As a male, climate change sceptic with a physics background, I have three attributes that condemn me to the fate of a dyed-in-the-wool sexist – and the only one I can do anything about is my scepticism. Yes, if only I could see the light and accept the CAGW message, I would at least then be able to ease a little the stigma of ‘rabid woman-hater’. That said, I would still have the same genitalia, and the same high-functioning autistic characteristics of your average physicist. So perhaps that is why I became so alarmed when the Alessandro Strumia incident hit the front pages. Here was someone with whom I had some affinity who was now in danger of losing his professional standing, having fallen foul of the scientific community’s contribution to the #MeToo campaign.
You see, Alessandro Strumia has been a very naughty boy. He works in a field that has historically been dominated by men and he felt the need to point this out. Why? Because, rightly or wrongly, he thinks there are legitimate reasons for the dominance and he suspects that those who desire to redress the imbalance are not fighting fair. The field in question is high energy physics (he is a professor of physics at Pisa University and he works within one of CERN’s high energy physics laboratories) and the people he accuses of not fighting fair have responded by suspending him with immediate effect, pending an investigation. In fact, the moral outrage he has incurred is similar to that normally reserved for your average climate change denier. This comparison has not gone unnoticed by his colleagues. As CERN physicist Tommaso Dorigo, when commenting upon the Strumia affair, asserted:
“As with human-made global warming, woman discrimination in STEM is an established fact that will continue to have deniers: human beings will always have motives to deny evidence.”
And yet, Strumia was claiming the existence of an institutionalised bias against male scientists. So who is right?
Are Female Scientists Favoured?
Well, contrary to what you might presuppose, the existence or not of institutionalized bias designed to prioritize the interests of female professionals working within academia’s STEM subjects is not a matter for dispute. It exists, for example, in the form of the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter, in which the availability of government research funding is linked directly to the extent to which institutions can demonstrate adherence to the charter’s ten principles, each of which is deemed important in tackling a perceived social injustice. Alessandro’s crime was to draw attention to the day-to-day experiences that directly result from these and similar policies. Even worse, he pointed out the ideological origins of the policies, and questioned the legitimacy of such ideology. The swift retribution was intended to signal the unacceptability of Alessandro’s beliefs and actions. In reality, it merely served to illustrate the extent to which gender politics has now become a source of poisonous, dictatorial oppression.
In defending schemes such as Athena SWAN, it is often claimed that they are not, in fact, discriminatory – they simply introduce a positive change into the working environment that is of benefit to both sexes and, moreover, to the benefit of the field of study in question. Whether or not such schemes provide for transcending benefit is debatable. But the idea that they might achieve such benefit without discriminating is not, since the only way one can possibly address an existing imbalance is to introduce measures designed to be unequally beneficial. The presupposition that one group did not need to be a beneficiary does not alter the fact that the policy discriminated. The question is not whether such positive actions are discriminatory, but whether, on occasion, they may be deemed unfair to any individual working within the target environment, i.e. from such an individual’s personal perspective, could the actions taken go beyond benign discrimination and constitute unfair discrimination?1
So are Male Scientists Unfairly Treated?
Ultimately, it is cultural change that is sought by those who instigate schemes such as Athena SWAN, since the perceived social injustices are deemed to have a cultural basis. Changing culture for a specific purpose is not straightforward; it requires considerable investment in time and effort and the changes often do not proceed as planned. Some degree of social re-engineering is usually involved but there is always the need for a great deal of propaganda. If one visits CERN’s Diversity Office website, for example, there is so much in evidence regarding the investment in cultural change (campaigning, workshops, seminars, etc.) that one may wonder when the organisation has any time to undertake research. It is more than obvious that, irrespective of its research obligations, CERN sees its role as a principal agent in bringing about cultural change within the field of physics research. How this trickles down to the individuals who are deemed the source of the existing cultural dysfunction, one can only wonder.
To see how male scientists working under such regimes might perceive unfair treatment, one has to put oneself in the position of someone whose advancement can be seen as a social injustice, i.e. someone who stands accused of being the current beneficiary of a dysfunctional culture. Such a presupposition is bound to raise qualms, particularly if gender-based quotas were to be introduced for job applications and/or promotions. This is the perfect situation for suspicion and resentment to thrive. And just knowing that even to voice concerns over gender policy could be condemned as ‘highly offensive’ by those who are dictating such policy, will do nothing to remove the feeling that one is not operating on a level playing field. Not that such opprobrium should come as any surprise to a complainant, given that the policy makers are bound to react negatively when continued governmental funding depends explicitly upon the employer espousing overt and unqualified support for the cause. In some ways, the reality of prejudicial treatment is immaterial; an accusatory culture is sufficient to create a very real sense of disadvantage.
Can this Question be Settled Objectively?
I don’t think it is necessary to take a position regarding the specific allegations made by Professor Strumia in his presentation.2 What I prefer to focus upon instead is the following: Physics stands accused of being sexist and he sought to defend against that allegation. In so doing he attempted to be as scientific in his approach as one can be, given the subject matter. He challenged an ideology with evidence and the ideologists kicked back as ideologists do (this is a scenario that should be familiar to CAGW deniers). In each case, his arguments2 were an attempt to offer an alternative to the feminist assumption that male domination in the upper percentiles can only be explained by in-group bias exhibited by male-dominated selection processes.
His arguments have been dismissed, with some justification, as being simplistic. However, no credit has been forthcoming regarding the fact that he at least tried to be objective, rather than resorting to arguments fuelled purely by anecdote, sentiment and ideology3. In fact, if one seeks objective evidence in support of the in-group bias explanation, one finds, instead, clear evidence for a cognitive bias referred to as the women-are-wonderful effect, in which laboratory studies show a clear tendency for females to be favourably assessed across a wide number of attributes, both by male and female groups. As further evidence of this phenomenon, a recent project instigated by the Australian public service, in which blind recruitment was adopted to combat a presupposed bias against female applicants, had to be abandoned after the success rate of such applicants fell sharply as a result. They had inadvertently discovered that the women-are-wonderful cognitive bias had previously been operating, contrary to the feminists’ expectations. And whilst we are preoccupying ourselves with statistics, it is perhaps germane to observe that higher education is dominated (in all but certain of the STEM subjects) by females, with an overall dominance of 60:40 in their favour. Nobody is suggesting that such an imbalance is to be explained by in-group bias, nor does anyone amongst the Athena SWAN sorority seem to think this is a problem.
Either Way, What is the Real Issue?
It was not my intention in this article to review Professor Strumia’s presentation in detail. By all accounts it did cause offence to some members of his audience, and it has attracted accusations of simplicity, naivety, and downright silliness. Some or all of this may be fair,4 but it does not alter the main thrust of my argument: Sexism within STEM subjects is far from an established fact backed by solid evidence. The accusation, however, is an expression of sentiment and ideological outrage that has found political traction. Professor Strumia’s attempt to use citation statistics to bolster his claims may have been questionable but the extreme reaction his presentation has received does seem to back up his subsequent protests that the powers-that-be are enforcing ideology in a draconian fashion. Irrespective of the extent to which Professor Strumia may have transgressed CERN’s code of ethics, the fact is there is more than a little justification in his view that sexism in STEM is a trumped up allegation, and I defend his right to express such an opinion. Similarly, I defend the right of any scientist to confront the ideologically inspired science behind the CAGW hypothesis. The fact that such scientists have suffered a similar fate to Professor Strumia cannot be seen as a coincidence.
 I once upset a Director of Human Resources by suggesting that her policy document, proclaiming that all discrimination within the workplace was to be condemned, had made the basic error of missing off the word ‘unfair’. She argued that discrimination, by definition, was always unfair. Strangely, my advice that it was high time that she invested in a dictionary did not have the desired calming effect.
 Specifically, he resorted to the use of scientometrics (i.e. the formal use of metrics to assess the impact of scientific research) to demonstrate that, far from being the victims of prejudice, female scientists in his field of study appear to have enjoyed a level of professional advancement that correlates poorly with the scientific impact of their work. He also attempted an argument based upon the RMS of Intelligence Quotients within males, pointing out that it appears to be greater than that for females, thereby offering a possible explanation for a greater number of males, at both extremes of the achievement distribution. Additionally, he invoked evidence of neurological differences that result in gender preferences whereby equal opportunities would not necessarily lead to an equal outcome.
 Note that anecdotal evidence cuts both ways. Strumia’s censure has been justified by reference to testimony from women working in STEM subjects, claiming they suffer sexism on a daily basis. Little publicity, however, has been given to counter testimony by females who are saying “sexism, what sexism?” See, for example the testimony of a research fellow in ICaMB, about her experiences and the pros and cons of Athena SWAN.
 Those who are interested may draw their own conclusions by viewing Strumia’s slide set in full.