A senior Italian scientist has sparked fury by saying in a presentation at Cern, the European nuclear research centre in Geneva, that physics was “invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation”.
Professor Alessandro Strumia, of Pisa University, claimed during a seminar on gender issues in physics that male scientists were being discriminated against because of ideology.
He told the audience, mostly comprising female physicists, that female researchers in Italy tended to benefit from either “free or cheaper university” education, while Oxford University in England “extends exam times for women’s benefit”.
Strumia defended his comments, telling the Guardian that his detractors were “trying to paint me as a monster who discriminates against women” and that his presentation of “facts” was in response to statements made about men discriminating against women.
He said datashowed male and female scientists were equally cited in presentations, and that women were favoured when it came to hiring. “This is not the message they wanted [to hear] at this conference,” he said.
Strumia, who regularly works at Cern, also said claims by a participant at the event that the sphere of physics was second only to the military for sexual abuse were “totally absurd”.
He said: “These people are so worried about problems that don’t exist. What I actually said has good purpose. We are not discriminating, women have been helped for years.”
Cern, whose director general is the Italian physicist Fabiola Gianotti, described Strumia’s presentation as “highly offensive” and removed the slides used in his talk from its website.
It said in a statement: “The organisers from Cern and several collaborating universities were not aware of the content of the talk prior to the workshop. Diversity is a strong reality at Cern, and is also one of the core values underpinning our code of conduct. The organisation is fully committed to promoting diversity and equality at all levels.”
Gianotti became the first woman to hold the five-year mandate as director general of Cern in 2016.
Dr Jessica Wade, a physicist from Imperial College London who attended the event, told the BBC that Strumia’s presentation was “really upsetting to those at the workshop”, and his analysis was “simplistic” and drew on ideas that had “long been discredited”.
Strumia claimed he had been overlooked for a role in favour of a woman and that anyone who spoke out was attacked, censored or risked losing their job.
“I like physics and science because everyone can do what they want. I don’t like it when there’s social engineering to decide how many men, women and categories there should be,” he said.