Another STEM field, particle physics, gets woke

September 5, 2022 • 11:30 am

A long time ago, I predicted that among all academic disciplines, science would be the least likely to become woke. I was wrong. These disciplines, I thought, are wedded to facts and to open discussion as well, so surely they could not all rush to conclusions that were unevidenced.  Yes, I was wrong, but I won’t discuss the reasons why I erred. The fact is that as soon as one department or scientific journal drank the Kool-Aid, the others rushed to the trough to imbibe along with them. The result is that nearly all scientific societies and journals (Nature and Science prominent among them), as well as many STEM departments in universities, are rushing to proclaim their virtue, while in the end doing very little to ensure equality of opportunity for Americans.

I of course favor equality of opportunity: a long and arduous project that involves putting effort and money into housing, education, and every aspect of culture that, inherited from the bigotry of the past, holds down minorities. It’s certainly true that the underachievement of “minoritized” groups in the sciences is largely a relic of discrimination—a relic that society (though not necessarily particle physics) has a responsibility to attack. But the woke people in STEM aren’t trying to rectify this by “widening the pipeline.” Instead, they use this kind of logic:

a.) There are “inequities” in science: disproportionally low numbers of individuals from some minority groups in fields like physics and chemistry.

b.) These inequities are evidence for current and ongoing “structural racism” in science.

c.) Therefore, we must root out the present racism endemic in scientific fields.

We all know by now the fallacy of this argument. Inequities now are largely the result of racism in the past, whose legacy remains with us. But to say that current inequities reflect current racism is fallacious (especially for scientists) because, for cultural and historical reasons, the obstacles to entry into scientific fields is simply lower for “privileged” groups—and the desire to do pure science may differ as well. As anybody in the sciences knows, the inequities persist despite years of attempts of schools and fields to recruit minorities. Of course some scientists are racists—every field has its bigots. Science is not 100% purified of bigotry. But to say that such bigotry is currently endemic, rife, and ubiquitous in science is to completely ignore all the efforts scientists have made to recruit minorities.

The equation of inequities with ongoing structural racism is a fallacy that one wouldn’t expect among evidence-adhering scientists, especially in view of the countervailing evidence, but it’s the kind of claim that’s simply taboo to question.  But what else are we to do to ensure equality unless we know the causes of inequality?

The new article from Nature below (click on screenshot) makes the familiar argument that a field of science—in this case particle physics—is structurally racist, and that’s why there are fewer doctorates going to women (22%) and underrepresented minorities (7%) than their proportion in the population. To the interviewee, Kétévi Assamagan, this constitutes evidence that the field is not only rife with discrimination, but is also not a meritocracy, for to Assamagan a true meritocracy would have more women and minorities than it does.  This claim again requires evidence, but none is given.

The article shows the characteristics of all such articles accusing scientific fields of being hotbeds of racism: not only the equation of inequities with ongoing racism, but the obvious omission of supporting data. Rarely do we see evidence of racism at all beyond assertions, and we never see evidence for systemic racism (or, for that matter, for “implicit bias” as its cause, an assertion that many are now questioning). Instead, we get anecdotes about people who feel “harmed” or disrespected. And sometimes that’s true, but apparently only a small handful of cases of “harm” are sufficient to indict an entire field, and then to call for changes in its standards and practices.

Here’s the article, and remember that it’s from Nature:

The background is that a bunch of American particle physicists engaged in a once-a-decade exercise called “Snowmass,” in which they assess the state of the field and recommend changes. This time, one of the ten topics included was “elevated diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). Assamagan, a particle physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and a leader of the community-engagement project, was interviewed by Elizabeth Gibeney. Here are a few Q&As from the interview, which are indented. Things that are flush left are my own comments.

From the introduction:

Nature spoke to Kétévi Assamagan, a particle physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, and co-convenor of the community-engagement frontier, about the DEI recommendations that emerged from the Snowmass process — and why meritocracy in particle physics an illusion.

I question, of course, how illusory the notion of a meritocracy in physics is, but the article makes clear that, according to Assamagan, physics should be a meritocracy—not, as you might think, that we should eliminate the meritocratic aspects of the field to increase minority representation. No, Assamagan says that if physics were a true meritocracy, there would be more more physicists from underrepresented groups. Here’s his claim:

How do you convince people that particle physics is not a meritocracy?

People in the dominant culture think: “I am not a racist, I don’t see racism in my group, so if these people work hard, it will be fine.” But research has shown that there is much more under-representation in our field than meritocracy would suggest.

The culture is not welcoming and the climate is not conducive for some people to be there. Unconscious bias feeds into how people progress and go into senior positions, and how the senior people then maintain that culture. We are not asking for favouritism for any group. We are talking about making the environment and culture work for everybody in the way that it does for the majority.

I am not aware of that research, but in fact I doubt that it exists. How can you actually demonstrate that if there were a true meritocracy, you would have greater representation of minority groups? The only way I can think of would be to show consistent and pervasive racism in promotion, hiring, and publication, so that really good work by minorities gets ignored, and that this brand of ignoring leads to greater inequities. Those data may in fact exist, but I’d like to see them for particle physics.  As in most fields, physicists, like evolutionary biologists, are eager to find qualified members of minority groups.

Here’s what one of my colleagues said about this, “Another way to demonstrate racism would be to compare the number of undergraduates interested in particle physics with their representation in PhD and professor positions. I would bet that the underrepresentation starts at level 0 – therefore it is a matter of choice, as interested people simply aren’t there to begin with (rather than they being weeded out by racism”.

He/she added, “Finally there is the issue of culture.  Why would a minority individual coming from an underprivileged background be interested in particle physics, a topic he/she was probably never exposed to?  Why would the person not want to be a medical doctor or a social worker or a teacher – dealing with things he/she might perceive as urgent?  Particle physics is an elitist area, frankly for people distant from the reality of the world.”

Note that Assamagan is saying here that particle physics should be a meritocracy, not that it shouldn’t be because meritocracy causes inequities.

As for the second claim, that’s the claim of structural racism caused by “unconscious bias”. Again, we have a claim with no evidence: that senior physicists unconsciously maintain a racist culture in the field.

Can you give me some examples of how an unwelcoming climate can affect particle physicists?

Someone might ask a female physicist, “Can you bring me some coffee?” Or I could go to my lab and a newly hired white person might ask: “When are you going to clean my room?” It is assumed that people who look like me can only be there to do that kind of work. Police have been called on colleagues because they were in the building where people don’t expect them to be.

These incidents make people really uncomfortable and mean you have to work to demonstrate that you occupy that space because you have the training and ability to be there. People might also say you are a ‘diversity hire’. We as minorities are expected to take all of these things, shrug them off and excel like everyone else.

My colleague added this: “Although I am not in particle physics, I would be shocked if it is common for people to say to a woman ‘are you going to clean my lab?’!

Now I’m not doubting that such incidents may have happened on occasion, but I simply cannot believe that they’re so common that they create an unwelcoming climate. That would suggest that we’ve made no progress towards moral equality since the Jim Crow era.  If these things happen all the time, I’d like to know about them. But it’s considered churlish to even ask for evidence. Believe the “lived experience”!

Note, though, that Assamagan does reject the notion of “diversity hires”, which means that he’s also rejecting the notion of hiring that favors members of certain groups—that is, affirmative action.  And indeed, he doesn’t even suggest affirmative-action hires or promotions, so I largely agree with his suggestions below for improving the scientific climate for everyone:

What are some of your recommendations for improving the workplace climate and encouraging diversity?

It starts with the application of a code of conduct for everyone — including anti-harassment policies and policies to protect victims when they report issues. Conducting surveys about workplace climate will tell you what your community needs. For example, for people with disabilities, you need to ensure that meetings are arranged with consideration of their needs.

You also need to start engaging with science in schools and building the pipeline — there are minority-serving institutions that have a lot of capacity that particle physics can tap into.

Leadership is also important. One of the papers submitted to Snowmass says there needs to be a cultural change where people are chosen for leadership positions through excellence, and then promote an environment of equity and excellence, for example by getting away from just automatically rewarding privileges such as being from a top university.

I’m not too keen on the endless codes of conduct promulgated in meetings and by departments, one reason being that this assumes that bad conduct is not already subject to supervision and sanctions. Do we really need this kind of policing? Not if particle physics is largely free from sexual or racial harassment.

As for building the pipeline: YES! To me that is the main way to increase diversity in STEM. But it’s a lot harder than just promulgating codes of conduct or requiring candidates for jobs and promotions to submit DEI statements. To Assamagan’s credit, he doesn’t suggest any such form of affirmative action.

The third paragraph above, where he emphasizes choosing leaders through “excellence,” is more evidence that Assamagan really does want a meritocracy in particle physics, but one that takes genuine quality into account, as it should. There is indeed too much emphasis on “elite schools.”  (This overrating of schools as a sign of one’s merit is the reason that, when someone asks me where I went to school, I say “near Boston.”) At the U of C, we try to avoid this elitism by concentrating solely on research records. For several years I was on the University of Chicago’s promotion and tenure committee in the Biological Sciences, and was continually impressed by how the meetings were dominated by discussion of research quality. Never once did I hear someone touted because they went to an elite university.

In the end, Assamagan’s article is a mixed bag. The good bits are his insistence on a real meritocracy (that will enrage some of his woke colleagues!), and his lack of insistence on affirmative action. Perhaps he realizes that affirmative action is at odds with the true meritocracy he wants—that’s another truth that nobody dare discuss, much less admit.  But Assamagan also implies that particle physics is structurally racist, and that this ongoing racism creates the inequities we see. If that’s true, I’d like to see the evidence.

Why am I concerned with a two-page piece in Nature that, after all, is almost identical to dozens of statements from other areas of science? Because, as I said, to cure a problem you have to correctly diagnose it. It makes a substantial difference if you impute inequities in physics—or any field—mainly to ongoing racism or, alternatively, mainly as a historical relic of racism that has narrowed the opening of the pipelines to success. For the former, you do the fixes that departments are doing now:  codes of conduct, affirmative action, DEI statements, and the like. So far, those haven’t worked.  For the latter, you concentrate on rebuilding society from the ground up to afford everyone equal opportunity from birth. If you do only the former and don’t concentrate on education and opportunity, the problem of disproportionate representation will need constant policing and tweaking via diversity initiatives. If you do the latter, you have the chance to really solve the problem. And that’s why the last Q&A was this:

How much did physicists get involved with the community-engagement frontier during Snowmass?

Not enough. Very few people participated in community-engagement activities, compared with the big physics areas. All of this research-based work was done by just a few people. People feel they understand the issues and want solutions, but they don’t have a lot of time to devote to it.

It’s the time (and money), Jake!

44 thoughts on “Another STEM field, particle physics, gets woke

  1. When there exists but one acceptable (and simplistic) explanation for a very complicated situation, and when dissent from such a facile view of things is highly disincentivized, the result is very unlikely to be good.

  2. Well, as we’ve seen over the last century or so, Science, or rather its practitioners, are no less susceptible to intellectual fads and pressures of the day that any one else is. The idea that you have to demonstrate that Physics, or any Science, is not a meritocracy, and that it shouldn’t be, is maddening.

  3. [ sigh … ]

    Whenever individuals are interviewed, and a position is given to one of those individuals, there are a large number of rejections. “Excluded” individuals? The language sounds different.

    I am questioning the notion of “inclusion”. There will never be, by definition, “inclusion” of everyone – even on the basis of socioeconomic status or skin color. There is always a disproportionate number of “excluded” individuals (by that language).

    “Inclusion” – as put forth in the language of “DEI” – appears to me to appeal to a fantasy.

  4. Someone might ask a female physicist, “Can you bring me some coffee?” Or I could go to my lab and a newly hired white person might ask: “When are you going to clean my room?”

    Interesting “might ask” phrasing. Is he reporting actual happenings? Or are these “notional” examples? It would be utterly wrong if this sort of thing did indeed happen, but we should assess actual and evidenced incidents.

    People might also say you are a ‘diversity hire’.

    Yes, that one does indeed happen. But when it happens it’s usually true. We can’t have affirmative action and then not expect to have suspicions that people were hired owing to affirmative action.

    It starts with the application of a code of conduct for everyone — including anti-harassment policies and policies to protect victims when they report issues.

    Trouble is, are perceptions accurate? They require reading the mind of the other party, which can be tricky.

    Wilfred Reilly has run studies asking his undergraduate students how often they experience minorly unpleasant interactions with others. His white students and his black students report similar rates. Then he asks, what fraction of those had a racial element? The white students say hardly any; and the black students say about half. But if true that would require their overall rate to be twice that for whites. Hmm …

    PS Particle physics went woke a while back, regarding Alessandro Strumia.

  5. This idea of companies and industries reflecting the percentages of women and minorities in the general population is the old quota system dressed up in the shiny new DEI terms of proportional representation. Why are these percentages treated as sacred numbers? This is like creationists dressing themselves up as intelligent design proponents. Also, I remember that quotas were struck down by the courts. (Are you listening, Ken Kukec? Can you cite a legal source to back my claim up?) I think we can fight this notion of proportional representation by calling it quota. The use of these percentages to determine quotas reminds me of something H. L. Mencken said, to wit, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

  6. In explaining the fallacy of the systematic racism argument, you do allow that, “Inequities now are the result of racism in the past”, which seems to me to be an important concession to the other side. Yet is this even true? Many visibly different groups have suffered discrimination and outright bitter hostility in North America up to recent times: Chinese, Japanese, Asian Indians, Jews, Irish, Italians, Hungarians, French-Canadians. Some of these groups experience resentment to this day for their success or just their other-ness but hardly any could be said to suffer durable race-based inequity as a result.

    Why is it that race-based inequities are confined almost entirely to the descendants of African slaves (even when they ran their own independent Caribbean countries) and to Indigenous people? Is it all in the past or is it something that persists to this day that enforces their refractory inequities and defies externally applied solutions?

    1. I don’t think those are alternatives. The difference between blacks and other groups is that blacks were slaves, seen as nonpersons, for two hundred years. That was in the past, but the view of blacks as institutionalized inferiors persists to this day. There’s also the cultural difference described by John McWhorter.

      If you’re suggesting a genetic element here that’s refractory to change, then just up and say it. For it seems you’re suggesting SOMETHING.

      1. I will claim that the genetic element of intelligence is something large (~50%) and resistant to change. The other 50% is not generally agreed upon, except that it too is largely resistant to change. Whether that fact (and it is a fact) explains Asian/white or black /white or Ashkenazi/non-Jewish European differences is contentious, but it might be true. That’s why treating people as individuals, not avatars of their ethnicity, is so important.

      2. > Something…

        Very well. Slavery is a selective process. Slaves had to be first captured in their home countries, often chosen by their own villagers as the ones to be given up to a rival tribe as tribute. (A Nigerian-British correspondent for the BBC has described this process; her great-great-grandfather was widely respected as a successful slave trader.) Then, once the survivors had arrived in their destination for sale, slaves were propagated in a process like animal husbandry, in which strength, tolerance for heavy work in hot weather, and docility were selected for. This much is fact, and, to me, is the ugliest aspect of slavery: breeding humans like animals. People mistreat each other all the time but selective breeding is just literally inhuman.

        So if this process of controlled breeding deselected for intelligence, one would predict that genetic endowment for it would decline among the descendants of slaves. Even if an owner recognized intellectual gifts in some slave children and sent them to school, it doesn’t disprove the hypothesis for those left to labour. Thus, a selective process applied not by “nature” but by oppressing humans, from initial capture to generations later, could permanently and irreversibly blight a population’s intellectual endowment. Lead in the paint, the air, and the drinking water doesn’t help, either.

        I can’t believe this is a novel hypothesis that hasn’t occurred to anyone else. Even though genes and intelligence is one of those political third rails, it does make slave owners directly morally complicit, instead of invoking God’s ordering of the races or other nonsense. But it does predict that there is very little that can be done today to repair it, other than identifying and nurturing the standouts. And getting the lead out of the blighted neighbourhoods. The cultural difference they will have to figure out for themselves.

        1. It doesn’t work to apply to any one behavioral or mental trait to an entire race because of genetics. If you want to see generational poverty, and concomitant low rates of high school and college graduation, you can of course look to inner cities with concentrations of African Americans. But you will see the same thing in the rural poor of white Appalachian communities. Its generational poverty, not race, that is the reason for low graduation rates. And what follows are fewer particle physicists from Compton LA, and the blue hills of Kentucky.

          1. We’re not talking about an entire race here, only the population exposed to the pernicious genetic effects of animal husbandry inherent in slavery. (The population is black only because slavery at that time was drawn from black African regions.) Reparative outbreeding was prevented by miscegenation laws and, later, mating preference. If poor white people from Appalachia were rounded up and selectively bred for several generations under the same conditions, I would expect to see their genetic endowments for intelligence fall too. Compared to poor whites who were not so treated, they would be less intelligent on average, all irrespective of (but additive to) cultural “generational poverty” effects.

            It’s entirely possible for a population, on its own, unbidden by slave owners, to dis-value intelligence such that only duller people are attractive enough to the opposite sex to have children. (It certainly seems that way in high school.) But to embrace this cultural explanation lets slavery off the hook too easily. Ideally you’d like to quantify the slavery effect because it bears on the question of reparations.

            The hypothesis applies only to those Black Americans (and West Indians) who are descended from trans-Atlantic slaves, not to Black-identifying people whose ancestors came to the Americas voluntarily and were not enslaved, (such as Barack Obama.) Nor does it apply to present-day immigrants from modern African states, even the same regions that supplied slaves of old. To reiterate, race has nothing to do with it.

            Slavery caused the problem in a very real way, I hypothesize. Not just in the Lamarckian sense of intergenerational psychological trauma. The best argument for reparations is that permanent irreversible damage was done to a class of people and their living descendants that cannot be repaired by trying to provide equal opportunity at birth to help them “grow back” what they have lost. The politics of doing that is none of my business but I think there is a moral claim there that has to be answered.

            1. Slave breeding programs in the US are more fantasy than historical reality. Children are expensive, and an important economic advantage of an enslaved worker is that you don’t need to pay for his upbringing. After the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was outlawed, slave breeding became more important, but was both a rare occurrence and inefficient because (like most breeders in human history) its practitioners knew too little about how traits are inherited.

              Theories about a “survival of the fittest” that have occasionally been used to explain black dominance in US sports do not stand up to scrutiny, because the evidence for strong selection among slaves is not there, especially not among US slaves who multiplied easily (unlike slaves on Caribbean sugar plantations, who were often simply worked to death).

              Of course, there was natural selection going on for tens of thousands of years in which white and black Americans evolved separately. If you believe B-W differences are caused by genetics, this is what you should focus on. Fortunately, West Africans are still around and make a useful control group for African Americans. (Merely comparing blacks and whites in the US and explaining everything about blacks with slavery is obviously useless, since even if the theory true was could it could never be proven that way).

              1. But that’s the thing. I don’t believe there are genetically mediated differences in intelligence between blacks* and whites generally, or at least I don’t want to. I don’t know how separate evolution in two large populations by itself should cause intellectual differences between them. Melanin, hemoglobin S, lactose tolerance, sure. But not a multigenic property like intelligence potential which confers fitness in all environments. People everywhere have to outwit the forces of nature, and their human competitors, to survive.

                My premise is that the human oppression of slavery itself mechanistically caused damage to the gene pool of those enslaved, compared to those not enslaved. I get it that no one wants to study this. But if you say an idea is obviously useless then I suppose your mind is closed.

                I’ll shut up now. Jerry challenged me to explain myself. I’ve done my best.
                * Remember there are about, what, 33 million Black (capitalized as per McWhorter) people in the United States and a billion in Africa. The American subset is a tiny slice of the world’s black people.

              2. “My premise is that the human oppression of slavery itself mechanistically caused damage to the gene pool of those enslaved, compared to those not enslaved.”

                Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians (if I remember the movie correctly).

                So if that is the claim, then we expect the same result in those populations (I am not a biologist or geneticist) – unless there’s more to it than that.

              3. And… and…

                We are, so far, assuming intelligence/IQ/smarts is – what, sufficient? – for , here, particle physics.

                I am not a particle physicist, but I will go out on a limb and claim whatever IQ is, while it might be necessary to “do” particle physics, there’s no way whatever IQ is is sufficient to “do” particle physics.

            2. And we do have a control group – Nigerians who remained in Africa, and who now have a reputation as clever and hard-working immigrants in the West.
              And not knowing your life circumstances, Leslie, I’d advise you to be very careful to whom you expound this theory. Unless you are retired and in need of entertainment. Otherwise it is prime cancellation material, no matter if it is true or not.

            3. I never heard that before – meaning, I’m glad it was put concisely here and with a BBC reference.

              One might wonder, by this argument, how the weak breeders could control the powerful progeny taken from lower latitudes – that would be expected to otherwise overpower them – it’d have to be guns and steel. Perhaps ocean travel as well.

            4. One problem with your hypothesis is that blacks descendants of slaves in America have significantly higher IQs than blacks in Africa, on average, rather than lower.

              You say that “reparative outbreeding was prevented by miscegenation laws, [etc]”, and while that may be true, there has been significantly more such outbreeding than in other ethnic groups in the US. If you plot ancestry on a graph, whites in American cluster tightly into a nearly 100% European group, while blacks in America are a large, diffuse blob containing almost no “pure blacks”.

              Blacks in the US have, on average, almost 25% European ancestry, and the degree of European ancestry in US blacks also correlates with their IQ. Self-identified blacks that are almost white have average IQs that are almost at the white level, while even those that are 90% black have IQs only moderately greater than their African cousins. (Data on pure blacks in America is hard to find, since they’re so rare.)

              I suspect better nutrition in America also makes a difference.

              My point is that overall and contra your hypothesis, blacks’ intelligence has not been harmed by their having been brought to the US, at least compared to their modern African cousins. For one reason or another, their intelligence has significantly increased as a result.

              1. At the risk of over-commenting in a to-and-fro, Adam, and requesting Jerry’s leave, I just want to thank you sincerely for your perceptive comments that do, indeed, rebut my hypothesis. I really appreciate your taking the trouble to reply.

      3. There are many ways in which there can be disparities without either discrimination or a genetic difference. Thomas Sowell documents many of these ways in his recent book Discrimination and Disparities.

        Here is one example. The median age for white people in the US is 43, while that for black people is 32 (according to Pew Research Center). That fact alone predicts, for example, higher income for white people, even if all else were equal between the two groups.

  7. For me, religion is a set of beliefs that live in some space considered sacred by an individual or group. Since the beliefs are sacred, they can’t be legitimately questioned and individuals can be ejected from believing groups for appearing to doubt any of the group’s core beliefs. So woke can be a religion and, as such, will behave as any other religion behaves. For folks who want to be part of a woke group but believe that religion should have a limited or absent role in public life, this may pose a conundrum. For me, not so much. Woke beliefs should be treated as we treat other sacred beliefs, with respect but viewed through a dispassionate lens as sacred to believers but testable and open to scientific inquiry.

    1. Lots of people question their own faith, though few actually leave it. You are using “sacred” as a synonym for “immune to questioning”. I, for one, don’t treat religious beliefs with “respect,” no more than I’d treat any other mass delusion with respect. Why does religion get a pass when its ideas are unevidenced, divisive, and clearly harmful? Am I supposed to “respect” the view of Catholics that homosexual acts are grave sins that will send you to hell if you don’t repent? Am I supposed to “respect” the view of many Muslims that apostates, gays, and atheists deserve to die for their “sins”? Should I “respect” the views of Southern Baptists that life on Earth was the result of a divine creation event? Sorry, but I don’t see those beliefs as sacred, and will revile, mock, and criticize them.

      It seems to me immoral to say that “shared sacred beliefs” should be treated with “respect.”

      1. Dr. Coyne, you make a strong case for refusing to respect discriminatory beliefs. You’ve given me a lot to consider. Thank you.

    2. “Woke beliefs should be treated…with respect but viewed through a dispassionate lens as sacred to believers but testable and open to scientific inquiry.”

      Maybe, but the particle physicists in that article have already rejected this approach. They find that their observations (lack of representation) don’t fit the predictions from their model (meritocracy), so they make an ad hoc addition to the model (bigotry). They don’t even pause to consider that the data might be inadequate (observations of culture, personal preference, innate mathematical ability, financial need could account for choice of a career in particle physics cf. Christine@9).

      This is pretty ironic for people whose field of research has advanced largely by comparing data to models and then engineering machines that generate better data.

  8. Will it soon become “charge-ist” to refer to some particles as negative while others are positive? Physicists think of electrons as going all over the place, while protons mostly stay focused or centered. (And there’s probably a cartoon in there somewhere, but I can’t draw.)

    1. There has been serious discussion that some terminology in the physical sciences is colonialist and racist. “Slave particles”, “master theory”, and “dark matter”.

  9. People from less than well-advantaged financial backgrounds (as is true for most minority students) are usually going to want to go into a profession that guarantees a job and financial security. To try and lure such students into esoteric academic professions (in the name of “equity”), where there are way more students at all levels than possible positions for them, is not in their best interest. Moreover, today if any such student expressed an interest in a subject like particle physics they’d be rushed off their feet with encouragement. (Wouldn’t guarantee them a job at the end of their training, however.)

    BTW, there were days when, as a woman in science, when I went into the mailroom/office area (before people knew who I was — I’m thinking of my brief sojourn at Oregon State University.) I was indeed asked to type a letter/get some coffee. Was I traumatized?? I was, however, particularly amused when I was phoned up by the group of faculty wives with an invitation to join them (mistaking me for my own spouse). That, however, was over 40 years ago. The world has changed since then.

    1. A while ago, there was a … what, gag?.., one could type “Ph.D. physics” in Google, and the top result was the essay “Don’t be a Scientist” (or “Don’t be a Scientist!” ? Cannot recall…). I think the author was Professor Jonathan Katz.

  10. How can you expect parity in the number of particle physicists when there is no parity in the number of 12th graders who can read at grade level and do algebra?

  11. What’s needed to succeed in a STEM field? Interest and talent, and without talent few will sustain their interest. Some having the necessary talent won’t have the interest. Talent is primarily a certain type of intelligence accompanied by an ability to work hard.

    The blank slaters just won’t accept this. They insist all that’s needed is better education and opportunity and all racial and sex imbalances will disappear – despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

    I hope I’m as wrong as Christopher Hitchens when he claimed women aren’t funny, but women can’t do math. Not all women, but when it comes to higher math very few women will stack up against the top men.

    1. True about math, but men have greater variance than women, and so there are more men than women who are at the very top and the very bottom of the distribution. The fact that at the top men outnumber women by a large number (I think it’s 10 to one or 20 to one) can account for a sex bias (not a racial bias) in particle physics. I couldn’t find the exact data, so I didn’t mention it.

  12. In reading the interview, it seems that Assamagan wants physics to be a meritocracy while at the same time being more inclusive. That seems like a pretty good goal to have.

    He claims that physics is not welcoming to women or minorities. But in making that claim he provides no evidence. At most, he provides anecdotes that are themselves hypothetical, e.g., asking a woman to get him coffee. Presumably, if Assamagan had evidence for the unwelcome nature of the field, he would have cited it. In the end, it’s not clear that Assamagan is truly worried about the state of physics—he insists that excellence matters—but may be saying what he said simply because it’s become the expected thing to say. Bolstering my view is the fact that he didn’t call for remediation beyond creating a code of conduct. In other words, unlike some, he’s doesn’t seem willing to blow the profession apart in order to achieve a political end.

  13. It seems to me teaching physics to minorities needs a shake as well. It is a “dry” subject but if the student is good at math and identified early, interest could be piqued.
    So perhaps it is not meritocracy at the end but from the start that needs a kick.

  14. The Swedes have attempted with particular earnestness to eliminate sexual disparities in jobs. Nonetheless, striking disparities remain in types of jobs, no doubt related to the equally striking disparities between males and females in secondary school program attachments and in university and graduate school concentrations. These distributions are shown graphically on pages 38, 40, and 66 of the statistical compendium “Women and Men in Sweden” at:

  15. The efforts of STEM science to accommodate the demands of woke activists will be precisely as effective as those of Jameela Jamil in trying to fend off their attacks after years of pandering to them (as evidenced in today’s Hili).

  16. One of the commonest among the diversity delusions is this cliché: a student will learn something better if the teacher, exemplar, or source of information looks like the student. The fallacy of this delusion is so obvious that it only hit me the other day: almost nothing we teach kids in school was discovered, invented, or worked out by a kid!. But those are the things we teach them, and they must learn, to function in the real world. [One of the exceedingly rare exceptions, I concede, is Braille notation, invented by Louis Braille as a teenager. But, come to think of it, visually impaired students probably care more about what Braille enables them to do than what age its inventor was, or what he looked like.]

  17. Damn, it! I was hoping there might one day actually be a unified field theory, and now I know some little green men from another galaxy will get there first, and all because of zero-meritocracy.

  18. Yeah, well, tough. The science fields were highly left leaning in all my years of following and observing, always punching down at anyone daring to ask a question, even honest ones. It was all fine and good when the political kerfuffle was outside your little bubble of privilege and hubris. Well, now the monster you and/or your contemporaries helped create has arrived on your front porch. Enjoy what the rest of us have been dealing with for years if not a couple decades.

    Quote: “but I simply cannot believe that they’re so common that they create an unwelcoming climate.”

    It doesn’t matter. It’s an ideology. It has a philosophy. You can be squeaky clean, but they will find something to pin on you, even if they have to manufacture a new rule. They will search all your previous writings and utterances, and find something they can make a mountain out of. And if you apologize, they just smell blood in the water. It will never be enough.

    The past or current state of something they want to take over is irrelevant. You can see it in Hollywood. Every female actress is now the first female action hero and breaking new ground. Anything from the Perils Of Pauline to even Ellen Ripley are unknown to any of these people. They live in the perpetual now where it is year zero forever.

    You just have to open a history book and read about authoritarian states of the past, and the techniques they used to control the zeitgeist. It’s all there, and it’s happening again, and this time they’re armed with new technology and new, well, let’s call it memeology. Agitprop of the space age. Stalin is gazing up from Hell (yeah, yeah, I know), weeping with jealously.

    Fortunately, much of the non-Western world thinks this stuff is the height of comedy, and will continue progress without us as they laugh. You light want to learn Mandarin or maybe Hindi.

    1. Sorry, Mr. Redclaw, but your first post is angry, rude, and wrong. I and many of my colleagues did not create this wokeness; it is a vocal but virtue-flaunting minority.

      And I don’t need your splenetic accusations on my website, so please go away. All we have from you is a rant, perhaps fueled by alcohol. But Ceiling Cat help you if this is the way you want to address members of a website for the first (and last) time.

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