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A British Gentleman


I am a fan of many things, particularly the fine works of Sir Terry Pratchett (may he rest in peace). After spending a long time lurking, I have elected to create an account.

More Blog Posts74

  • 205 weeks
    Too Funny Not to Share

    Good evening, my fine ladies and gentlemen. I may be a touch late with this, but I feel it's too good to pass up on. Behold, fanfic, as written by predictive text:

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    6 comments · 587 views
  • 279 weeks
    [Non Pony] Purest Snake Oil

    Good evening, my good ladies and gentlemen. I hope to find you alive, well and, preferably, tipsy.

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    I Really Hope That This Guy is a Troll

    Good morning, my good ladies and gentlemen, and a Merry Christmas to all.

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  • 287 weeks
    Excelsior, Stan Lee. You Will be Greatly Missed

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  • 293 weeks
    [Non-Pony] CERN Controversy: An Impartial Scientist's Perspective

    Greetings my good ladies and gentlemen. I hope to find you well.

    For the benefit of anyone who hasn't been following the news on the matter, an Italian physics professor, Alessandro Strumia, was invited to participate in a workshop on gender in physics by Cern, with an audience largely composed of young, early career (Ph.D students and Postdocs) female physicists.

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    9 comments · 676 views
Oct
3rd
2018

[Non-Pony] CERN Controversy: An Impartial Scientist's Perspective · 8:57pm Oct 3rd, 2018

Greetings my good ladies and gentlemen. I hope to find you well.

For the benefit of anyone who hasn't been following the news on the matter, an Italian physics professor, Alessandro Strumia, was invited to participate in a workshop on gender in physics by Cern, with an audience largely composed of young, early career (Ph.D students and Postdocs) female physicists.

He did not, to put it mildly, show great wisdom in assembling his presentation.

To quote the BBC:

A senior scientist has given what has been described as a "highly offensive" presentation about the role of women in physics, the BBC has learned.

At a workshop organised by Cern, Prof Alessandro Strumia of Pisa University said that "physics was invented and built by men, it's not by invitation".

He said male scientists were being discriminated against because of ideology rather than merit.

He was speaking at a workshop in Geneva on gender and high energy physics.

Prof Strumia has since defended his comments, saying he was only presenting the facts.

Cern, the European nuclear research centre, described Prof Strumia's presentation as "highly offensive".

The centre, which discovered the Higgs Boson in 2012, has removed slides used in the talk from its website "in line with a code of conduct that does not tolerate personal attacks and insults".

Prof Strumia, who regularly works at Cern, presented the results of a study of published research papers from an online library.

He told his audience of young, predominantly female physicists that his results "proved" that "physics is not sexist against women. However the truth does not matter, because it is part of a political battle coming from outside".

He 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.

Prof Strumia pointed to behavioural research which he suggested may account for the disparity.

One study, he told his audience, indicated that "men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people" and another, he claimed, suggested that there was a "difference even in children before any social influence".

Prof Strumia said that these conclusions may "not be fully right... (but) the opposite assumption of identical brains is ideology".

As evidence of discrimination against male researchers, Prof Strumia claimed that "Oxford University extends exam times for women's benefit" and "Italy offers free or cheaper university for female (research) students". He also said that he himself was overlooked for a job that he was more qualified for, which was given to a woman.

Dr Jessica Wade, a physicist at Imperial College London who was at the meeting, told BBC News that Prof Strumia's analysis was simplistic, drawing on ideas that had "long been discredited".

"It was really upsetting to those at the workshop," she said.

"There were young women and men exchanging ideas and their experiences on how to encourage more women into the subject and to combat discrimination in their careers. Then this man gets up, saying all this horrible stuff."

She added: "I don't understand how such a forward thinking organisation like Cern, which does so much to promote diversity in research, could have invited him to speak to young people just starting off in their research careers when his ideas are so well known."

In a statement, Cern - which currently has its first ever woman director-general - said that the organisers were not aware of the content of the talk prior to the workshop.

"Cern is a culturally diverse organisation bringing together people from dozens of nationalities. It is a place where everyone is welcome, and all have the same opportunities, regardless of ethnicity, beliefs, gender or sexual orientation," it said.

A Cern spokesman confirmed that there was a video recording of the presentation. Senior managers would decide whether to release part or all of it, it said.

When the BBC contacted Prof Strumia he said: "People say that physics is sexist, physics is racist. I made some simple checks and discovered that it wasn't, that it was becoming sexist against men and said so."

Last month, Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell told the BBC she believed that unconscious bias against women prevented them from getting jobs in physics research.

In 2015, Nobel laureate Prof Tim Hunt resigned from his position at University College London after telling an audience of young female scientists at a conference in South Korea that the "trouble with girls" in labs was that "when you criticise them they cry".

Original article here.

Prof. Strumia has since been suspended by Cern. Which is as should be, because good lord, was this ever stupid. I mean really, really fucking dumb.

To begin with, let's set aside science and consider this from a social perspective. Imagine the scenario: you're invited by Cern, a supremely prestigious institution, to participate in a workshop on gender in physics. You know your audience is going to be mostly young and female.

What do you do?

What I, and I suspect many people, would do, is do some reading on historically important female physicists and their discoveries, pick one, and prepare a presentation on her work, the science behind it, and why it's important. I'd then close off by pointing out that science is gender neutral and that we need to encourage more women to take up physics. Statistics and some audience participation would be the order of the day here.

This is what the audience, and Cern, will have expected. Even if you're too much of a dick to care about your young audience, you would at least know it's important to keep Cern happy.

What Prof. Strumia did was to give a presentation titled: "Physics was invented and built by men, it's not by invitation", in which he presented the thesis that men are overrepresented in physics because they're cleverer and better, women are dumb, and that it's men who are the real victims here.

That last part, Prof. Strumia concludes, is a consequence, in part, of efforts to encourage more women to take up physics.

To finish, Prof. Strumia brings up the fact that a female colleague was promoted ahead of him, despite his higher number of citations, by way of evidence for his conclusions.

Needless to say, this went down like a fart in an elevator, both with his audience and with Cern.

Let's move on to science.

First, my own qualifications to speak about stuff. For the benefit of anyone who doesn't know, I myself am a scientist, specifically an organic chemist. I have a first class masters degree in chemistry, and I did my Ph.D in organic chemistry, studying the synthesis and chemistry of iodonium salts. I presently work as a principal research scientist, for a firm specialising in the synthesis of very high purity experimental dichroic dyes, for use in electronics.

I have given presentations of my research at academic symposiums. I am highly qualified to speak on the topic of organic chemistry.

Do you know what I'm not at all qualified to speak on?

Sociology.

And that, from a strictly scientific point of view, is where Prof. Strumia went wrong.

Science, by it's nature, tends to force specialization: we start with science classes, then chemistry classes, then organic chemistry classes. By the time someone's a professor, their area of expertise will be a branch of a branch of a branch of science. Omnidisciplinary scientists are not really a thing in this day and age, outside of fiction.

Prof. Strumia is by any sensible measure an expert in physics. In other branches of science, he is a layman. Possibly a very informed layman, depending on his interests, but a layman nonetheless.

His presentation, as well as being very ill advised from a social, career and political standpoint, amounted to a very poor and ill informed sociology lecture. Speaking as someone who has given presentations, taught people how to give presentations, and marked the bloody things, his slides, available here, are garbage.

His slides are text heavy, cluttered and feature lazy, grammatically poor English. He squishes several graphs to a slide, in a way which makes them much harder to follow than they need to be. It's lazy, rushed and begrudging, the work of someone who spent the minimum amount of time on it possible.

Particularly telling is this quote:

Usually we don't care physicists are not destributed uniformly. But now we have gender conferences.

We should care. Women and girls make up fifty percent of the population; that's an awful lot of potential geniuses not doing physics. Which was the whole point of this workshop!

We also get this:

This is a meme. It was in his actual presentation. At Cern. I am not making this up. It's the sort of thing I would expect to see in an openly misogynistic manosphere blog, not in a presentation given at Cern, in a gender in physics workshop, by an actual academic! One does not generally see alt right manosphere memes at physics symposiums!

As for the meat of his lecture, based on his slides, Prof. Strumia mostly confirms that yep, definitely not a sociologist.

He presents simplistic and self serving interpretations of complex situations, and, despite protesting any politics in science, hypocritically indulges in the same himself. This guy does a good job of debunking some of it. Additionally, to quote Live Science:

graduates have top IQ," he wrote. "It's needed."

He pointed to a study that suggests that while men and women have similar average IQs, men vary more, with very slightly more men at the low and high ends of the spectrum. This is the truth behind gender differences in physics, he argued. And efforts to bring gender balance to physics are the result of "cultural Marxism" and politicians "promoting a victimocracy" and "ideology" ignoring "blind human biology," he added.

To state IQ as the be all and end all in science is plain nonsense. Yes, you have to be very bright and very good at maths if you want to get a Ph.D in physics. That's not really disputed. But to be frank, there are no shortage of very bright, mathematically inclined women in the world.

Also to be frank, breakthroughs in science generally owe far more to bloody-minded persistence and dumb good luck than many scientists are prepared to admit. There's certainly a hell of a lot more to it than raw brain power.

To conclude all this, Prof. Strumia is fractally wrong, and makes an utter fool of himself proving it.


Just a quick update on myself. As people may have noticed, I've not been active recently. This has been in large part due to poor health: I suffer from asthma, and have been in particularly poor health for most of the summer, in part due to the weather and in part due to chest infections. This has left me with little energy for much of anything.

I am in much better health now, however, and will soon be writing a couple of long overdue reviews.

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Comments ( 9 )

:facehoof: Fractally wrong is right. Expertise is non-commutative; just because you have a degree doesn't make you omniscient, nor does it make your grudge over getting snubbed for a position something you should vent in a presentation.

I think the "female colleague got promoted over him" bit explains everything.

Hap
Hap #3 · Oct 3rd, 2018 · · ·

I am highly qualified to speak on the topic of organic chemistry.

Do you know what I'm not at all qualified to speak on?

Sociology.

And that, from a strictly scientific point of view, is where Prof. Strumia went wrong.

This here is the distilled truth of this entire blog post.

I'm a professor. I teach physics and engineering. My dissertation was on the chemical kinetics of a very narrow type of fuel cell.

But you know what I'm an expert at? Teaching.

That's my field, now. I teach, and I help my colleagues become better teachers. I'm not qualified to speak on sociology any more than Dr. Strumia.

I'm still going to, though :raritywink:

I don't get a lot of female engineering students, about 5-10% of our engineering program. Most of the ones I get drop out of the program at about 3x the rate at which male students do. I could pull up the exact numbers since I'm the division chair and I have access to all that data, but I've seen it recently enough I don't think I need to.

I'd like to think that our program and our college is free of bias against women... But I know some of the older faculty and staff (men and women) still use phrases like "calculus is what separates the men from the boys!" It reminds me of a story my mother told me. When she was in sixth grade, her math teacher pulled her aside and told her that, even though she had a better than 90% in the class, she was going to get a B for the year because "it's not right for a girl to have an A in math."

I don't want that to ever be something that a young woman in my college ever has to deal with. Things are improving, but we have a long ways to go.

I will admit, though, that the biggest reason for the gender gap is that women just aren't interested in STEM fields (proportionally, compared to men).

But I think that comes from how the children are raised. There are social expectations, even before they become toddlers. The same social expectations that prevent young men from talking about (or even recognizing) their feelings, or expressing nonsexual affection with friends. The same social expectations that make folks give a funny look to a little girl if she plays with toy dump trucks and excavators, or judge a boy if he plays with dolls. Boys and girls will choose dolls equally until they're socialized out of it. They will choose Tonka trucks equally until they're socialized out of it. The boy's chores include taking out the trash, and the girl's chores include... making the beds? Even her brother's bed?

Little kids learn more from these things than we think they do. They pick up on subtle looks of disapproval when they pick out a toy or a book about science.

No, the children being raised today will get to college, and the girls will still largely choose to avoid STEM fields. I buy my nine-year-old nieces books about science. I buy them a bushcraft kit with a mora knife and a flint, so they can make a snare and start a fire in the woods. I teach them kickboxing and science. One still wants to be a fashion designer, and one wants to be a stay-at-home-mom. I don't believe either of them wants those things, but they think they do because they're told that's what girls want.

That bothers me, but there's nothing I can do about it, because by the time young women get to me, they've had twelve years of choosing not to focus on math and science in elementary and high school. If they changed their minds, they'd be so far behind the math skills that it would be nearly impossible to catch up. So I try to support the women who do choose STEM fields.

Maybe in a generation, things will change.

To finish, Prof. Strumia brings up the fact that a female colleague was promoted ahead of him, despite his higher number of citations, by way of evidence for his conclusions.

Well, I mean, his presentation did provide a pretty clear explanation as to why this colleague was promoted ahead of him! Just not in the way he intended.

He also said that he himself was overlooked for a job that he was more qualified for, which was given to a woman.

A shade bitter, I suspect. So many ways in which this was a gowk's move, like you point out. You'd have to be a massive pillock to actually believe the subject matter, even more of a pillock (for reasons of pure self-interest if nothing else) to not apply any degree of forethought as to how gurgling on about it at length would go down, and a pillock cubed to do it while working somewhere as high-profile and prestigious as bloody CERN, of all places.

Glad you're on the mend, at least. Looking forward to what you write. And hearing a bit more about your work and what you do's always fun.

Considering the size of the sections about "Not making a giant ass of yourself in situations where you are associated with us" you find in most contracts, and how that section grows with the qualifications associated with the job, one could expect a tad more caution in such situations.

From what we see the CERN did the right thing. Guy goes to a conference, pulls his trousers down, and takes a dump on stage. Suspending him is almost a forced move.

And yet this will be another wonderful bomb thrown in the septic tank. People who see the academia as a noxious nest of raging liberalism with no backbone that still is so strong that it muscles out any dissenting view but is a special snowflake that can't withstand anything but [add as many qualifiers as necessary] will see this as another confirmation of their worldview, and it will just add fuel to the whole, ugly issue. There was really nothing that could avoid that, except for letting it pass in silence, and that would have been wrong.

Nothing worthwhile to add to the discussion, since I essentially agree with all of it. Just wanted to note that anytime anyone uses the term "cultural Marxism" outside the art world, one can safely assume that they are a complete and utter prat.

Can’t say much about physics, but I do find it interesting that while there are a healthy number of young women like myself in the School of Natural Sciences at my university, the amount of us in the herpetology course is disturbingly low. In fact, I’m the only woman in my tutor group, and the other tutor groups only have one or two each. I think out of the fifty or so herpetology students in my year, there’s only about ten women. Which is odd, because it’s not nearly so out of proportion in the other branches of zoology. Perhaps it’s some subtle social idea that scaly things are for men and fluffy things are for women? It’s quite interesting to think about.

Also, the guy in that article sounds like a tremendous asshat who really deserves his suspension. Because with stupidity like that, who knows how long it’ll be until he starts talking about how racism doesn’t exist and it’s actually just African-Americans trying to play victim so they can pretend they’re not all criminals, or something equally stupid. It’s for his own good, really.

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