Nobel Prize winner Donna Strickland & physics' problems with sexism
October 4, 2018 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Canadian physicist Donna Strickland (University of Waterloo) has become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics in 55 years (previous discussion of Strickland in MeFi Nobel post). Strickland and French physicist Gérard Mourou shared half the prize for their laser technique called chirped pulse amplification. She is only the third woman ever to win for physics, illustrating the field's continuing problems with sexism. This past weekend, at a conference hosted by CERN intended to address the issue of gender bias, prominent Italian physicist Alessandro Strumia claimed that women are worse at physics than men and lectured a group of predominantly young women scientists about "the dangers of gender equality."

Strumia argued that women can’t be as good at physics as men, and complained that the actual victims of gender discrimination are male scientists, including himself, who are passed over for jobs that instead go to less-experienced women.
...
One of Strumia’s arguments—that women get cited less in research papers because they’re less capable at physics—falls apart under the lightest of scrutiny, according to Jessica Wade, a physicist who also presented at the workshop.

“Citations are not a good metric for ability. They rely on peer review, which is biased against women and non-Westerners, and scientists reading, respecting, and citing your work, which is again biased against women,” Wade told Gizmodo via email, referencing a wealth of research.


CERN has since suspended Strumia.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (84 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also of note: Strickland is still not a full professor at her university.

Prior to winning the Prize, Strickland was not deemed important enough to have a page on Wikipedia, despite her long history of publication and multiple other awards.

Thanks for posting, hurdy gurdy girl!
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:30 AM on October 4 [70 favorites]


I woke up w/Sean Carroll's tweet the other day saying:

"I love my fellow physicists, and it breaks my heart that so many have convinced themselves it's "scientific" to ignore mountains of evidence establishing that women face real, systematic discrimination in our field."

I thought it was a general complaint, which already sucks, then I read about Strumia, and got angry. Fuck is wrong with so many nerds? (Yes, the astute read will reply: Patriarchy/Kyriarchy)
posted by symbioid at 11:39 AM on October 4 [28 favorites]


Is it time to post the baboon article again
posted by schadenfrau at 11:55 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


Cultural Marxism
That's all I need to hear.
posted by thelonius at 11:55 AM on October 4 [34 favorites]


My spouse sometimes asks me to read wikipedia entries to her as she falls asleep - two nights ago we were doing this and i picked Dr Strickland's entry (i think it was linked on the main page as a result of her award). This lead us to the entry for Maria Goeppert-Mayer, the other woman, besides Marie Curie to win the prize.

We were both just fucking gobsmacked that she had basically had to work for free as a volunteer researcher wherever her husband had gotten a job - she seriously did almost 25 years worth of (apparently ground-breaking) research without formal acknowledgement or pay. She was given jobs as an administrative assistant dealing with german language correspondance, and various other part time work.She didnt become a full professor until 1960, 3 years before she won her Nobel.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:59 AM on October 4 [30 favorites]


Vera Rubin, who basically proved the existence of vast quantities of dark matter, never won the Nobel.
posted by praemunire at 12:02 PM on October 4 [19 favorites]


Also of note: Strickland is still not a full professor at her university.

She never applied.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:05 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


The fact that she didn't think she would be accepted--that she was not encouraged to apply, as often happens with male faculty--indicates that her department still has a massive problem.
posted by sciatrix at 12:09 PM on October 4 [92 favorites]


Or, she never applied because she preferred doing research to administrative bullshit, and there was no pay difference between herself and a full professor.
posted by subdee at 12:17 PM on October 4 [6 favorites]


Even if my boss wasn't currently in the process of applying for full professor from associate professor--which, incidentally, he has pointed out would give him a pay bump--I would think that had more than a whiff of bullshit to it.

Fortunately, as a public university, the University of Waterloo's pay scales for faculty are posted online.
posted by sciatrix at 12:24 PM on October 4 [31 favorites]


Prior to winning the Prize, Strickland was not deemed important enough to have a page on Wikipedia, despite her long history of publication and multiple other awards.

Her page was deleted for a copyright violation. The Guardian's links don't work so it's hard to say if there was actually a discussion somewhere.
posted by dilaudid at 12:25 PM on October 4


In chess, for many years, women were not rated very well compared to men. Some argued that women just couldn't rate very well for some kind of biological reason. Turns out it was just systemic. Women didn't play chess in the same numbers as men for a whole host of reasons including a lot of bias against women, so there just weren't people at the tail of the bell curve that could compete with the best men. Judit Polgár showed everyone when she reached eighth overall in the world in ratings in 2005. Her sisters are also rated very well.

I'm sure it is the same thing going on in physics.
posted by Xoc at 12:29 PM on October 4 [6 favorites]


This sure looks like being rejected for not being important enough.

Am I the only person here capable of fact-checking?
posted by sciatrix at 12:30 PM on October 4 [88 favorites]


I am so angry, Metafilter!
posted by sciatrix at 12:31 PM on October 4 [72 favorites]


All I can say abou that Wikipedia link is “What the everlovin’ F***!?”
posted by haiku warrior at 12:40 PM on October 4


There is systematic bias against women in academia being promoted from associate to full professor. Blaming the women who didn't want to go through a sexist process for their "failure to apply" is victim blaming.
posted by medusa at 12:40 PM on October 4 [57 favorites]


SUCH a relief that some people right here in this thread are so eager to point out that sexism is never the problem, it is just that women are bad at everything and probably don't want professional success anyway!! I was super worried that Strumia's POV would be missing from our discussion, but never fear. NEVER FEAR, there will always be someone (or a few someones, even!) around to decide (without consulting actual evidence) that structural misogyny is actually just the personal failings of 50% of human beings. WHEW.

(Also, a very special lolololol forever at the idea that every male full professor who didn't know how to work a copier or a scanner or a paperclip just did the work and applied, diligently, all by himself. Yeah, sure, departments never take care of it on behalf of their superstars to keep the funding rolling in. Okay.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:41 PM on October 4 [96 favorites]


I see the answer is yes, it is time for the baboon article again.
posted by schadenfrau at 12:50 PM on October 4 [45 favorites]


Yes, anytime you hear Cultural Marxism, it is a clarion call that they are about to drop a whole host of alt-right extremely racist or sexist things on you under the guise of them being the ones fighting for freedom.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:59 PM on October 4 [34 favorites]


In my years as a university admin I filled out ALL OF THE APPLICATIONS for profs who didn't wanna, for whatever reason.
posted by wellred at 1:00 PM on October 4 [17 favorites]


schadenfrau, it is always time for the baboon article again.
posted by coppermoss at 1:05 PM on October 4 [9 favorites]


I think the Wikipedia issue was technically sourcing rather than notability, but there is a lot of discussion about it at Women in Red on Wikipedia.
posted by paduasoy at 1:08 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


The Wikipedia editor who made the decision to not accept the draft article as written also has an essay explaining why they made their decision and reflecting on the incident: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Bradv/Strickland_incident.
posted by Tsuga at 1:12 PM on October 4 [11 favorites]


Wait, there’s a long entry for Skeletor; when did he win a Nobel?
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:15 PM on October 4 [26 favorites]


> Strickland and French physicist Gérard Mourou shared half the prize for their laser technique called chirped pulse amplification.

Such a confusing system.

The first paragraph in the first linked article explains that the prize was split between three, not two, scientists: Arthur Ashkin (USA), Gérard Mourou (France) and Strickland. Only on further reading is it revealed it was split between Ashkin (half) and Mourou and Strickland (the other half).

(So what is that, a quarter prize? If the Oscars did this there'd be rioting in the streets.)

Kudos to Strickland regardless, of course. 55 years is a long time. I don't see it in any of the articles, but how many female nominees have there been in that time?
posted by rokusan at 1:27 PM on October 4


I can tell you straight up that UW has a massive problem with gender equity in both faculty and staff, whatever Strickland's particulars may be. It is a toxic garbage fire of tech-bro culture and any time there's even a minor ratchet of improvement, there are torches and pitchforks carried through the halls by whining, slovenly man-babies.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:34 PM on October 4 [47 favorites]


I grew up the child of two parents who were academic research scientists. It still makes my blood boil when I think of all the discrimination my mother had to endure in her field, and makes me a bit proud that my father paid special attention to mentoring women scientists in his field during the latter years of his career (the fact that the first presenter in his memorial lecture series was a woman who is a rising star in his specific area of inquiry is the cherry on top).
posted by slkinsey at 1:59 PM on October 4 [16 favorites]


This is an intensely stressful topic for many, especially at this time. I know it is for me.

Everyone needs a hug.
posted by The Toad at 2:02 PM on October 4 [7 favorites]


Wikipedia is one of those really frustrating instances in which an institution seems completely unwilling to address their structural biases. In order to contribute, you need to master a really complex and non-intuitive set of rules. Most current contributors are men who routinely undervalue women and things related to women. And since the barriers to entry for anyone else are high, especially if those people are not that interested in Wikipedia but are interested in addressing a specific gap, then it seems unlikely that they're going to be able to fix the systemic under-representation of women.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:45 PM on October 4 [36 favorites]


Earlier this year I helped create a wiki article for a notable woman scientist I have worked with. The article is still up although with a broom cleanup icon. Maybe she will win a Nobel some day!
posted by exogenous at 2:47 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


With permission, and to elucidate my statement above, I'm posting a link to my partner's exit non-interview from their 20-year tenure as technician, manager and ultimately a director on staff at UW: Good-bye, fare well, and ah-men.

After bashing their head against too many unyielding walls, they (and I) moved to Toronto and took a 50% pay cut to work in a different realm of STEM research administration that is far less toxic. We're still dealing with the psychic aftereffects.

STEM-focused academia, even in Canada, is ... bad. And this is where all the new hires for places like Google and Facebook and other technical and engineering companies typically come from. After four years of being taught in this appallingly male-centric environment, they move to start-ups where the culture is only further reinforced.

I don't know how to fix it, but if you want to know one of the prime factors for why STEM is so bad for women, you have only to look at the places where it's taught.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:49 PM on October 4 [53 favorites]


One thing I don't see addressed in the articles or the thread is funding and its impacts on research. Being in Canada, Strickland had access to far fewer research dollars than she would have in the US. Moreover, grant review (at least in my experience with NSF and NIH) is the opposite of anonymous—you have to use your reputation to convince people you're worth spending money on, so that's just another vector for sexism.

Then because you didn't have the money to pay grad students you're less productive so you have a weaker case when you apply for funding so you get less funding and so on 🔄. Gah. It's a mess and a shame.
posted by Maecenas at 3:18 PM on October 4 [6 favorites]


But women are to blame, you see. They're scary. They can make unfounded accusations. That's why they must be kept out of things and away from power and denied opportunities. (Just to make it obvious, the preceding lines should be read with a heavy sarcasm tag instruction.)
posted by sardonyx at 3:33 PM on October 4 [3 favorites]


Here's a link to today's discussion amongst WP editors.

Thanks TSUGA for the pointer to Brady's essay.

Articles for WP have to include adequate secondary-source citations to demonstrate notability. Honors that were mentioned for Strickland were not supported by cites. It's not a requirement of reviewing editors to go find supporting references, a process that can take many -hours- ... unless one or more citable sources *somewhere* found the subject worth writing about.

As Brady pointed out, he might have attempted that himself, but then ... there are *thousands* of articles in the queue, and *many* of them are crap. It's the job of the submitting editors to provide *some* compelling reason for a reviewer to say, 'yeah, that's a good start'. *Especially* for bio's.

Wait, there’s a long entry for Skeletor; when did he win a Nobel?

The citations requirements for the BLP (biography of living person) category are more stringent than for cartoon characters for a reason: WP has caught crap in the past for not vetting bios carefully enough. NONE of the 'awards, honors' mentioned were accompanied by citations.

It's easy to take cheap pot-shots at WP. My usual response is: what have you yourself contributed to the effort? Who else went to WP looking for Strickland, found the article, and added to it? Why not?
posted by Twang at 3:50 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


There's no fucking way I'm volunteering my time to work for a sexist organization where I'll be treated like shit, so don't blame me for this bullshit. It's easy to take cheap pot-shots at women who didn't fix your sexism problem for you. My usual response is: what have you yourself contributed to the effort to improve the climate for women and minorities at Wikipedia?
posted by medusa at 4:13 PM on October 4 [85 favorites]


what have you yourself contributed to the effort?

That's a spectacularly ill-considered response. So here's mine in exchange: I have better things to do my life than argue with rules-lawyering "editors" who would really rather be spending their time obsessively detailing Pokemon phyla, and who waste no opportunity to make that clear.

So, what I have contributed: an attempt to document someone, which got immediately deleted for "relevance". Tried to ask what to fix, was told to go read a fifty-thousand word treatise on wikipedia editing markup, none of which addressed "relevance". Wikipedia can go fuck itself.

Relevance my ass.
posted by aramaic at 4:28 PM on October 4 [61 favorites]


Recently, I made a proposal on Facebook that all men be banned from commenting on the Internet, and on MetaFilter in particular. This thread makes me continue to think that would be a good idea.
posted by rorgy at 4:40 PM on October 4 [33 favorites]


the sexist physicist told people to get rid of the "cultural Marxism".

what the hell is "cultural Marxism"? what does this even mean?

is it when you still celebrate the English Civil War as a revolution of the middle classes because your parents did, but you don't really believe?

(NB: the 17th century British civil wars were not about class)
posted by jb at 4:44 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


also: I'm failing him at PowerPoint design. Those slides look like they were made by a grade school student.
posted by jb at 4:46 PM on October 4 [3 favorites]


My usual response is: what have you yourself contributed to the effort? Who else went to WP looking for Strickland, found the article, and added to it? Why not?
I have a full-time job. I have hobbies. I've signed up to spend at least six hours this weekend knocking doors for a political campaign. I have a house to keep clean and meals to cook. I'm taking a computer science class that is kind of kicking my butt, and I'm probably going to spend most of the rest of the weekend trying to figure out how to do proof by induction. I don't contribute to Wikipedia mostly because I don't have time to master a bunch of arcane rules, which means that anything I contributed would be deleted. And as I said, I'm a political door-knocker: I don't need any more frequently-infuriating, probably-futile pastimes in my life.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:53 PM on October 4 [27 favorites]


what the hell is "cultural Marxism"? what does this even mean?
I believe that it's pseudo-intellectual right-wing jargon for "inferior people are getting uppity."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:54 PM on October 4 [18 favorites]


Generally "cultural Marxism" is code name for "Jews" but in this context I think it's more like "Academia/Science I don't like because it has icky women in it"
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:04 PM on October 4 [16 favorites]


So RationalWiki is all kinds of problematic that I don't even want to get into here *but* its article on "cultural Marxism" and how the term is used is actually decent.
tl;dr - Jews and secret communists want to destroy our Western way of life.
posted by Wretch729 at 5:11 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


SO HOW ABOUT THAT PHYSICS NOBEL? What an impressive scientist!
posted by ChuraChura at 5:43 PM on October 4 [53 favorites]


Waterloo Region Record interview
There's been a lot of attention on your position as an associate professor and not a full professor. What has been your response to that.

That I'm very sorry for the university because it's not their fault.

This is what people I don't think get, a full professor although it's a different name it doesn't carry necessarily a pay raise and I don't lose my job (if I don't apply to be a full professor). So I never filled out the paper work.

It's all on me. I think people are thinking it's because I'm a woman, I'm being held back.

I'm just a lazy person. I do what I want to do and that wasn't worth doing.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:41 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


a fiendish thingy: "Prior to winning the Prize, Strickland was not deemed important enough to have a page on Wikipedia, despite her long history of publication and multiple other awards. "

One day in 2007 I was listening to the commentary track on my season 3 DVDs of the U.S. remake of The Office, and they mentioned that the actor who played David Wallace was also a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch. "That's interesting", I thought, and went to Wikipedia to see if there was anything else interesting about him. Turned out he didn't have a Wikipedia entry at all!

Well that was easily solved, and thus was the very first of my very few contributions to Wikipedia's content:
Andy Buckley is an actor, best known for his role as Dunder Mifflin CFO David Wallace on the American television comedy The Office. He is also a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch in the Los Angeles area.
Note that at time of that article's publication The Office had only aired four episodes of its fourth season. The David Wallace character had only appeared in three episodes, plus one as an offscreen voice. I cited the Wikipedia entry for the show and for that episode (with a parenthetical about the details being from the DVD commentary), and included an external link to IMDb.

That article has since gone through 326 edits, is around a thousand words long and has full filmography. Granted, the actor played a further role in the series and has done other acting work since then. Nothing against Andy Buckley, but we can all agree that the standards of quality aren't evenly applied.

I still donate to Wikimedia, because Wikipedia is a truly amazing resource and I use it far too often to pretend I should get it for free. But it has a an almost farcical culture of feigned objectivity. It is full of elaborate rules that its devoted editors will rush to defend exactly as often as they feel like it.

I find this especially frustrating because I think the rules keep Wikipedia great. The problem is not that they aspire to be objective, but that they define and enforce those rules selectively.

And when you rely on volunteers, selectivity is unavoidable... as those volunteers become powerful voices in the organization, they then shape and wield the rules to reinforce the culture they're used to or prefer.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:03 PM on October 4 [24 favorites]


Yeah for CERN suspending Strumia!

I guess that's more civilized than stringing him up by his dangling ball sac.*

*For science, I mean. Yes, totally for science.**

**I'm referring to this post, of course.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:25 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Hi, I felt it was necessary to return to this site and address the appalling talk from Strumia. For those who don't know, my name is Matthew Buckley, and I'm a professor of theoretical physics and astrophysics at Rutgers University. I have been performing research in a similar field to Strumia for over a decade, and have cited his work many times in the past. Through no effort of my own either way, I do not believe I have ever met or interacted with him. I was aware of his reputation before this, as were many people in my field, but I had never had any personal interaction.

I have been working for the last week, nearly full time, with a number of my colleagues in high energy physics to craft a community response to Strumia's talk. Since that event, Strumia has been on various media outlets expounding his views, without much push-back. Many people have accepted his statement - made using the imprimatur of his background in the imposing field of particle physics - that he has unassailable evidence backing his claims. We, the authors of the community statement for the most part do not have the necessary background in women’s and gender studies, science and society studies, physics education research, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and Black studies to answer with confidence any of the questions he claimed to answer.

But we also know, by virtue of our shared educational and research backgrounds, that Strumia has no ability to answer these questions either, and that his data is hopelessly inadequate and his methods are obviously flawed. It was incumbent upon us to make it clear, as physicists, that he lacked the standing to make these claims.

While I am extremely proud of my co-authors' work, I also want to stress how incredibly time-consuming and difficult this was. We all have jobs. We have research and lives and committee meetings and emails. We all of us took most of week to get this done as quickly and as accurately as possible, because our colleagues, our students, and our future students needed to hear it. It took time and mental energy, and it took that time and mental energy most especially from our number who are white women, women of color, or from otherwise minoritized groups. Their contributions were more than essential: this would not have been possible without them. But more than any of us, they have better things they could have been doing. When people ask why members of those groups leave science, one reason is that they find it necessary to spend their limited time dealing with the fallout from deplorable people doing deplorable things. I'm glad I could work alongside them, but it was completely unfair that this situation existed in the first place. This statement will not further our careers, we did it because we felt someone should.

So, please take a look at our community statement, share widely. And don't let one petty asshole's shitfit overshadow the accomplishments of Prof. Strickland. This is the 1st time in 55 years a women was awarded the Nobel in physics. It shouldn't have taken this long, and it damn well better not be another 55 years before it happens again.
posted by physicsmatt at 7:42 PM on October 4 [204 favorites]


Matthew Buckley is a MeFite, best known for his role as part of an excellent community statement rebutting the sexist rantings of Alessandro Strumia. He is also a professor of theoretical physics and astrophysics in the New Jersey area.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:53 PM on October 4 [26 favorites]


Oh hooray, PhysicsMatt!!! You and your colleagues are wonderful and my heroes (and I'm happy to see you back)
posted by ChuraChura at 8:03 PM on October 4 [3 favorites]


Actually, I'm best known for my paper on the possibilities and constraints of dark matter coupled to a hypothetical "dark photon." And while it's a new paper without many citations yet, I'm most recently particularly proud of my work on the myriad opportunities to probe the particle physics of dark matter using astronomical and astrophysical probes. There's lots of exciting stuff out there. You can read non-physicist descriptions of my research at my website, or in the 8 part series I wrote for the Boston Review.

(I appreciate the kudos, and I know you meant well, but I'd rather wash the stink of Strumia away from me soon. There are some very impressive scientists who co-authored that letter, I'm happy to be among them, but none of us want to be remembered first and foremost for this.)
posted by physicsmatt at 8:07 PM on October 4 [26 favorites]


Totally fair, Matthew. My comment was more a play on the coincidental relationship between my previous comment about the Andy Buckley entry on Wikipedia, and your last name also being Buckley.

No one deserves to be coupled to dark matters like Struvia's idiocy, but I wish more people understood how some are working in dark sectors to help charge it. My apologies. :)
posted by Riki tiki at 9:33 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Dang, I recognise no names from particle physics. That's a worry.

I remember helping put an end to the webcomic Wikipedia edit wars back in the 2000s by realising what was missing around the current flashpoint, Checkerboard Nightmare, was an opening paragraph that explained why it was notable. It came up for a vote to delete again but it was a lot harder to argue it didn't belong in Wikipedia while some of the comics it was satirising did.

Mostly I did it so that I have free license to complain about Wikipedia's processes and systems, all of which have a lot of misplaced investment in them, without having someone complaining about why I didn't beat my head against a brick wall trying to change it. I understand the system just fine. I just don't think it's fixable.
posted by Merus at 9:33 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Mentioned upthread, Maria Goeppert-Mayer also didn't get a (paid) professorship for her Nobel work. I'm three admittedly tenuous degrees of separation removed from her and I described a bit of her history in a comment I made earlier: San Diego Mom Wins Nobel Prize. Comment isn't as well written as it deserves but it is sadly more relevant than I thought.

Good on Strickland for not complaining about her assistant status but no way in hell should a university have someone who did Nobel quality work not be a full professor. It doesn't matter if they don't like paperwork. It reflects poorly on the entire academic community as far as I'm concerned.

Regarding the Wikipedia thing: They failed both badly and boringly on this one. A physicist so well respected that they got a Nobel was explicitly rejected by an editor just a few months before the prize was given out. Saying it wasn't just the editor's fault because of poor sourcing etc. is correct: It points to an overall failure of the of wikipedia. The idea was supposed to be that lots of eyeballs would make up for individual mistakes. Didn't happen (and not for the first time.) It's still useful but they have rules, processes and hierarchies that have moved them far from the original semi-utopian pitch and indeed work against it.
posted by mark k at 9:34 PM on October 4 [7 favorites]


Still amused that for 20 years now the response from people complaining about Wikipedia's biases has been "so help us fix it" and it keeps not working and they still use that response. It really sums up Wikipedia's issues in a nutshell, doesn't it.
posted by Merus at 9:43 PM on October 4 [18 favorites]


Honors that were mentioned for Strickland were not supported by cites.

That would be what we would call a "lie". There are three references listed in the draft, and two of them, the University of Waterloo and the Optical Society of America, list her honors. Frankly, the fact that she was a past president of the OSA would alone make her more notable than many people with Wikipedia pages.
posted by tavella at 9:59 PM on October 4 [21 favorites]


Literally Bradv is complaining because the cite wasn't 'direct' - that is, the relevant number is on the sentence before the line about her being a fellow. if he was actually checking the references to see if they backed her up, he would have read the line "She received a Premier’s Research Excellence Award in 1999 and a Cottrell Scholars Award from Research Corporation in 2000 and was named a Fellow of the OSA in 2008." right at the end of the first paragraph. But he didn't check the cites, he just rejected the page and whined that they needed a newspaper article instead -- as if that would be a more accurate source than a major university and the scientific association for her field.

Also check out him and another editor commiserating with each other about how oppressed they are on the Talk page for the article. Zero lessons learned. This is why Wikipedia is crap for anything but pop culture and the occasional page protected by an editor who both knows the subject and isn't an asshole.
posted by tavella at 10:13 PM on October 4 [18 favorites]


It shouldn't have taken this long, and it damn well better not be another 55 years before it happens again.

It is incumbent upon all of us (all) to make sure it doesn't happen again because otherwise it damn well will; look no further than the continued existence of the Republican Party to see why.
posted by aramaic at 10:16 PM on October 4


Wikipedia is full of problems, but it's also one of the most important things on the Internet today, and a hell of lot less problematic than, say, Facebook. And unlike Facebook, anyone can actually do a small thing to make it better.

So it's either work on fixing the problem or create a whole 'nother Wikipedia, guys. We can't just yell at the clouds.
posted by rokusan at 10:32 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's fixable, given the thoroughly toxic and self-reinforcing culture. And I wouldn't say it's particularly important. I want to look up movie plots and TV show episode lists, I go to Wikipedia. And the occasional thing that can be scraped wholesale from government and international organization sites like population and geographic data. Anything more serious where accuracy matters I go elsewhere.
posted by tavella at 11:08 PM on October 4 [16 favorites]


Wikipedia is full of problems, but it's also one of the most important things on the Internet today, and a hell of lot less problematic than, say, Facebook.
That's damning with such faint praise that it deserves its own …
Metafilter: a hell of lot less problematic than, say, Facebook.
… tagline.

One big hinderance to "work[ing] on fixing the problem" is that, like politics, Wikipedia is structured precisely to prevent that. While it has an admirably low barrier to base-level participation, its processes are so byzantinely rules-lawyered that it takes a lot of time and effort working within the structure before you can even start to get to a level where you're respected enough - and, yes, have proved that you're "one of them" - to touch the levers of change.

And, by that point, you've spent so much time and effort in the system that you have become invested in 'the system', not the goal - and no longer really want it to change as much as it needs to…
posted by Pinback at 11:19 PM on October 4 [10 favorites]


I just want to jump in and say that I see this at my institution all the time: many, many academics are lazy (says the one still grading papers at 2am) and don't think that going through the hassle of candidacy forFull Professor is worth it. And yet, men are encouraged, nagged, hand-held, and hyped all the way to that finish line, while everyone is all, "eh, I guess women just aren't interested." Women aren't encouraged to be interested. Strickland may feel that she was just being lazy, but if she'd been a male physicist she wouldn't have been allowed to be lazy like that. So yeah: it absolutely is an institutional problem.
posted by TwoStride at 11:36 PM on October 4 [48 favorites]


Donna Strickland is awesome. It's great to see her recognized with a Nobel.

Am I the only person here capable of fact-checking?

Strickland is a woman, we're here for pitchforks and weighing against ducks, not sniggly things like facts. /sarcasm

Not sarcasm: then we wonder how we got to a point in human history where facts don't matter. The internet is a shared mirror of the problem, not a source.

From Bradv's exercise in "I did some things but didn't actually bother": My conclusion at this point was that the topic was potentially notable, even though the strongest claim of notability (that she was an OSA Fellow) lacked a direct citation.

Bradv checked if the cites were independent. Aaaaaaand then Bradv's essay tellingly starts going into a whole bunch of other peripheral stuff. Bradv had enough time to write 2500 words, and in the way of solutions, offer nothing whatsoever about taking a modicum of time to read what was readily available. Bradv never mentions taking even five minutes to do that. I dare say it took them more than five minutes to write 2500 words. It took me more than five minutes to write this comment. (220 words)

Thank you, PhysicsMatt, for illustrating one of the ways we can improve things.

Thank you, sciatrix, for checking facts rather than weighing ducks.
posted by fraula at 12:14 AM on October 5 [15 favorites]


Dang, I recognise no names from particle physics. That's a worry.
In no way do I want to suggest there's not serious endemic issues that need fixing, but my morning after in a particle physics group was dominated by talk damning what Strumia did and not one hint of support for it. And there are some names who have been quite publicly critical on social media who didn't sign that statement for whatever reason, most likely that they didn't see it in time or something. I wouldn't read too much into someone's name not being on it. Although it's obviously you can read a lot into someone having gone ahead and signing it.

Good job physicsmatt et al!
posted by edd at 12:19 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


I have been working for the last week, nearly full time, with a number of my colleagues in high energy physics to craft a community response to Strumia's talk.

Thanks to you and your colleagues for taking time from your work to do this
posted by thelonius at 12:57 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


Bradv took the time to write this essay because they were getting a ton of flak for their decision not to approve the proposed article from both inside *and* outside Wikipedia. Back when they were looking at a biographical article that only cited sources that were in some way connected to the subject of the article, and had not been edited for two months, it didn't seem like they would have to dedicate as much time to it. Towards the end, Bradv acknowledges this, and the problem of systemic gender bias in Wikipedia in general. They also laud the efforts of Women In Red to correct this bias, and call for more editors to create and contribute to articles about women in science.

Essentially, some of the editors in the Wikipedia ecosystem are swimming around, looking for things that look like they don't belong, and tagging them as such. Some of those are vanity articles started or edited by their subjects themselves, or their staffers. There are going to be a fair amount of shenanigans that these immune-system editors are going to have to deal with, and unfortunately, some innocent bystander articles may be shot down as a result.

I can't help but be reminded of my recent experience starting an article (previously) specifically to redress a blind spot in gaming history, and then seeing it be nominated for deletion within 48 hours. In this case, I was still paying attention to the discussion and contributing to it, including engaging in further research to find more potential sources (not easy to find in this case) and citing Wikipedia's own published rules. Because of that, a plurality of the editors who joined the discussion voted to merge the article with an existing one about the game company, rather than delete it entirely. There were six votes, total. This discussion lasted over three weeks; normally, it's supposed to last one week, but it was extended twice because of lack of participation and a clear consensus. And of course, the article still exists, but with a helpful "someone please merge this" tag at the top.

So the system works, sort of, but it's a pain to work with. It can be time-consuming. You may not change a lot of minds. However, a few dedicated individuals (with usernames and a decent number of edits to show that they're not cranks and are working in good faith) can also change things simply by showing up and saying Keep.
posted by skoosh at 2:30 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]




Yes, please do not read anything into someone's name not being one of the signatories. We did our best to get the word out, but since we were working on a short timescale and asking people not to spread the word too openly to prevent it leaking before we were ready, a lot of people didn't get a chance to sign. There were some people who read it, agreed with 90% of it, but had specific concerns with specific language that I respect, even if I disagree with. However, at that point we couldn't reopen the editing process because we'd have to ask 200+ physicists to re-sign due to substantive changes in the document. We will be adding names as people ask to be added, once we all dig ourselves out from under the email that we were ignoring.

All you can say about a name not being on the list is that their name isn't on the list.
posted by physicsmatt at 4:30 AM on October 5 [9 favorites]


Earlier this year I helped create a wiki article for a notable woman scientist I have worked with. The article is still up although with a broom cleanup icon.

And now a shoutout to the MeFite (whom I'll not name in case they wish to remain anonymous) who reached out to me and did a really nice job cleaning up and expanding the article. We can do this together!
posted by exogenous at 5:48 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


what the hell is "cultural Marxism"? what does this even mean?

In a nutshell it means that the person using the term is either a neo-nazi or a neo-nazi's useful idiot.
posted by srboisvert at 5:57 AM on October 5 [15 favorites]


Riki Tiki, having apparently missed the reference to Andy Buckley earlier in the thread, when I saw you write that, I was thinking "Andy Buckley the physicist has a wikipedia article?"

Yes, there is a high energy physicist named Andy Buckley.
posted by physicsmatt at 7:11 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


This is the 1st time in 55 years a women was awarded the Nobel in physics. It shouldn't have taken this long, and it damn well better not be another 55 years before it happens again.

The ending to physicsmatt's excellent comment above can also be applied to the chemistry Nobel. Over essentially the same time period the number of women laureates in my (now-former) field has been quite sadly lacking. Since Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin's award in 1964 and Frances Arnold's honours on Wednesday, Ada Yonath (2009) was the only woman to receive the chemistry prize; they join a shockingly small group that includes Marie Curie (1911) and Irène Joliot-Curie (1935). But if I might extrapolate from the people who went through grad school with me three decades ago, by now there have to be a quite considerable number of women like Strickland and Arnold who have amassed stellar careers in the physical sciences. Let's hope that these two awards are the first few trickles in the busting of a dam that's overdue for demolishing. In Frances Arnold's own words:
There are many great women in #Chemistry-in fact, I expect to see a long train of Nobel Prizes to women like @CarolynBertozzi, Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Judith Klinman, @Sanford_Lab, @sarah_reisman and many more.
(And if the rise of women Nobelists crowds out reactionary mansplaining buttheads like Kary Mullis then so much the better.)
posted by hangashore at 10:39 AM on October 5 [5 favorites]


...man, that name thing is a head-fuck. I'm glad sometimes that my last name is uncommon enough that--well, put it this way, I actually did some Google searching and found literally one other person with it currently working in biology. (She's a grad student in EEB, too! Although her work is waaaaaay over in applied ecology, which isn't much like mine at all.)
posted by sciatrix at 10:50 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


Over the past year I have read about a number of projects to add female scientists to Wikipedia. That last link is to a WikiProject where you can help add entries for female scientists.

I have been working my way through The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel (I don't have a science background and sometimes I find it a bit dense but fascinating) about the women at Harvard who mapped the stars and made numerous astrophysics discoveries that they mostly didn't get credit for. They probably wouldn't have gotten any credit at all if not for the fact that the directors they worked for were progressive enough to push for recognition for some of them. Men have been taking credit for women's scientific work for a long time. Here's an entire article listing women who should have won. It's clearly misogyny.
posted by ceejaytee at 11:09 AM on October 5


As a woman in physics, I want to say thank you to you, physicsmatt, and your colleagues.

The work that you did on the statement was absolutely necessary to the survival of physics as a viable discipline. Without the inclusion of all physicists, physics cannot be just. Even more, when we exclude talented physicists, we exclude new viewpoints, and we strangle the discipline.

We cannot let people like Strumia hold us back or convince the upcoming generations that there's only one identity that matters in physics.
posted by BrashTech at 11:22 AM on October 5 [11 favorites]


"It is clear that our social environment disparately affects the participation of people with ascribed identities that have been traditionally marginalized, and the fields of women’s and gender studies, science and society studies, physics education research, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and Black studies have had much to say over the years about how this marginalization operates."

Big fan of the community statement pointing out that the work of the humanities, social sciences, and STEM are part of the same fabric, and that dividing them (let alone positioning them as adversaries) is not just unnatural, but actively harmful.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:52 PM on October 5 [10 favorites]


Dang, I recognise no names from particle physics. That's a worry.

Have you looked through the 100 screenfuls of additional signatories who have signed in the ~24 hours since the statement went live? :)

Very nice job physicsmatt and all your coauthors (I got the email from Nausheen).
posted by heatherlogan at 6:58 PM on October 5 [2 favorites]


FYI: the baboon article, though awesome, does the stupid (sexist) thing of describing a female scientist by her marital relationship "Dr. Sapolsky wrote the report with his colleague and wife, Dr. Lisa J. Share."

Every year the Nobels come out, I'm always dumbstruck that Jennifer Doudna didn't get it (while I know there is lots of awesome science to celebrate).

Also, the prize in general lost massive respect in my mind because of the problems with the literature committee.

I'm teaching physics 1 right now, and used Donna Stickland's name in an example (as another sign of sexism, all the questions in this class written by people before me just use Albert Einstein, even APS let you choose the picture of either Einstein or Curie when you want an article). None of the 250 students knew who she was. Now they do.
posted by lab.beetle at 9:10 PM on October 5 [3 favorites]


Re Doudna: It's early to give a Nobel for CRISPR only 5-6 years later. The invention dispute is really annoying too and might encourage the committee to wait to let it die down.

If it matters though I've been referring to her as "future Nobel laureate Doudna" for a while. I hadn't thought of the gender implications but she and Charpentier will double the number of female laureates in the last 50 years.
posted by mark k at 9:50 PM on October 5


Just a little aside, because it reflects well on another metafiltarian. To back up his views, Strumia is leaning hard on the "evidence" invented by James Damore, Google-Bro extraordinaire. It was mentioned in his talk, and he's been bringing it up consistently in media interviews since. Early on during this shit-show, when the storm was mostly confined to particle-physicist facebook, I pointed my colleagues to sciatrix's excellent and well researched take-down of Damore which started life here on metafilter. It was well-received and very welcome by my colleagues.

Then later this week, there was this paper on hiring differentials in astronomy. Check out the 8th reference on page 2. sciatrix is famous, ya'll.
posted by physicsmatt at 5:38 AM on October 6 [25 favorites]


Donna Strickland is also the 5th Canadian to win a Nobel Prize in Physics (or the 4th if you exclude Willard Boyle, who was born in Canada but worked in the United States).

The previous Canadian Physics laureate, Art McDonald (2015), now has a multi-institution astroparticle physics institute carrying his name thanks to a $63.7M federal grant, and was promptly appointed to the commission undertaking a review of fundamental science policy for the Canadian government.

It'll be interesting to see how Strickland's award plays out in this context.
posted by heatherlogan at 11:10 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


Check out the 8th reference on page 2. sciatrix is famous, ya'll.

Flagged as unequivocally fantastic.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:55 AM on October 6


Have you looked through the 100 screenfuls of additional signatories who have signed in the ~24 hours since the statement went live? :)

Some of my professors have signed this!
posted by Tha Contender at 10:12 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]


In no way do I want to suggest there's not serious endemic issues that need fixing, but my morning after in a particle physics group was dominated by talk damning what Strumia did and not one hint of support for it.

Yes, please do not read anything into someone's name not being one of the signatories.


Haha, oops. I know it can be hard to tell sometimes, but when I said I didn't recognise any names in particle physics, I meant that my knowledge of who's doing good work in particle physics is poor to non-existent, and I think that's a worry. I didn't mean to disparage the open letter!

(Generally, I find the type of comment people thought I was making is really unhelpful!)
posted by Merus at 4:40 PM on October 7


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