on its merit, but because of the creators "moral character".

There was no "un-person" ing and no dis-crediting of his work. He was dismissed from his position at CERN. His work is not retracted and he will continue to publish.

It would be interesting to see the slides of the other presentations given at the meeting. I'm quite sure that most agreed with the orthodoxy. But did any of them present data?

And if they did, how did they handle it? Compared (say) to how carefully they would handle data from their own field.


Firstly, the guy isn't qualified to make such a sweeping statement about the opposite sex. So before we even step into the problems with why it's a dumb idea to say such things, lets just make it clear that he's a physicist and not an anthropologist, biologist, or sociologist.

We definitely care about his moral character, but it's also just flat out incredibly naive to discredit women in his field when they've been playing catch-up for years due to cultural boundaries in the sciences.

Any scientist who steps out of their lane to attack another gender or race deserves every bit of what they get. It's cowardly to use your position as a scientist in a completely unrelated field to justify your hatred for some other group of humans.

Moreover, the guys history is terrible. He's got a chip on his shoulder about women and unethically chose to use his platform as a CERN scientist to exercise his anger.

Would he be qualified to state that men and women are equally skilled at physics? Surely you would need the same credentials to determine that.


Would you please stop posting to Hacker News in the flamewar style, regardless of how wrong others are or you feel they are? You did it here too: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19348928. (Edit: and also here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19348978. And here again: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19349065.)

We ban accounts that keep doing this. It's what we're trying to prevent from destroying this place, and we need your help along with everyone else's.


I'm sorry. Won't happen again




So saying that men are discriminated against is a misogynistic view?

In a vacuum? No

In context of the rest of the his history? Yes

Not really from my perspective but each to their own.


Please don't post in the flamewar style here. Instead, please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and post civilly and substantively, or not at all, regardless of how informed someone else is.


> The guy is a physicist, he is way more qualified than any sociologist to deal with statistics.

As an experimental LHC physicist myself, his use of statistics is either naive (understandable, he’s a theorist) or negligent. He used his mathematical background to appear knowledgeable despite there being huge flaws in his “evidence”.

> The guy is a physicist, he is way more qualified than any sociologist to deal with statistics.

I laughed at this for a solid minute. Statistics is something that theoretical particle physicists frequently and flagrantly ignore, to the point where experimentalists have to be super careful in how we present our results.

We've asked you before not to post flamebait to Hacker News. This is what we're trying to avoid here, and if you keep doing it we're going to have to ban you, so please stop.

If you'd review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and take the spirit of this site more to heart, we'd be grateful. Here are some other links that might help with that:






"It's comments like yours..." followed by "ridiculous virtue signaling." And he's the one "fueling" shit?

When you throw accusations like that — demonstrably ignorant of what the term even means — you straight up forfeit any claim to being the aggrieved party.

This kind of accusation of "virtue signaling" implies that the thing being done to "signal" some "virtue" is done purely to send that signal. That makes it a morally empty act, because its only motivation is to advertise one's moral stance (which stance, by implication, is not acted upon in any way but that advertising); you are clearly and specifically saying that the behavior is otherwise void — that its only value is the perception of having the "virtue" in question it's intended to engender.

I'm sure that pattern of behavior exists, and might even be common. The readiness with which it's bandied about, however, is, in my nontrivial experience engaging online, more or less invariably intended to make the person holding the stance in question and their arguement appear weaker, by attributing to them a compromised motivation. It does not open discussion up; it shuts it down.

I genuinely wonder if you happened to read the article shared here, yesterday, "Our Culture of Contempt", or the discussion that ensued, because this is as stark an example of "motive attribution asymmetry" as any I've encountered in recent memory on HN.


> The guy is a physicist, he is way more qualified than any sociologist to deal with statistics.

This is laughably wrong, in so many ways.

EDIT: Phrasing.

What specific facts did he express?

He expressed many opinions but reading the article none of the controversy was about facts. He just claimed that his opinions about women being worse at physics research were facts and wrongly used the male variability hypothesis to try and justify that.

Please don't fall for his claim that he was just presenting facts.

> Einstein and many other prominent scientists I'm sure that they could find plenty of issues with their moral character as well.

The question has been raised as to whether Einstein's wife Mileva Marić made an uncredited contribution to his work.


Could you please not post unsubstantive comments, and especially not snark or flamebait, to Hacker News?


How ironic. The whole "Einstein's Wife was the real genius" is an unsubstantiated claim.

Everyone knows that the Ancient Aliens show is essentially begging the question. Much like like the OPs comment.

Since you don't seem to want to use this site as intended, we've banned the account.

If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.

People sometimes make very elaborate and well-reasoned arguments that seem enormously persuasive but turn out to be based on dubious axiomatic assumptions. Your suggestion that science might be slowing down because we're not being nice enough to jerks seems pretty questionable. Surely, if this were true, the jerks could all just get together an out-science everyone else, Ayn Rand style, and everyone else would be forced to admit their fundamental superiority. We'll never know unless they try.

>Prof Strumia analysed papers available in a database of particle physics research. He produced a series of graphs which, he claimed, showed that women were hired over men whose research was cited more by other scientists in their publications, which is an indication of higher quality.

>He also presented data that 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.

I know being published and cited is a big deal in those fields, but is that really a great measuring stick? Couldn't those choices be filled with any sort of bias, or just picking things that support a common theory or line of thinking... and not indicate quality?

It seems like a potentially poor benchmark.

Yes, it is completely circular. Because if discrimination against women exists, then the higher citation rate and slower career progress are equally explained by this.

This isn't evidence in favour of some causal explanation about innate differences between men and women, he's just trying to justify his prior assumptions.

This is very much comparable to the circular nature of IQ measurement. People with racist attitudes often conflate innate ability and IQ, because IQ is very much designed to measure the sort of things that people who like IQ tests are good at.

These people will often present evidence in the same way the physicist does, by pointing out that say, people with higher IQs have higher personal income, but this obviously neglects the facts that if IQ tests / degrees etc.. are licenses for success in the first place, so you're just running in circles.

IQ tests are not used as barriers to any institutions in the US (or in most of the developed world). They are almost exclusively used for research purposes.

IQ tests have been used as barriers in some circumstances - for example, people who are "too smart" may be at a disadvantage should they want to enter some police forces in the U.S.

That was my thinking on this metric as well. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like quite a stretch to suggest that influence is a relevant metric for skill. There is likely a loose correlation, sure, but unless I’m missing something, it seems only slightly better than throwing dice.

Q: Did Prof. Strumia work with subject matter experts on his controversial research before giving his presentation?

My opinion: Being an expert in one area may not translate well into other areas. I'm a pretty good sysadmin, maybe even above average. But I don't present myself as a good/great devops or software engineer because I know I don't know as much as the developers I work with. If I'm trying to figure out some issue that involves a build or code in some way, I do my initial research then present that tentative conclusion to trusted experts for them to review. I don't make a presentation saying definitively "this is now happening" because I'd probably be wrong.

The neat thing about physicists (and many engineers) is that, because they understand the fundamentals of everything, they are completely qualified to speak on any topic.


I'll just say this. Anyone who discourages anybody from even TRYING to learn or pursue a career in science is a bully and a jerk. That's the way the world is going and being tech savvy only makes the world a better place. That said our schools and workplaces should still be based on MERIT. I don't care where the science comes from so long as it's good science. If it just so happens to be more men are doing science than women, then we should make sure it's not because somebody is being shut out. Everyone get's to try and I even mean slow learners who are men and maybe even white. I say this because we NEED science and technological know-how going forward. If someone is so inclined educate them, give them a job. Yes we need more women in science, because we need more people in science, badly. It would be a pity if someday we achieve some quota that we're satisfied with and leave it at that. The world demands more people competent in science than can every fill the need, especially going forward. I personally DO NOT CARE wha the sex of the scientist who did XYZ happens to be. If fewer women get into the sciences or lean towards studying biology or something else, I accept that on one condition, that the DOOR is OPEN for EVERYONE. The country with the most technologically capable citizens is probably the one that's going to lead the world. Science education should be given out liberally and not rationed for an elite few. I personally do not care how the final stats and quotas look. Did every woman sincerely interested in a science career have the support and means necessary to pursue her goals? The answer to the question should be a resounding YES. The next thing is that I don't like sexist people but why make an example out of this guy and fire him? It doesn't solve anything. He didn't harass or grope someone. Go ahead and trash his ideas, discredit him, etc. whatever but leave his job alone. It's savage to fire people just because they have opinions you do like.

There's no doubt Strumia did a dumb, and while he may kind of have a point regarding the variability hypothesis, there's actually more to it.

It comes down to chromosomes. XY individuals have a single X chromosome while XX individuals have two (duh).

The X and Y chromosomes have a small section that pairs one another (the pseudo-homologous region), but most of their chromatin is different.

The Y is mostly made of genes required for the architecture of the testicle, whereas the non-homologous part of the X contains genes that are implicated in many cellular processes. Humans need at least one chromosome to be viable.

In XX individuals, to avoid the over-expression of the dedicated X genes (those that are not part of the pseudo-homologous region), one X chromosome is deactivated. This happens at random, during the early embryonic life.

As a consequence XX individuals have roughly one half of their cells that expresses the alleles of their father's X and the other half expresses those of their mother's. XY individuals only express the alleles of their mother's X.

Depending on what an allele does and how an allele pair interacts, this can have different consequences.

The canonical example is color vision where XY individuals are more often affected by color perception issues than at a much higher frequency than XX individuals. Also, some XX individuals exhibit tetrachromacy, i.e. for them color is a 4d space rather than the RGB 3d space most of us are used to.

For other parameters like body size, having distinct alleles results in a phenotype that is in between. After normalization, XY individuals have a larger variance in body size than XX folks, since the latter can fall into more intermediate buckets.

Sex chromosomes in birds are the other way around. Males have a WW pair while females have a WZ pair. In birds, the variance for body size is larger in females.

This leads us, at long last to IQ, whose variance is larger in the XY group than in the XX one (with an identical mean in both groups). This may lead one to think that it makes it normal to have more XY folks in academia for mathy/brainy topics like physics (since there will be more of them in the upper tail of the distribution), but it ignores several things:

- IQ is an imperfect measure, and we may be ignoring people whose faculties are, like tetrachromacy, out of reach for XY folks, who designed the tests.

- XY folks in the upper tail of the distribution for a given parameter (say, IQ) have nevertheless a higher probability to be catastrophic in other dimensions (when compared to XX folks). This is relevant because science is becoming more and more of a collective endavour where social abilities matter as much as raw intelligence. It looks like Strumia sucks at that game.

> In birds, the variance for body size is larger in females.

Do you have a reference for this? I would be surprised, as I thought the explanation for variance was not about chromosomes, but about investment... but I don't actually know if that's true, and birds (WW/WZ as you say) or reptiles (temperature) would be interesting examples.

I do!


This is observed not only in birds vs mammals but also in insects (some have heterogametic males like mammals and others (butterflies) have heterogamic females, like birds).

Key figure: https://i.imgur.com/4E6FUXN.png

Thanks! That's very interesting, I will think some more.

Is the fact that male song-birds, err, spend much more on fashion & makeup... also a pattern that correlates with heterogameticness?

People are unwilling, to the point of delusion, to accept the possibility that this higher variance really does explain differences in representation among sexes across various top talent industries.

Academic society is in a weird place where this kind of bias is acceptable. Which is antithetical to science and I therefore understand Strumia's frustration.

Meanwhile people (though broadly, it appears, a different set of them) also appear to be unwilling, to the point of delusion, to accept the fact that it is meaningless to attempt to extrapolate from statistical phenomena to individual, or vice-versa.

So, sure: stipulated. Male h. sapiens sapiens have statistically greater variability, across the population. That in no way whatsoever prevents a woman from being the biggest or smartest, or a man the smallest or weakest, or either the best at one job, or the worst at another. Population trends are population trends. They do not meaningfully constrain individual expression.

You are correct that a set of people are unwilling to accept that, but it’s actually the same set. Those who bring up male variability pretty frequently take great pains to state, gratuitously, that it applies to populations in a general sense and not individuals. Damore called this out as well, but the mob rewrote his words for him to omit anything like that.

Most men advancing this argument have no problem whatsoever with the idea that there can be women who are better than they are. For some reason it’s impossible to utter words like (downvoted, wtf? See...) GP did without a lot of people putting extra words in your mouth and assuming you’re using population generalizations as a thinly veiled charade to attack individuals.

That's quite curious to me, since the overwhelming majority of the argument I've seen that cites the Damore memo glosses right over that distinction, or, at best, does an, "I'm not saying the thing, but, you know, the thing..." with this very question.

Maybe that's an inference I'm putting there, in at least some of the cases, but in another nontrivial subset of them, it's a serious exercise in creative interpretation to find any other read of the person's own words.

Haha, it glosses over that because it seems obvious! Why is a disclaimer necessary? It feels inappropriate. Why would someone assume I’m saying this other awful thing, instead of saying only what I’m saying, nothing more and nothing less?

Your last comment is truly perplexing to me, and it’s something I’ve observed from other “detractors”. Why are the words not read and interpreted literally? Why does it take a serious exercise in creative interpretation to not assume ulterior motives?

I’ve spent a very long time puzzling over that. I considered it might be a “once bitten, twice shy” type situation, in which there is hyper vigilance involved, but that would only seem to explain “victims”, not allies, who do the same thing. This would seem to be supported by the observation that it’s only racist/sexist in one direction. But I really don’t know.

> Why does it take a serious exercise in creative interpretation to not assume ulterior motives?

Because I try to follow the HN guideline of assuming good faith on the part of the people with whom I engage. I'm definitely not always successful, but I doubt anyone is.

When I find I'm having to get creative with my interpretation of the comment I'm reading, to the extent that I'm reading in things that appear counterfactual to the comment's intent, or things its author has said elsewhere in the thread, in order to find a position that isn't premised in this broken extrapolation between populations and individuals we're discussing, is when I feel left with little choice but to assume it is thusly brokenly premised.

That is to say: I try not to find it, but when I find myself twisting someone's words in order to make it not appear in them, my fallback case is to (tacitly) assume it's there, pending better evidence.

Does that clarify the perplexity my (admittedly somewhat awkwardly phrased) comment seems to have created?

Without taking a position on the strength of the arguments in the Damore memo, if most of your news diet comes from the anti-Damore side of the debate, you're more likely to see only the less reasonable people on the pro-Damore side, for the same reason that people on the anti-SJW side mostly encounter the most inflammatory arguments on the pro-SJW side.

> if most of your news diet comes from the anti-Damore side of the debate

On this particular subject, most of my "news diet" has been the discussion in this very forum — which, net-net, I have an incredibly difficult time filing under "anti-Damore" — and the articles that inspired it. Please try not to make unsubstantiated assertions about the ideological breadth of my input.

Please also consider whether using the term "SJW" is going to serve the point you're trying to make, or if you're (perhaps unintentionally) alienating people by using language that, from their perspective, is tantamount to name-calling.

Even if in this specific instance you weren't doing that, it's going to go over about as well as an "SJW" describing a behavior on the part of the person with whom they're speaking as "racist" or "sexist". From the speaker's perspective, the term may merely seem descriptive, but from the listener's, the speaker has probably just killed the dialogue. No further understanding is likely come from it, because now the listener is primed defensively towards whatever else the speaker has to say.

EDIT: Seriously, HN. How is an autist the one pointing out such basic interpersonal dynamics?

How the hell did this guy get flagged? Is SJW a trigger word now?

No, but it's corrosive to constructive discourse, per my other comment.

I'm legit a little slack-jawed in "did you really go there?" to see this comment adjacent to that, considering.

EDIT: I didn't flag that comment, fwiw.

EDIT 2: "Trigger word" is another great example. That's a dismissive use of the notion, implying the people being "triggered" are irrational, emotional, and, by inference, wrong. It's an ad hominem, and it's destructive discourse.

I don't know when we decided it was cool to conflate people expressing disapproval with people who've been traumatized and are reacting to a stimulus that's evocative of their trauma, but it's not. Speaking as someone who's experienced multiple kinds of the traumas that can legitimately warrant "trigger warnings", it's really, really not.

I truly want to understand how someone thinks they can talk to and about people like that, and then cry foul at blowback.

Damore did not mention the variability hypothesis, but he clearly made his points in terms difference of distributions, implying that aiming for exact parity while using metrics that are biased in favor of males was foolish. At least that's what I remember of his essay.

The whole thing was a bit ham-fisted though...

> So, sure: stipulated. Male h. sapiens sapiens have statistically greater variability, across the population. That in no way whatsoever prevents a woman from being the biggest or smartest, or a man the smallest or weakest, or either the best at one job, or the worst at another.

It does not prevent a women from being the most (or the least) anything. But it says a lot about the probability of that being the case.

So, if a woman comes along who is, in point of fact, the smartest person in the room, do we accept that, or do we insist that because the probability is that much smaller, we must assert it over the reality?

Because one of those things sure seems to happen a whole lot more than the other.

One should, obviously, accept that. But if the hypothesis is true, one should also accept that, in a room of smart (or dumb) people, the ratio is not 50:50.

There is obviously a need to fight against any discrimination against an individual based on an unrelated factor (race, gender, hair color etc.). But I fear that a lot of measures do not actually fight against that, but add discrimination to offset other discrimination to reach the 50:50. While this obviously has moral problems, I think it can be a good tool if it reduces the discrimination against individuals in the long run. But /that/ must be the metric.

I've known women who were often the smartest person in the room. My experience is that people accept that and defer to them. I've not commonly encountered situations where intelligence isn't deferred to, though.

Industries and other activities (chess comes to mind).

I personally think it is more likely than not to explain the discrepancy. That being said, I'm not necessarily in favor of a blindly meritocratic society for reasons I don't have the time to develop today.

> Humans need at least one chromosome to be viable.

I accidentally an whole X.

To me, the point in Strumia's case is that it doesn't matter whether his conclusions, or data, are sound or bonkers: the fact is that bad scientific research eventually condemns you to irrelevance, not to political outrage and disciplinary measures. The latter should be reserved to those who knowingly falsify data, plagiarise other people's work, etc.

Uh, you do know his actual actions was to misrepresent the contents of his talk, and spend time of it insulting members of a selection comitte that didn’t hire him?

The fact is that he thinks open harrasment of people that didn’t judged him less suitable for a position is ok, which in itself is reason to keep him away from any position of imprtance.

The personal attack (or piece of personal anecdata) in the presentation was certainly condemnable and should have been left out- but let's not pretend the problem wasn't the content of the whole presentation, personal attack or not.

While his whole presentation had serious issues, starting with his misrepresentation of its contents to the organisers, the personal attack is clearly the most important infraction.

It is, on its own, enought cause to sanction him as he was.

The JusticeForStrumia page (run by supporters of Strumia) showcases an email from CERN that says exactly this: the personal attack was the major professional problem from the talk.

Similar to the Googler who got fired after his anti-diversity paper, the content is almost irrelevant, the fact that they're so cocksure of their superiority to dare say what they said meant they were unprofessional beings who didn't belong in a collaborative work environment. It didn't help that they think their research backed up their cocksureness, but in reality the research were painfully biased and incorrect.

Good point. I’d bet people who falsify data often suffer fewer consequences, often none at all.

At my company, any sort of presentation at trade shows or conferences has to be reviewed by the marketing department first. In fact often the content originated from the marketing department. It seems to me like large scientific organizations like CERN should do something similar. Science has always been political and probably always will be.

Perhaps he meant to say that "some women were less able at physics than some men. And vice versa."

The skeptic in me asks: if he goes to a friend of his at CERN and asks him to present a talk that reaches the exact opposite conclusion, no matter how shaky the reasoning, will that person be similarly in danger of losing their position?

If he takes pot shots at colleagues by way of example during the presentation, then yes.

He claims that he could proof his assumptions if he were to be published in a journal but I think it would be very strange if somebody published his "research". He is not a sociologist and this is clearly not his area of expertise.

Peer-review will help with that. I strongly support amateurs publishing if they have something real to contribute. Gate-keeping based on degrees is bad.

There is too much crank science in the world to evaluate it all in good faith: if peer reviewers were tasked with reviewing every clever idea from someone who notices a correlation in one data set—and, in particular, at conductor their own experiments to replicate the result—there would statistically be no time for correct science.

Scott Aaronson's "Ten Signs a Claimed Mathematical Breakthrough is Wrong" on https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=304 is a similar argument. Though there's no hard logic why a non-TeX math paper from an outsider would be wrong, the probability that it's right is extremely low.

> There is too much crank science in the world to evaluate it all in good faith

Absolutely. And thus sadly a solid field needs a certain (ideally low) amount of gatekeeping.

But there are also academic fields which are very far from solid, in which the same license to ignore "cranks" is employed, not to save some mathematicians time, but to build a wall around an ideology.

I don't really think there's an easy way to tell the difference "from 10_000ft", the two situations look identical in that there are journals, those who publish can get jobs, and later edit these journals... and without reading any of the work, there's no way to tell if it's basically solid or basically nonsense.

This isn't exactly crank science. This is a valid challenge to an equality assumption which permeates modern academia and industry, with potential negative consequences, which has never actually been proven.

And the same correlative "evidence" for sexism (which really is just a conflation of equality of outcome and equality of opportunity) could just as readily be taken as a manifestation of functional inequality.

But social stigma and an imepenetrable bias in academia keeps any meaningful research in this area from occurring, probably because people are afraid of the potential implications. That's bad science and ultimately is probably bad for society if it turns out these unproven assumptions for equal competence are untrue.

The argument you object to is exactly that peer review will not accept it because it is trash research.

This is not the point. The point is that: if your study reach conclusion A, and someone finds flaw in your research method (this will certainly happen) -> you are a *ist. On the contrary, if your study reach conclusion of opposite of A, and someone finds flaw in your research method -> this is fine because no research is perfect.

As Strumia himself said in his controversial presentation, "science is not by invitation". Anybody who can present data and draw logical conclusions should be admitted to the discussion, irrespectively of specialisation, gender, schooling, social background, political convictions, etc.

Then why should he care if he's affiliated with CERN? Go publish papers to the intellectual dark web. Academia is enough of a trashfire that if you could do it better without degrees and training, it would be very easy to get other dropouts and enfants terribles together and produce results that CERN couldn't with its gatekeeping and political correctness, right?

> Then why should he care if he's affiliated with CERN?

Because it's a violation of the principle just stated above. Since he proved he can do physics at high level enough to be part of CERN, but was excluded on political grounds... And yes, of course in a perfect world fair competition between ideas would eventually win. That is of little consolation to those who are punished for expressing their thought.

He was not rehired because he so publicly demonstrated he is not suitable for working together with others: in his famous talk he explicitly named and then insulted collegues because the took part in a hiring that didn’t give him the job.

A big international organisation with collaboration as a core goal is simply not a good fit for a well known asshole.

> Since he proved he can do physics at high level enough to be part of CERN,

One, no, he didn't, he made errors of basic science in his argument and that should make his entire physics work suspect.

Two, "he can do physics at high level" is the opposite of everything CERN and the scientific method itself stands for. The scientific method does not say, if you're a genius, you can make discoveries. The scientific method says, if you work consistently and steadily and reproducibility in a community of peers, you can discover things about the world by using data from the world. Science is not about hiring mages who have a high enough mana level. CERN is a collaboration and a laboratory, which implies working together. If you're operating on a high level at your own, you have no need for CERN. If you're operating at a high level when you happen to have other colleagues around, then being able to work with those colleagues is a skill you must have as a scientist.

How about patent clerks publishing in physics journals? Should they allow that?

If you are referring to Einstein, he had a degree in math and physics and took the patent clerk jobs to make ends meet because he couldn't find a math or physics teaching job.

Guess that's a bad example then, but I am still against using degrees as a credential requirement for basically anything.

Lying about the contents of your talk so you can insult members of a selection comitte that didn’t pick you is not a good way to get a contract renewed, who would have known?

Strumia must have really let his victory of the 750 GeV iron throne* dictate his sense of entitlement.

*: http://resonaances.blogspot.com/2016/06/game-of-thrones-750-...

Your comment points to an underlying story. It mentions a selection committee that was not referenced in the article. Can you please link me to a source where I can learn more about it.

One of his slides shows a ”case study” that compares the citation number of a named female member of the selection comitte (there are of course several more members), the citation number of the named female that got the position, and the citation number of Strumia himself.

Underneath this table he wrote ”the opressive ambient started to open”...

Yeah, it's important to be aware of this when thinking about Strumia's case. The guy said a whole lot more than "women are less able at cutting-edge physics than men", and much of what was being said was, if not outright BS, certainly willfully courting controversy in a highly unprofessional way, and not something that even people who are aware of possible gender differences in ability would support.

To make a comparison that many people here will understand, Strubia's talk is a lot like what the media misrepresented James Damore as saying, and nothing like what James Damore actually said.


I don't follow - the article says that other scientists did debunk his claims. Did they not?

There is a lengthy scientific rebuttal at https://www.particlesforjustice.org linked in the article. The fact that it also contains a moral rebuttal does not detract from the scientific one.

A lengthy reply could be made to each statement in particlesforjustice.org, which would be the healthy way for an academic conversation, but I will make an exception and just point out a few flaws.

1) The bell curve difference in variance is not rebutted, which is the central argument. It is the very first claim in the article, and the basis for all other claims. How should we interpret that the central argument is silently not mentioned by the rebuttal?

2) the Istanbul convention rebuttal misses that in modern studies on gender based violence, men report the same amount violence from partners as does women. The humanity of male victims should not up for debate and yet the here the particlesforjustice is arguing in favor of such discrimination.

CERN did not cut ties because some other scientists rebutted his claims. This was completely ideologically driven. Strumia was presenting on a gender workshop and his crime was to be counter-narrative. Check for yourself:


And if you have any question as to CERN's motivation, here is their official statement:

Updated on 1 October 2018

From 26 to 28 September, CERN hosted the first workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender focusing on recent developments in theoretical high-energy physics and cosmology, and discussed issues of gender and equal opportunities in the field.

It is unfortunate that one of the 38 sessions, by a scientist from one of the collaborating universities, risks overshadowing the important message and achievements of the event.

CERN, like many members of the community, considers that the presentation, with its attacks on individuals, was unacceptable in any professional context and was contrary to the CERN Code of Conduct. It, therefore, decided to remove the slides from the online repository.

On Monday, 1 October, CERN suspended the scientist from any activity at CERN with immediate effect, pending investigation into last week’s event.

CERN is a culturally diverse organisation bringing together people of many different nationalities. It is a place where everyone is welcome, and all have the same opportunities, regardless of ethnicity, beliefs, gender or sexual orientation. Indeed, diversity is one of the core values underpinning our Code of Conduct and the Organization is fully committed to promoting diversity and equality at all levels.

CERN always strives to carry out its scientific mission in a peaceful and inclusive environment.

I didn't say CERN cut ties because other scientists rebutted the claims - CERN is entirely within their rights, and it is entirely appropriate for the progress of science, to cut ties because the researcher was incapable of collaborating in a productive manner with other scientists.

I said that, nonetheless, the claims were rebutted in the end (unless they were not?), and therefore the comment "one would think Physicists could easily debunk them if they were bogus" does not apply - they have been debunked. The comment "Ideology over science" does not apply because there was science; the comment "feelings over truth" does not apply because there was truth; the comment "shrieking, hysterical pronouncements over rational argument" does not apply because there was rational argument.

All right, point taken. Reading through the so called rebuttal though, there is not much there, hardly any of the arguments or actual data are disputed, there is suggestion that maybe there is another explanation for the disparity in outcomes with no specific data provided to support it. I think it is fair to say no actual debunking as been accomplished and what is left to explain the dismissal is ideology and the desire not to hurt feelings. I concede that the shrieking hysterics was hyperbole on my part.

So, to summarize, you did not take the point.

They did not. The particlesforjustice is mostly hand-waving and claims about things like implicit bias etc. with little or no empirical support.

See https://justiceforstrumia.org for a lengthy and somewhat more substantial rebuttal of the rebuttal.

Thanks, I'm strongly in favor of this debate existing so I'm glad that site exists.

As I read it, that site does not rebut any of the claims of particlesforjustice. It attacks a few sources used by particlesforjustice in defense of the claim that discrimination exists in STEM and potentially explains the reason why some groups perform more poorly. Granting, for argument, that those attacks are valid and the sources don't claim what they're being used to claim, that still does not rebut Strumia's argument. Indeed, justiceforstrumia says, "They object to Strumia's talk for 'mining' and 'misrepresenting' data, but their own case suffers from comparable flaws." In other words, perhaps Strumia's argument was flawed and so is the rebuttal; that still leaves us nowhere.

The remainder of justiceforstrumia is a digression about James Damore, tribalistic thinking, why socialism is bad, horseshoe theory, the "war on gamers" (I'm not making that up, that's the exact title of a source offered by justiceforstrumia), and the importance of falsifiability. This would be interesting if at some point we got to the question of whether Strumia's claims were falsifiable or not, and whether particlesforjustice had in fact managed to prove them false, but the site never gets there.

Assuming the sources offered by particlesforjustice in claims 1, 3, and 4 are invalid, claims 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8 still stand. A coherent rebuttal would either say why those claims are invalid, or why those claims are inaccurate depictions of what Strumia said. Saying "You can't say person X's claims wrong, actually the whole ideology of science is broken and falsifiability is important" is not scientific debate; it is itself ideology. Saying "Here, let us determine whether these claims are false, through analysis and argument of the claims themselves and not their speakers" would be scientific debate.

(Who wrote this site, btw? Is it from a scientist, or just someone random on the internet? It doesn't seem like it's written with the same understanding of scientific debate as particlesforjustice, so I'm trying to make sense of it.)

Just a data point: the authors of ParticlesForJustice are 18 people from the field all with research affiliations, and the cosigners include 491 scientists with university and research lab affiliations --- this doesn't count the (vast) number of "additional signatures", many of which also have university high energy physics affiliations. There are 2x as many signatures on "ParticlesForJustice", and they appear to be of significantly higher quality.

> I'm strongly in favor of this debate

Same here. However, the problem with this "debate" is that only one side of the debate is generally allowed and the burden of proof is dramatically different. For one side, "you can't disprove <vague allegations/ideas>" is sufficient. For the other, even the most overwhelming empirical evidence is not sufficient, will get you vilified, branded a sexist and potentially lose your job.

> As I read it, that site does not rebut any of the claims of particlesforjustice.

While I don't agree this is true, if anything, the reason would be that, as I wrote before, there actually is nothing substantive in the particlesforjustice site that one could rebut. This is probably why justiceforstrumia had a digression on falsifiability etc.

To back up a bit, Strumia's presentation[1], was a reaction to the dominant narrative that the low representation of women in physics is due entirely due to horrific levels of sexism against women.

These are quotes from his intro slide:


“All women share the same kind of sad and unfair experiences since the be- ginning of their scientific career”. “Mansplaning. Gaslighting. White Male

Hetero Privilege. Sexual harassment at epidemic levels. Micro-aggressions”. Men mobilize their masculinity supporting ... men in ways that advance careers.

You don’t see? You have (unconscious) bias and steal credit to women. “Eval- uators tend to favour men”. “Scientific quality is a gender social construction”.

“Excellence is the current buzzword. Gender equality should achieve the same”. “I have a dream: that ... excellence in science is no more distorted and sweletred by gender stereotypes or creeping discrimination”. “Positive discrimination and gender mainstreaming”, “We have to help women at all levels ... to academic positions”, “programmes for women ... challenged in court for discrimination” [vs men]. “People and culture can be obstacles for change”.


So all he is trying to do is rebut these pretty horrific and vile accusations. Accusations that I am familiar with, they are pretty much the same ones levelled against men in tech. His counter-theory is that physics is not sexist or racist or nationalist but "open to good people from any background"

Given that starting point, we pretty much have to take "Strumia's thesis" as the default. That is, unless there is compelling evidence for the charge of sexism, we need to assume that it isn't sexism. This also means that he doesn't have to conclusively prove his point, it's enough to offer alternative explanations for the observed phenomena.

And he's pretty clear that that is what he is doing: he says explicitly that there are two explanations, one that it's all horrible sexism, the other that it isn't, and that he will present evidence that the second explanation is sufficient to explain the observations.

I never saw a claim that the first conclusion is impossible, just that the second explanation is sufficient, and therefore the first one unnecessary.

Which brings us back to particlesforjustice. As far as I can tell, all their points are, with minor variations, of the form: "but Strumia failed to take into account <some noun>, therefore his conclusion is invalid.

There are two main problems with this:

1. No argument that takes this form is relevant to his argument, which was not "I have conclusive and final proof that this is the reason and there can be no other", but rather "I have a simpler explanation that explains the observation".

So this alone would be sufficient to discount pretty much the whole particlesforjustice

2. The second problem is that they tend to not provide any evidence that <some noun> is actually true. Instead they assume that simply by stating <some noun>, one must accept that it is true. Essentially, they are doing exactly what Strumia criticised, which isn't surprising as that is how these things are handled.

One small example: "Without a thorough understanding of these processes, it is impossible to conclude anything about people’s innate abilities."

If it is impossible to make solid conclusions, how come we can conclude that it very definitely is sexism? Basically, they are making his argument for him, and apparently not even aware of it.

3. The third point is that what they claim as true simply isn't. That is, when things are concrete enough to be refutable, they can be and are refuted, easily. Some by the data that Strumia provided, some by justiceforstrumia.

The reason one has to even mention falsifiability is that the whole particlesforjustice piece is such a mess.

Coming back to your points that the particlesforjustice piece wasn't sufficiently rebutted: why do you hold justiceforstrumia to such a dramatically higher burden of proof than particlesforjustice?


[1] https://drive.google.com/file/d/1c_NyUhOZ8erdqU2AGZJZtNfFeA9...

He has some statistics?

Shark attacks increase in the summer and so do the sales of ice cream.

There has been a lot of discrimination so it might be a little early to look at the data.

Consider: The first women was admitted to Yale in 1966.

The woman who helped Einstein with the math for General Relativity couldn’t get a job at a university without some help.


In the UK, significantly more women study at university now than men [0][1] (not in Physics though). I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Prof Strumia, but simply pointing out that maybe we can agree we've come a long way, and that historial data or past injustices is not a good starting point for policymaking that will affect the bright minds of young uni students.

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/aug/28/university... [1] https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/11-01-2018/sfr247-higher-educati...

>and that historial data or past injustices is not a good starting point for policymaking that will affect the bright minds of young uni students.

given that one of Strumia's data points to bolster his argument was the citation rate of women vs the citation rate of men, this isn't an historical data point. There are significantly more senior physicists, with higher citation rates than women, simply because women until fairly recently had a low foothold in academia.

> one would think Physicists could easily debunk them if they were bogus

Done: "Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder cited papers addressing some of Strumia's conclusions and provided an alternative analysis, arguing that after accounting for disproportionately higher rates of women leaving the field the sex differences Strumia claims to have found become negligible."

The bbc reports that efforts to verify his data concludes that no, his conclusions are not backed up by real data. They even helpfully link to a page where one such critique is presented.

Hey now, you're not an expert in this field, so you should just keep your mouth shut and step to the back of the room and let "experts" tell you what to think.


Please do not take HN threads into ideological flamewar. This community is divided that way, just as society at large, and "Comments should get more civil and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive." (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html).

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19346228 and marked it off-topic.

> (what happened to developers having a libertarian streak?)

Developers and scientists are characterized by a search for the truth, and the truth is on the side of the SJWs and not the libertarians. There was a period of time when it seemed libertarianism might have been right, but it's passed. And though libertarianism is an appealing philosophy, it turns out facts don't care about your feelings.

'developers and scientists are characterized by a search for the truth' (whereas...). Selfless desire for truth from a superior caste, eh? Might be true of course (not in my experience which tells me that status and personal advantage always win out) but what evidence do you have for that?


Could you please not post in the flamewar style to Hacker News? Your comment starts off ok (edit: well, half ok—it's snarky, which also breaks the guidelines) but the orgy of name-calling and flamebait it ends with is just what the guidelines ask us all to avoid here.


You have a good point and it's vaguely discernible through the smoke, but good points don't matter when that level of provocation is also present. It quickly becomes the dominant variable, ruining thoughtful discussion.

Yes, I got a little carried away, the subject matter gets me frothing at the mouth a little :) I'll avoid the (admittedly rare) fiercely political submissions to HN in future!

> what I can't understand is why my white homies feel that it's up to them to speak up about racial/gender issues.

I don’t know what your “white homies” are saying (maybe they’re just immature dicks and that’s why you feel that way). But so long as they feel it’s important, are honestly and genuinely basing it on a good intention and with good reasoning, why shouldn’t they be allowed to be part of the conversation? This idea that only non-white people can talk about diversity, or only women or trans (etc.) should be able talk about gender is preposterous on the face of it.

Given the downvotes, I can only surmise that HN isn't really the place to discuss this sort of stuff, which is fair enough!

Anyway, thanks for responding thoughtfully and calmly. :)

> what I can't understand is why my white homies feel that it's up to them to speak up about racial/gender issues

Because they (I am non-white) are being affected by them? It doesn't seem unreasonable for people being asked to change their behavior and views to have a say in the discussion.

> Until then, please sit down, be quiet, and enjoy your abundance of privilege.

How do you reconcile this statement with your earlier statement that "I used to have white guilt but I've grown past that."?

Haha I totally misread that as “sexiest” scientist

That would certainly have made for a much more interesting article!

On one hand, in this political climate it's really stupid to say something like that. On the other, someone has to be the first person to say it.

(Not that I necessarily agree with what he said)

This wasn't an errant comment, it was a quite a lot of effort. I imagine he knew full well what the potential consequences were. Feels like a deliberate move.

You can't be "the first" and repeat something already stated by Darwin. It's called variability hypothesis and is a much discussed, with strong evidence I think, issue.

> On the other, someone has to be the first person to say it.

I don’t understand this point. Please could you expand on what you mean?

I mean, if you want to say something as controversial as that, and you decide to wait until more people say it first, you may have to wait a lifetime.

(Once again, I haven't looked at the data, so I don't necessarily agree with what he said.)

His evidence is based on predetermined assumptions. He does not even have the scientific background to even tackle this area of study. It's not even that he said something controversial. He made crude errors in his research that would have made a respectable sociologist laugh him out the door.

Citations needed: the subject requires basic statistics to make assertions on. Pretty sure he was qualified to do so.

Also pretty sure psychometric researchers say exactly what Strumia said as any fool with google or wikipedia could determine. His only crime is having the temerity to stand up to imbeciles who insist on conspiracy theories to explain the comparative lack of female achievement in physics.

What makes you claim his research has been reviewed? The article makes it sound like it was never peer reviewed and the people debunking it are doing so merely from his claims, not his methods and data.

The tale of The Emperor's New Clothes [1] would be appropriate.

In society in general we've decided to take as an assumption that everybody is identically capable in everything and thus that any and all differences must then be attributable to some form of discrimination, bias, or prejudice. And this is something that is pleasant to believe in large part because not believing it has led to dystopic outcomes in the past, including but not limited to government driven eugenics. So it's something that we want to believe. And also stating you do not believe it is a great way to have people judge you for some secret ist of some sort or another.

At the same time this view is contradicted by reality. In times past this reality would have been mostly just empirical, but in modern times we also have genetic and other factors strongly contradicting any notion of inherent equality. So what to do? In my opinion the most important thing here is to ensure as much equality of opportunity as reasonably possible. And this is an effort that should never relent. However, at the same time, it also has to be acknowledged that the lack of equality of result does not inherently mean there's a problem. Ultimately it's the typical problem. Trying to create utopia is often a great path to dystopia. Enforced equality of result for all is rather a key point in Brave New World.

Of course this does not mean that discrimination does not exist. But the standard for assumption of such needs to start growing beyond wild induction from dubious toy experiments, or from works that start with absolute equality as an assumption.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Clothes

"In society in general we've decided to take as an assumption that everybody is identically capable in everything and thus that any and all differences must then be attributable to some form of discrimination, bias, or prejudice."

This is false, as you partially admit later. The default assumption in society is that many groups are intellectually, morally, emotionally, and physically inferior. This assumption has been made in our society for hundreds of years. And it has led to many poor outcomes---not for the ones benefitting from the assumption, though.

The countervailing hypothesis, that everyone is "identically capable" until clearly demonstrated otherwise, is very recent and hardly universally accepted. And the idea that this hypothesis is "contradicted by reality" is also not clearly true, since the data is not unambiguous.

In other words, if you find that the fundamental research on which your scientific field is based was falsified, you don't start to clean up the mess by assuming the falsified results are true.

It's paradoxical as I do agree with you that this is a rather new ideology and is not widely accepted. Nonetheless, the view has a disproportionate hold on power. You're unlikely to face any consequence for suggesting outright false things that fit the ideology, but you can face extremely severe consequences for stating things, even well supported, that run against the ideals of the ideology.

However, I do not agree that the science is ambiguous here and I am very open to anything to the contrary. I can offer specific studies, but I'm fairly sure you'd agree that the more we reveal through genetic research, the greater a role it seems to play in practically everything. Yet there is the issue that many critical genetic factors are unevenly distributed and have very high rates of heritability. What gives reason to believe that it might be that people are "identically capable" in spite of this?

One final point I'd add is that in society power was traditionally not driven by assumption of power, but by power itself. Whichever group was able to prove itself smarter, more powerful, etc than another group had a tendency of imposing its will on the 'weaker' group. Power was rarely given, but often taken. This trend only came to a rapid freeze since the birth of nuclear weapons which have rather revolutionized the notion of power. In a world without nuclear weapons we would not have this unsteady "balance" of power between Europe, China, Mideast, US, and each of their respective allies.

> In my opinion the most important thing here is to ensure as much equality of opportunity as reasonably possible. And this is an effort that should never relent.

Cool, so you agree that a scientist who attacks his colleagues imperils equality of opportunity, then?

Well intentioned ideologies do not inherently produce a non-negative outcome. Negative outcomes are very much a possibility, particularly when views are flawed. And so at some point any ideology that is not extremely well supported by data should be challenged, even if that ideology is the nicest most well intentioned one in the world. Google's recent pay study is one little microcosm that demonstrates this. Under fire for the widely perceived belief that females are underpaid for doing the same work as males, Google engaged in substantial data crunching and analysis to correct any inequities. It turns out they were underpaying their male employees.

Why might this be? We already answered this. There is a widely held belief that females are underpaid for doing the same work as males. This may be true in some instances, but it's certainly nothing like a universal truth. But you can see even on these forums that many Google employees do treat it as something approaching a universal truth, many even refusing to belief it was false following Google's analyses. And so when a manager has discretionary funds to distribute, whom is he going to prefer? People, generally, want to do the right thing. And so in the pursuit of equality, you end up creating inequality. These sort of paradoxical outcomes are not uncommon.

Declaring that a view is not well supported by evidence, even when that view is nice, is not 'attacking'.

I don't think you responded to anything I said. From the article: "He also showed cartoons deriding women campaigning for equality in science"

Doesn't that impair equality of opportunity?

I was stating that stating 'good things' are wrong, when there is reason to believe they are, is not then "attacking" those things. As for the cartoon, when the media references something without showing it it's often wise to check it out for yourself. You'll find their description is often horribly biased. Here [1] are his slides, in full.

The cartoon "deriding women campaigning for equality in science" is 5th from the bottom. It shows women at a 'major/career fair' choosing to join gender studies instead of STEM fields. It then shows those same individuals later complaining about a lack of women in STEM. I would not consider this in any way whatsoever impairing equality of opportunity. Far from it, it demonstrates an extremely important point about utilizing the opportunities that you have.

The only other cartoon he had was of one woman telling another who was bringing in a volcano to a science fair that "science is male dominated! they'll never accept you, you'll be harassed!" The slide then asks whether the purpose of this rhetoric is to get more women into STEM or to try to indoctrinate individuals into an ideology.

[1] - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1c_NyUhOZ8erdqU2AGZJZtNfFeA9...

BTW, this is factually incorrect:

> Under fire for the widely perceived belief that females are underpaid for doing the same work as males, Google engaged in substantial data crunching and analysis to correct any inequities. It turns out they were underpaying their male employees.

I encourage you to reread the Google post.

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