When I was a teenager (or younger?) I had already read that there are brain differences between men and women. Unfortunately, having spent nearly 2 decades in the US, the information I received regarding gender differences was often muddled; and only later on I began to realize, this was probably due to ideology on the Left. I wish to report that this unscientific behavior can be found throughout Physics and Astrophysics, driven by Leftist politics and radical feminism. That the noble demand for equal rights for men and women does not imply nor require that the genders have to be the same in every aspect — this is clearly not properly appreciated by many in Academia. Unfortunately, much of the hypersensitivity to gender issues is driven by the unfounded desire to see equal representation of women and men in physics, instead of allowing them free rein to choose their careers and judging people purely by merit, as the Scientific Method requires.
Recently, particle theorist Alessandro Strumia gave a talk at CERN’s 1st Workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender. The main thrust of his talk was to challenge the mainstream narrative that High Energy Theoretical Physics has much fewer women than men because of rampant discrimination. He points out there are more women than men in say Education while the reverse is true in STEM fields; and, the more egalitarian a society appears to be, the greater the difference in gender differences when it comes to career choices; moreover, this is consistent with men preferring “things” and women “people”. A glance at his slides would tell you he did some serious analysis/number crunching using bibliometric data collected from the High Energy search engine INSPIRE. I’m not able to independently verify the chronology of events, but there was outrage on social media regarding his talk; even press coverage; and his talk slides/videos were officially censored and the physicist himself was suspended from CERN itself — see CERN’s press release. (Soon after, Strumia’s funding agency, the European Research Council, as well as his home institute University of Pisa, both initiated an investigation against him.) At the end of his slides, Strumia said
PS: many told me “don’t speak, it’s dangerous”. As a student, I wrote that weak-scale SUSY is not right, and I survived. Hope to see you again.
The closest I could find to a justification of such a drastic action of suspension — I’ve been fired once and nearly fired another time over the course of my own 14-year post-Bachelor’s degree academic career, both times without good reasons, so I know full well how that feels like! — is Strumia’s slide 15, where he compared his citation counts with the female Comissar (as I understood it, who was also the organizer of the conference) and another female physicist whom CERN had recently hired, whereas Strumia himself was not offered the same job. This was apparently construed as “attacks on individuals,” which in turn breached CERN’s Code of Conduct. (If there are any misunderstandings on my part, I’d like to hear it; it’s difficult to decipher precisely what happened using information gleaned from the news media and the outrage-driven social media.) However, Strumia’s slide 15 clearly shows, with links to the INSPIRE database so the reader may readily verify the facts for herself, that he did in fact have an order of magnitude more citations than both women: his 30K versus the women’s 2-3K.
Now, I’m just as sensitive as the next human being, and I do consider such a manner of communication to be a rather blunt one. But the scientific ethos requires that, whenever presented with actual evidence, we should address it head on, and not let our personal offense get the better of us as scientists. Namely, “Why wasn’t Strumia hired when he had ten times more citations than the women?” appears to be a legitimate scientific question here. (On the other hand, I was told there were other hires Strumia omitted, and if so I wish he had put everyone on the list for comparison.) Furthermore, observe that was not even the only point on slide 15: he went on to show, of the CERN fellows present, the males had more citations, research papers and years of experience. To suspend him due to the top half of one slide out of 26; to quickly censor his videos such that concerned members of the scientific community (such as I) and of the public cannot independently ascertain what he expressed verbally; and to coat the press release with platitudes regarding “diversity” — altogether does not bode well for the scientific integrity of the particle physics laboratory on our Planet, when it comes to gender issues. The only physicists I am aware of who have actually tried to re-analyze Strumia (and Torre)’s work is Sabine Hossenfelder and her graduate student Tobias Mistele (though using arXiv data, not INSPIRE ones); I believe that is the only true way to respond constructively to the dialog. The rest, I’m afraid, has merely contributed to the Social Justice Warrior far Left Wing I-am-fuming-mad-and-I-need-no-justification culture that infests much of Western Academia these days. If you have been following the news for the past decade or so, Strumia is only but one of many academics/scientists who have been mobbed due to their non-politically-correct views.
I do not think it is unreasonable to postulate, all subsequent High Energy Theory and Gender workshops at CERN — recall that was the first! — will be saturated with talks that will dutifully tow the “women are oppressed/discriminated against” line. This is what such a harsh treatment of Strumia would produce. As scientists, we really need to do some self-examination and ask: is this the scientific outcome we wish to see if truth and intellectual integrity are to prevail? I’m sure it is possible to find sexist individuals, but if calling into question the mainstream narrative of systemic discrimination against women in STEM disciplines is considered taboo, then we have lost our way as scientists.
To be able to think critically through any important issue — particularly complicated and sensitive ones such as gender differences — it is paramount that one is able to hear from and debate against a broad range of views. This way, their relative strengths and weaknesses may be weighed and rational responsible thinkers could propose ideas based on the best available information at hand. This is why freedom of speech is fundamental to any serious democracy. Specifically, it is precisely to allow for contrarian views — popular ones don’t fear backlash from public and/or government persecution! — that is why liberal Western democracies, of which the US is a prime example, provides legal protection for the freedom of expression. (The US Constitution has enshrined this right within its First Amendment.) However, this freedom of expression should not be mere government law. Every one of us is responsible for upholding the right atmosphere within the organizations/societies we belong to, if we wish for there to be an uninhibited exchange of ideas, in order to approach the truth as closely as possible. I want to put on the record, this was why I was motivated to sign the following petition I found online:
CERN: Return Prof. Strumia to office!
Petition to Fabiola Gianotti, Director General CERN, Geneva
Professor Alessandro Strumia, CERN, spoke on Friday 28th September 2018 at a workshop in Geneva on gender and high energy physics. In his presentation he provided evidence for employment policies in physics that were discriminatory toward men and data supporting his opinion that women were given advantages in the academic world purely on the basis of their gender.
As a result, Professor Strumia was suspended with immediate effect by CERN on the grounds that his remarks were antithetical to its code of conduct and to its values.
There can be no free research and freedom of expression if any person must live in fear of existential threat simply for expressing his or her opinion.
Quite independently of the truth of Professor Sturmia‘s statements, none of them can be construed as defamatory, insulting or discriminatory. The opinion he expresses has been expressed many times in multiple research papers and by many other men and women of professional standing.
We cannot and will not tolerate opinions being censored simply because they are in contradiction with mainstream opinion. To do so would be to encourage a totalitarian trend our democracy should not allow.
As an example of political bias in Academia, the particlesforjustice letter — which even contains a thinly veiled threat to destroy Strumia — was posted on the Facebook group Astronomers, whose members are primarily professional astronomers / astrophysicists / physicists. This passed moderation despite the explicit rule that political and non-scientific postings are prohibited. While commenting against the letter, I was challenged to set up my own petition. Even though I did not do so, I did find the above petition and decided to post it in response — the commentary was later shut down by one of the moderators simply because the petition “did not originate in the scientific community and is not appropriate for this forum”. My private messages to the moderators have thus far not been replied to. Ironically, soon after that, someone posted a link to the selection committee for the Breakthrough and New Horizons Prize in Fundamental Physics — and, instead of celebrating the breadth and depth of the scientific expertise assembled — outrage ensued regarding the lack of women on the panel. Of course, no moderation whatsoever was imposed, despite the highly political and un-scientific nature of the discussion.
Update 19 November 2018: I found a very careful article written by a high energy physicist debunking many of the points raised by the particlesforjustice “Community” letter I linked to above. It speaks to the sad state of affairs in the Physics and Astrophysics communities that the author felt the need to remain anonymous.
Update 4 December 2018: There is now another article rebutting the particlesforjustice letter.
Yet another “gender bias” article (this time from Nature) was posted on the Facebook group Astronomers, and I tried to challenge the mainstream gender ideology narrative. This got me banned from the group permanently. An old classmate of mine from graduate school wrote to me to tell me she has unfriended me on Facebook because my comments were “problematic”.
Update 8 March 2019: Strumia has been ousted from CERN; see the updated press release here. (Strumia’s home institute, the University of Pisa, has also issued a public sanction against him here.) I wonder how many people (and their families) funded by Strumia’s ERC grant are going to be affected by this action?
Update 15 March 2019: From Strumia himself — see here.
Update 14 April 2019: Someone has now put together the audio and the slides of Strumia’s talk here.
Update 4 November 2019: According to Science News, Strumia’s bibliometric analysis will be published in the Quantitative Science Studies (QSS) journal. (I find the Science News article a tad misleading; see here.) As I understand it, the arXiv actually banned Strumia from posting his pre-print there, so he had to post it on vixra.org instead.
Is Strumia a crackpot when it comes to the science of gender discrimination in STEM fields? Is there the slightest possibility that men could be discriminated against in STEM disciplines such as High Energy Theory? (Update: In a subsequent interview Strumia had on the Saad Truth youtube channel, he said he did not think men were discriminated against. IMHO, I think he was being generous — if further studies corroborate his findings that women are shown preference in faculty-level hiring, does it not stand to reason that men are therefore discriminated against, for a fixed number of available jobs?) That his science is horrendous has been asserted repeatedly in the above letter and throughout social media. I cannot speak to the detailed analysis he had done; but I have been aware, since a few years ago and also cited by Strumia in his slides, that Williams and Ceci (faculty at the Department of Human Development, Cornell University) had found a preference for hiring women over men at the tenure-track level. In their youtube video, they also debunked the mainstream claim there is a ton of evidence to support discrimination against women — at least when it came to hiring them as professors.
“… We were really quite shocked, in poring over this literature — it took us many months to digest it all — how little evidence there was. And in fact, there was no experimental evidence. There were experiments, many of them, showing sex biases in hiring, but not of professors, not of tenure-track professors. … [After Wendy M. Williams spoke.] … But there actually was a lot of actuarial evidence that actually went opposite to the bias claims. By that I mean, there were a lot of very large scale studies that looked at who got hired. And these studies — again going back to the mid 1980’s — showed that, over and over again, women were hired at a higher rate than their fraction of the applicant pool. So women were less likely to apply for jobs in math intensive areas, but if they did apply they were more likely to be interviewed and more likely to be hired. … ” — Stephen J. Ceci
One thing I wish they had done was to include physics and/or astrophysics in their analysis. (Of all the “math intensive” groups they analyzed, only male economists were gender neutral.)
Update: See also here.
My own sense is that my fellow scientists really need to take a hard look at the planks in their own eyes and recognize they are — whether consciously or not — taking part in science denial themselves, despite often ridiculing the Right for climate-science denial. Evolutionary forces have shaped how the genders metamorphosed throughout humanity’s existence, due to the different roles they have played for the majority of that duration; and, hence, it would be shocking if men and women were truly identical. I urge the open minded amongst my fellow scientists: please, educate yourselves a tad. (That includes myself, of course — I am no expert in evolutionary biology.) In particular, women and men on average have different interests, life priorities; and therefore make distinct career choices. There really is no good reason to expect a 1:1 ratio in women to men in various careers, such as Physics versus Nursing, and to force it so would in fact necessarily involve discrimination.*
Fortunately, for the busy/lazy physicist / astrophysicist / astronomer out there, there are now plenty of readily accessible youtube videos discussing gender differences known to science, from the experts themselves. (If readers wish to contribute more links, please do post them in the comments section below.)
Let’s begin with the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, who wrote the book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Here, Pinker tells us men tend to “chase status at the expense of family” whereas women tend to value family over career. Women gravitate towards “people-oriented” careers whereas men towards “things-oriented” ones — even at the PhD level, more women are pursuing degrees in Education than in Physics, say; even though the total number women pursuing higher education has been growing significantly over the past decades.** Men tend to be the risk-taking ones. Men are better at three dimensional mental rotations, spatial perception and visualization. “Women are better at mathematical calculation” and “men score better on mathematical word problems and tests of mathematical reasoning”. Pinker goes on to explain why there are good reasons to believe many of these sex differences are biological; i.e., they cannot be accounted for solely due to “socialization”. There are large differences in exposure to sex hormones starting prenatally; and small differences in size, density, cortical asymmetry, hypothalamic nuclei of men versus women’s brains. Gender differences in personality transcends “ages, years of data collection, education levels, and nations”. Many of these gender differences has not changed with time; are also seen in other animals; and in fact emerge in early childhood. He even spoke about cases where boys without penises (due to accident or otherwise) and who were brought up as girls, still ended up exhibiting male typical behavior. He also advertises other popular level books like his, that explains the scientific evidence for the biological factors behind gender differences. Steven Pinker can also be found speaking with Dave Rubin here and here about related issues.
Debra Soh, who has a PhD in neuroscience, has been discussing how far Left politics has made discussing the science of transgendered people very difficult, even within academia. Here, here, and here (among other similarly humor-tinged clips) she explains that exposure to testosterone before birth (i.e., “prenatal exposure”) have serious impacts on why the different genders develop different interests. Higher levels lead to “male-typical activities” such as mechanical stuff; whereas lower levels are associated with “socially-engaging” ones. Women are higher in agreeableness and neuroticism, and lower in stress tolerance. (“Neuroticism is simply a technical term for someone’s likelihood to experience negative moods,” according to Soh.) Rates of depression are higher in women. Testosterone is related to greater risk-taking by men. When it comes to brain structure, certain portions are larger in men than in women; there are more front-to-back connections in men’s brains but more left-to-right-hemisphere connections in women’s brains. She goes on to femsplain why James Damore (who was fired by Google for his now infamous memo regarding his reading of what the scientific literature says about gender differences) in fact got his facts/scientific literature right.
Gad Saad, who founded the field of evolutionary psychology applied to marketing and consumer behavior, runs a youtube channel to counter what he likes to call the “tsunami of lunacy crashing against the shores of reason” — i.e., politically correct culture that has become so illiberal and irrational — can be found speaking about gender differences, for instance, here, here, and here.
Heterodox academy, which was founded by NYU psychologist Jonathan Haidt and others, in an effort to counter the strong left wing illiberal culture of Western academia, contains a page on the abovementioned “Google memo”. They performed a literature review to examine how robust Damore’s claims were. Towards the end of this page,
In conclusion, based on the meta-analyses we reviewed and the research on the Greater Male Variability Hypothesis, Damore is correct that there are “population level differences in distributions” of traits that are likely to be relevant for understanding gender gaps at Google and other tech firms. The differences are much larger and more consistent for traits related to interest and enjoyment, rather than ability. This distinction between interest and ability is important because it may address one of the main fears raised by Damore’s critics: that the memo itself will cause Google employees to assume that women are less qualified, or less “suited” for tech jobs, and will therefore lead to more bias against women in tech jobs. But the empirical evidence we have reviewed should have the opposite effect. Population differences in interest and population differences in variability of abilities may help explain why there are fewer women in the applicant pool, but the women who choose to enter the pool are just as capable as the larger number of men in the pool. This conclusion does not deny that various forms of bias, harassment, and discouragement exist and may contribute to outcome disparities, nor does it imply that the differences in interest are biologically fixed and cannot be changed in future generations.
If our three conclusions are correct then Damore was drawing attention to empirical findings that seem to have been previously unknown or ignored at Google, and which might be helpful to the company as it tries to improve its diversity policies and outcomes.
See supplement to the above Heterodox Academy article.
There was also a Quillette article written by 4 scientists — Jussim, Schmitt, Miller, and Soh — on James Damore’s “Google Memo”.
David Geary has a blog post titled “Straight Talk About Sex Differences in Occupational Choices and Work-Family Tradeoffs“.
Ellis et al.: there is an entire book — Sex Differences: Summarizing More than a Century of Scientific Research.
Halpern et al., “The Science of Sex Differences in Science and Mathematics“:
Amid ongoing public speculation about the reasons for sex differences in careers in science and mathematics, we present a consensus statement that is based on the best available scientific evidence. Sex differences in science and math achievement and ability are smaller for the mid-range of the abilities distribution than they are for those with the highest levels of achievement and ability. Males are more variable on most measures of quantitative and visuospatial ability, which necessarily results in more males at both high- and low-ability extremes; the reasons why males are often more variable remain elusive. Successful careers in math and science require many types of cognitive abilities. Females tend to excel in verbal abilities, with large differences between females and males found when assessments include writing samples. High-level achievement in science and math requires the ability to communicate effectively and comprehend abstract ideas, so the female advantage in writing should be helpful in all academic domains. Males outperform females on most measures of visuospatial abilities, which have been implicated as contributing to sex differences on standardized exams in mathematics and science. An evolutionary account of sex differences in mathematics and science supports the conclusion that, although sex differences in math and science performance have not directly evolved, they could be indirectly related to differences in interests and specific brain and cognitive systems. We review the brain basis for sex differences in science and mathematics, describe consistent effects, and identify numerous possible correlates. Experience alters brain structures and functioning, so causal statements about brain differences and success in math and science are circular. A wide range of sociocultural forces contribute to sex differences in mathematics and science achievement and ability—including the effects of family, neighborhood, peer, and school influences; training and experience; and cultural practices. We conclude that early experience, biological factors, educational policy, and cultural context affect the number of women and men who pursue advanced study in science and math and that these effects add and interact in complex ways. There are no single or simple answers to the complex questions about sex differences in science and mathematics.
Su, Rounds and Armstrong, “Men and things, women and people: a meta-analysis of sex differences in interests.” Psychol Bull. 2009 Nov;135(6):859-884. doi: 10.1037/a0017364.
Let me close with the following two examples which I find illustrative of the current far-Left Wing culture within the West and its Academy.
Physics postdoc Jess Wade’s Twitter post and her New Scientist article have both compared Strumia’s talk to the memo Damore put out, as if that would decisively rule out any credibility in Strumia’s presentation. For instance, in her New Scientist article, she states:
Unlike my talk, backed by evidence, he [Strumia] cited a bunch of poorly thought out gender science from right-wing thinkers. These included James Damore, who was fired from Google last year for holding similar views.
Is using bibliometric data from INSPIRE slide after slide the same as citing “a bunch of poorly thought out gender science from right-wing thinkers”? More importantly, why did she grossly misrepresent Strumia’s talk as “un-backed by evidence”? In her Twitter thread, Jess Wade was challenged on whether she had read Damore’s memo, but as of this writing I could not find any substantive response from her end. I’m sorry to state, it is quite clear who is being ideologically driven — and it is not Strumia nor Damore, as far as I can tell. And, given the current climate, it is also highly unlikely for her to face any serious push back from other physicists. (Update: Wade appeared in Nature’s 10 as a “Diversity Champion”. In the article she openly misrepresented Strumia’s position, asserting that he was “telling a room of mainly young woman scientists that they’d only ever achieve success in physics due to affirmative action”. Nature then highlighted her criticizing him on Twitter, and in the same breath went on to state Strumia “has been suspended from his work with CERN while an investigation is ongoing”.)
Another example comes from no less than the former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. At an event at Kenyon College, Dean misrepresented not only the awful conduct of Yale students towards faculty Nicholas and Erika Christakis; but also what James Damore said about women in STEM careers. I was glad to see both Steven Pinker and Heather Mac Donald pushing back with the relevant facts; but as far as I could tell, Dean was simply unwilling to concede his serious errors.
The lack of intellectual integrity and honesty exhibited by the Left when it comes to gender issues is precisely the evidence for its commitment to ideology. From the outrage mob that quickly followed the news of Strumia’s talk, it is clear the strongly illiberal tendencies of the far Left has infiltrated Physics / Astrophysics.
The illiberal, irrational, gender-science-denying and identity politics obsessed character of the Left Wing, which Western Academia firmly belongs, form the key impetus behind why I no longer wish to consider myself part of it.
* I believe the Scientific Method requires that, if we are interested in attracting the most competent and creative scientific minds, people should be judged based solely on merit — for e.g., their past accomplishments. I’m afraid I do find a lot of these academic “diversity” initiatives to be primarily identity politics driven, and not merit driven. If we are genuinely keen in “diversity” we should be investing in thought diversity.