Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tommaso Dorigo: a sexist scandal

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Tommaso Dorigo sometimes acts like a Peter Woit Lite, if you kindly allow me to avoid expletives. If you prefer Italian terminology, Dorigo is a kind of woitino. But you should have no doubt that certain situations instantly reveal that we share the same European cultural context. He wrote a
report about Lisa Randall's talk at CERN.
There are many layers of topics in his report: women and science, detailed phenomenology at the TeV scale, and relations between theorists and other scientists.

The first topic turned out to be explosive. It has led Clifford Johnson to write a politically correct sermon called
Still so far to go
What has driven Clifford up the wall? Well, Tommaso has described her clothes, haircut, and her athletic looks.
Ms Kea dislikes political correctness, too (and so does Ms Louise Riofrio and Mr Moshe Rozali). The Western European physics blogger who wrote the blog post "Sexist" doesn't seem to be excited by the CosmicVariance hardline either.
Well, let me start by saying that I know Lisa Randall much more than these two guys. I think that if you take everything into account, she is actually an unusually modest person. She is attractive and she is an exceptional athlete. Her two major climbing accidents haven't changed anything about that.

Does she enjoy to be admired for diferent things than being the most cited particle physicist between 1999 and 2004? Do other female scientists like different kinds of attention? That's of course a subtle question.

There are surely contexts, acts, gestures, and expressions that are unpleasant, especially from a certain kind of people (for example the ugly ones: meeting Tommaso on the street if you have a sexy skirt could be very unpleasant). But does Lisa or other special women in science like to ignite interest and emotions in general? I think that I know enough to figure out the answer and the answer is Yes. You won't learn any details from me but I just find the general answer important.

Clifford attacks not only Tommaso but also Ira Flatow who has made some comments on CosmicVariance in 2005. Clifford thinks that Flatow's comments had to be horrible for Lisa. I was actually speaking to her many times and she has greatly enjoyed Flatow's interview and his human attitudes. If I remember well, I liked the interview, too.

Video 1: MIT nuclear physicist Paige Hopewell (publications) and her collaborator explain calculus. Please don't get distracted by irrelevant things. The most important part of the talk is a proof that the x-derivative of 3y^2 vanishes.

I actually don't think that these questions are too different for men and women. A few years ago, a well-known classmate of Lisa was giving a talk and one of the 14-year-old girls who attended it told another one: "Wow, this guy is hot!" Now, I know this story from a famous Massachusetts string theorist whose name will be kept in secret and the story is about Brian Greene. Note that the latter name can be revealed because Brian must face all advantages and disadvantages of being a public figure. ;-)

Just to be sure: I think that this is another advantage. :-)

Is there really any serious difference here? Does Clifford want to say that male physicists can never be attractive and they can never make their audiences - female AND male - excited? I happen to know that the answer is that they can. And it was never too irritating for me. The desired person is almost always in an advantage over the person who has some desires. It is such an obvious observation that you really need the Academia to invent a whole ideology based on the opposite assumption.

If I return to the comparison of men and women: doesn't Clifford realize that his assumption that men can never be attractive is the real discrimination that is going on here and it is him who is doing that?

I am sure that Lisa Randall or any other woman could dress very differently if she wanted to suppress ideas similar to those at the beginning of Tommaso's report. It follows that they don't really want to suppress them. I find it hypocritical and, to a certain extent, absurd to pretend that such an admiration is extremely unpleasant for attractive women. It contradicts what I know about psychology, biology, and evolution. I guess that most readers of the Reference Frame will agree that it is good to feel as being attractive.

If you ask how my compassion works, I would be much more worried about the women - or men - who are viewed as less attractive. Do you have any doubts that it is more convenient to be attractive than to be unattractive? There exist hundreds of stories showing how huge advantages attractive women have that I am simply stunned that someone is still able to deny this fact or even to turn this situation upside down.

For example, there used to be a blog called Libertarian Girl. It contained a lot of tough conservative comments and was apparently written by a sexy blonde young woman. The links pointing to that blog were skyrocketing until it was pointed out that the photograph was taken from a Ukrainian or Russian website featuring Slavic women looking for Western partners. The guy who was writing that blog estimated that the attractive face on the blog has multiplied the traffic by a factor of ten. And he was probably right because after he renamed it to Libertarian Man of Mystery, the traffic decreased to 10% again.

I would like to urge the politically correct preachers such as Clifford Johnson or Sean Carroll to stop with all this nonsense that they have been spreading for years or decades. Women will always be women much like men will always be men. People in science will always have different characteristics than those that are directly related to their work. These characteristics will always influence lives of physicists in somewhat asymmetric ways. Many of the scientists like to have these characteristics, and if these unphysical things help anyone, they help exactly to those who are described as the discriminated ones.

In other words, political correctness must die unless we want to sacrifice the scientific community instead.

And that would be the memo except that I want to say a few more things.

First, Tommaso has written another text,
Am I a sexist?
Second, he has described some scientific topics in his first report - about the unlikely expectations of black holes at the TeV scale.

Third, Tommaso has pointed out that Lisa was essentially speaking in a hostile atmosphere and he correctly argues that this is what most theoretical physicists face these days. They are being intimidated. He is very correct. I am a rather peaceful speaker but if an attendant were trying to pollute my seminar with a Swolin-like garbage, I would return the crank to the mantinels where he or she belongs. I am afraid that other theorists prefer masochism in similar situations.

What Tommaso doesn't tell us is that this thoroughly irrational and deeply unpleasant atmosphere hasn't been created just by Peter Woit and Lee Smolin but also by dozens of appendices of those two jokes - like himself - which is why I call him Peter Woit Lite. He is a part of the problem. These people are driven by analogous goals as the global warming jihadists: they want to promote science that has politically interesting applications and that can become a subject of a broad "consensus" over the science that is done carefully and that actually works.

How does Tommaso Dorigo justify his comments that were classified as "sexist" comments? Well, he says that the internet is full of child porn, home-made bomb manuals, neo-Nazi sites, and climate change skeptics. The last term is equipped with a link pointing to the Reference Frame: thank you. ;-) I essentially agree with him except that he has made a lot of sign errors. Indeed, you can find many things on the Internet such as child porn, political correctness, global warming jihadists, neo-Nazi sites, home-made bomb manuals, and mathematics-hating crackpots.

And that's the memo.

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