2018 Department Letter

Letter from the Department in response to the talk given by Alessandro Strumia at CERN (10/1/2018)

Dear Physics & Astronomy Community:

This letter is in response to an uninformed talk given last week by Professor Alessandro Strumia at CERN [1]. Professor Strumia suggested that men were over-represented in physics because of their inherent “interest and ability.” He showed some statistics on paper counts and citations, concluding that physics as a field suffers from no sexism against women because “smarter people are less affected by implicit bias.” This approach ignores the fact that statistics of this kind are influenced by any bias inherent in the system and cannot be used to test for its existence nontrivially. It should be noted that CERN quickly disavowed the presentation.

Despite the claims of Strumia, there is substantial evidence that high-achieving scientists, both men and women, suffer from substantial preexisting unconscious bias against women [2]. An extensive literature in sociology exists showing that women in science are evaluated as less capable when performing identical work. While research in this direction goes back decades [3], the field has only recently begun to take steps to consciously address gender inequity and this has unfortunately spurred backlash of the type displayed last week at CERN.

This department repudiates the notions put forth in Strumia’s talk in the strongest possible terms. Not only are the theories he champions inconsistent with scientific studies [3,4], but they send a dangerous message to the community, especially young women who are considering a career in physics. As a department, we recognize the intrinsic worth of all who work and study here. We value the ability of women and those who express a non-binary gender identity to contribute at the highest levels and will do all we can to create an environment that fosters gender equity.

The Department will be hosting a town-hall discussion on this issue next week with the date and time to be announced. We welcome anyone who wishes to raise a topic for discussion at that meeting to talk to us.

James Bullock, Professor and Chair

Mu-Chun Chen, Professor and Associate Chair of Inclusive Excellence

Tim Tait, Professor and Vice Chair for Graduate Studies

[1] https://tinyurl.com/y7eyg82r

[2] http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474 , https://tinyurl.com/ybxsgpyq

[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/387341a0https://tinyurl.com/yd4j5cyl

[4] http://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-06292-0