Alessandro Strumia, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Pisa, gave a lecture at a seminar on high-energy physics and gender at CERN, Geneva. Shortly thereafter it was announced that Mr. Strumia was suspended from all his functions at CERN. What did Mr. Strumia show and say on his 26 slides?
Well, so many people in the vastness of the Internet appeared to know a lot about it and had already formed strong opinions. I also wanted to do that, but unfortunately I could not find the slides anywhere on the CERN websites; in fact, they were deleted. In order not to be dependent on circulating fragments second or seventh hand, mixed with a lot of emotions from the Internet, I have asked Mr. Strumia by e-mail to kindly send me his slides. Within one minute(!) he replied and told me that I can find the slides attached to a blog post from well-known blogger Luboš Motl on the subject. So I went through the slides and found them really interesting; definitely there is a lot of stuff we should talk about, ideally all together as a (scientific) community.
However, this post is limited to one important question: what does it say about academia to suspend a researcher because of a talk he gave? Let’s just assume the arguments and examples he discussed were poor, crude, flawed, wrong, whatever. It should be easy to argument against those. However, among all the reactions to the incidence I found online, there wasn’t a single one that actually dealt with the content of his talk. OK, so let’s assume the opposite: he has a point in what he says and the data he showed is sound. In this case his suspension would be even more worrying and a measure that cannot possibly be favored by anyone who is ready to really delve into gender issues in science and discuss them openly.
However, I seem to be the only person in my Internet bubble who wouldn’t mind to be a part of this discourse. The fact that so many people congratulate the decision makers at CERN on this suspension causes irritation. It raises suspicion that some people out there are afraid of an open argument on the subject. Instead, for questions about gender in science, only a certain range of opinions seems to be allowed outside of which presumably Mr. Strumia has moved. With no more than expressing my consternation about this decision, I am probably also breaking the mainstreamed code of conduct in academia but hey, what the heck!
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it", Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in the beginning of the last century. At the moment we seem to be as far away from that ideal as we haven't been for a long time.
Note 1: I do not know Alessandro Strumia; had never heard of him until yesterday. I have no personal interest (and no intention) to protect him.
Note 2: I express my purely personal opinion, and no institution with which I am associated need to identify with it.
Note 3: I included a link to Luboš Motl's because you can find Strumia's slides there and not because I generally agree with his views. In fact, I have the feeling he is a little bit, ahm, bitter.