Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Location: New Zealand

Marni D. Sheppeard

Friday, March 05, 2010

Women in Physics

Dear patronising male physicists

Snippets of overheard gossip are easily answered online. So for the record: I have never slept with any bosses, supervisors, collaborators, students or support staff. Moreover, the next time I happen to mention the work of another female physicist, you might consider not taking this as an invitation to discuss her sex life with me. I fail to see how this topic of conversation could have any relevance to data obtained at the LHC experiments. Neither does telling me that she has no brain add to the professional discussion.

Many of you, over the years, have pointed out that my continuing effort with job applications is a complete waste of everybody's time. Believe me, I know that. But each one of those hundreds of applications is accompanied by an Equal Opportunity form, which will end up on the desk of a hard working statistician, and like good little scientists, we know that the numbers don't lie, don't we?

Fortunately, due to the excellent Academic Jobs website, I now have a job wanted page with an expiry date close to my 60th birthday. So the next time you think of giving me advice about how to get on in the world, ask yourself what you know. The J. Math. Phys. paper has finally appeared in the online journal. Apologies to those who do not have access to this site. This means that you will have to find new excuses to be rude to me, but I am sure that your imagination is up to it.

Since cities are expensive and noisy, at present I am living in a village with one shop, two restaurants and a small community hall. I might be wrong, but I strongly suspect that activities at the community hall do not include discussions of Koide formulae or motivic cohomology. Now I will let you return to pretending not to read my blog, since I have a very limited budget for internet time.

Have a nice day


Blogger Simon said...

Hi Marni,

It's been a while since you posted... I was beginning to worry! My smile at seeing your post faded upon reading it.

Keep trying with your applications, because I'm sure that you deserve more than you currently have.

Congrats on the paper. I'll have a read of it - but I can already guess that most of it will be over my 19th century view of maths.


March 05, 2010 2:32 PM  
Blogger macengr said...

Thanks to you and Louise, I've been reading up on String theory, M-Theory and so on. Never give up you two!

March 05, 2010 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Rob Taylor said...

Welcome back, Marni, I hope you've had a great summer in the mountains.

March 05, 2010 9:12 PM  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

Glad to see you back, although I don't think I understand your letter and given its tone would rather not! Hope your issues get resolved and Congrats on the paper. The AIP is a well respected institution and having a paper published in one of its journals is no small feat. Congrats again! But I know you don't do this for recognition;) Keep warm!

March 07, 2010 2:32 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Thanks, Mahndisa. I'll probably have another short AIP paper soon, too. Sorry about the tone, but all these things regularly happen to me, and there are very, very few women who are actually willing to complain out loud ... because of course it doesn't help the job prospects.

You keep well.

March 07, 2010 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Tony Smith said...

It is good to see you back on your blog,
and I hope that someday you get a job offer that is so good that EO form statistics will be unnecessary,
I know that it is hard to forget those who treated you with disrespect because recently someone whom I had formely thought of as a friend said, when I asked for a recommendation for an invitation to a workshop on E8, that the organizers "... are unlikely to regard you [Tony] as a serious worker in the field ...".
I don't mind if people disagree with the substance of my physics math structure or predictive calculations, so long as the basis of the disagreement is stated which lets me either to correct some error on my part or to state clearly the point of disagreement and then agree to disagree,
but being dismissed on vague ad-hominem-type grounds does make me unhappy.

As to the state of women in physics, the history of bad treatment is well established (for example, how few of the general population realize that it was the insight of female Lise Meitner that is responsible for nuclear energy, and how many attribute that advance to male Albert Einstein).

I see that Tommaso Dorigo has a blog post saying that "... On March 8th, International women day, the CMS experiment at CERN will be run almost entirely by women ...". Do you think that such one-day events help or hurt the cause of woment to be treated equally?

Do you think that the quiet of the small village is good for creative work (fewer distractions) or is the absence of personal contact with other physicists a significant barrier to creative work?

Tony Smith

March 07, 2010 4:30 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi Tony, and thanks. I think the One-Day event thing is an excellent idea, because there are plenty of people out there who simply do not believe that such a thing is possible.
Most sexist people try quite hard to be nice, and they will constantly tell you how wonderful you are for being so 'unusual'.
As for the solitude I have here: of course it is a huge barrier for me not having seminars etc to go to, but I am used to working alone and I appreciate the peace and quiet. The difficulty is in funding it.

March 07, 2010 7:18 PM  
Blogger nige said...

Seeing Tony Smith's comment reminds me of chapter 1 of Freeman Dyson's entertaining 2006 book, The Scientist as Rebel. The title of chapter 1 is the same as the book title, and Dyson writes on page 3:

"Science is a mosiac of partial and conflicting visions. But there is one common element ... The common element is rebellion against the restrictions imposed by the locally prevailing culture ... One of the central facts about science is that it pays no attention to East and West and North and South and black and yellow and white. It belongs to everybody who is willing to make the effort to learn it."

He illustrates this with the following quotation from Einstein:

"When I was in the seventh grade at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich, I was summoned by my home-room teacher who expressed the wish that I leave the school. To my remark that I had done nothing amiss, he replied only, 'Your mere presence spoils the respect of the class for me'."

I think Tony Smith has the same problem now that Einstein had in his Luitpold Gymnasium: involve him in a mainstream debate, and the level of respect suffers. Dyson on page 6:

"Science as a subversion has a long history."

He gives the cases of Landau, Weil, Davis, Sakharov, Franklin, Priestley, Galileo, Bruno, not to mention people like Darwin. As Tony has pointed out on his site (here
and here respectively), Feynman and Bohm were censored by Oppenheimer and others unless rigorous efforts were made to help them by Dyson and Bethe. This goes against the "we must all work together" groupthink of status quo. Groupthink is great for experimentalists working together in a lab to test a theory, but there was relatively little groupthink involved in formulating GR and the SM: Einstein and Hilbert were rivals in GR and the Glashow worked independently of Weinberg and Salam. Similarly, Feynman, Schwinger, Tomonaga and Stueckelberg weren't collaborators. Key theories in science have not been groupthink.

March 09, 2010 3:15 AM  

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