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Am I a sexist ? August 30, 2007

Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, humor, language, personal, physics, politics, science, social life.

It seems that my description of the speaker and the audience  in a CERN seminar yesterday raised some eyebrows, and the comments column of that post got filled with a discussion that has little to do with the physics. I prefer to answer some of the comments in an independent post, i.e. here. For other columns discussing the issue, see what Kea (an often discriminated woman physicist) or  Clifford (if you are sexophobic) have to say.

I am not an extraterrestrial, and no human being is happy to be criticized, nor is any blogger happy to hear from a reader “I won’t be reading much of this blog in the future, I don’t think“. I will not try to feign unconcern. But by far the strongest feeling today, as I checked my blog comments  – mostly concentrated in the column under yesterday’s post on Lisa Randall‘s seminar , and the incoming links, was amusement.

And as usual when I find myself amused by the criticism I receive, my first reaction is to beg for more. Hannibal Lektar, interviewed in his cell in “Silence of the Lambs“,  replies to the shock of the investigator at the display of the monster’s personality by mentioning how he once ate a man’s liver with a bottle of Chianti, and showing how the thought of it makes him drool. Likewise, my impulse would be to drop a casual, really sexist remark which would only drive a larger wedge between me and my detractors, like “My next grad student in CMS is quite skilled, and she is also quite sexy – I’m working to exploit the latter feature”. (She will laugh at you all when I show this to her).

Instead, let me disciplined here. I will try to answer to the criticism by taking it seriously, but bear with me: this will not be totally devoid of the occasional sarcasm which is part of my writing style. You had a taste of it just above…

1) First of all, a call to keep a perspective. Maybe you never cared to read the fine print, but the subtitle of this blog is “private thoughts of a physicist and chessplayer“. That is right, private. And indeed, in my blog you will be just as likely to find a discussion of physics issues as a chess game or a report of an observing session under the stars, or a picture of my kids. Did you get the message ? If I venture in a description of a person I meet – be it a woman, a man, whatever – it is because this is my diary, and I want to keep a record of my ideas, my feelings, my thoughts.

Moreover, I write posts here as I would write a book, or a novel, and not an essay on particle physics: I like to describe the characters, and I am better at describing women than men. You, dear reader, are the ultimate judge of the quality of the output, and you are perfectly entitled to decide it is not of your liking. What you cannot do, I think, is criticize the contents because they are at odds with the way you would have written things, or because they do not fit with your personal idea of what is kosher content in the internet. I of course love to be read, but maybe this blog is just not for you. And that stil does not entitle you to criticize it as sexist: these are personal thoughts.

Maybe you can criticize me as a sex maniac, but that would be a little bit over the edge for having written “left the arms exposed“, don’t you think ? 

2) Related to the above, is a general lack of perspective in some of the comments I got to read today. The internet is full of child porn, home-made bomb manuals, neonazist sites, climate change skeptics. And the world, too, is full of maniacs who bomb countries for their personal gain, serial rapists, killers, readers of New Scientist.

You feel I have not done a good service to the cause of reducing sexism in academia with my post of yesterday ? Maybe you have a point, but is it such a big deal ? Did it really require your royal, thought over intervention ? This blog is visited less than a thousand times a day (maybe by the same people over and over). By attacking a paragraph which even carried a initial disclaimer (“if I am allowed a slip…“), and which was clearly only meant at giving the atmosphere of the seminar (as a few readers of both sexes seem to have understood without guidance), you show concern for this blog content and that is fine, but you also show the kind of random, compulsive 360-degree action that is typical of fundamentalists. One cannot argue with fundamentalists, so what am I doing here ?

3) Perhaps what I am doing here is trying to explain that I, too, hate the situation a pretty girl faces when she starts an academic career. But the whole world works the same way. By applying restraint, censorship, and dogged control inside your institution, in the behavior of your colleagues, in what you read in blogs, you may be successful in creating an apparently sexism-free environment. But the people the girl will meet in his academic life are human beings, with their own pulsions, their fallacies, their sexism – even if covert. You may walk in your neat corridor devoid of pics of busty girls, but you will not have purged the mind of Dr. Brown three doors down – he has those pics hung on his garage walls.

I guess the point I am making is: bombing Iraq is not the way to eradicate fundamentalism and arab terrorism. Quite the opposite.

4) Finally, I deeply regret the level of paranoia we have reached with the whole issue in academia. The world is changing, thank god. In some ways it is even getting better. 

Let’s take JoAnne Hewett‘s comment as an example. She starts off by writing “You started off on a sexual tone“. Excuse me, what is a sexual tone, describing a dress ? Describing jewelry ? Saying somebody looks nice and fit ? I have to exercise restraint to avoid saying what I think here. I know a sex maniac could smell sex in that sentence, and in a way, that is exactly what annoys me in the criticism: the people who criticize are those most obsessed with sex, not the other way round! Get a life, folks! 

But then things get worse: “And then brought in a Southpark reference to penises ? Got sex on your mind while writing this post, do you ?“… What can I say ? She really does not understand, but she is excused because she probably does not usually read this blog, which is full of the same stuff. One example (the first that springs to my mind because of the similarity of the topic, but there are dozens) is from a post of mid-May this year, when I talk about back-of-the envelope calculations as opposed to theoretical calculations with too many digits of accuracy: “we need it about as much as a man needs a two-feet-long penis – great for bragging, but ineffective and redundant“. 

JoAnne concludes “why make the point that she was not intimidated by the questions…? Think the girl can’t take tough questions, do you ?“. Good lord. Is that sexist ? JoAnne, that is insulting, and I think you meant to insult me. You managed to do it. I might excuse you if you wrote the comment out of an impulse, but that requires your apologies. Otherwise, please walk away, you have crossed the line.


1. jeff - August 30, 2007

Wow, is this growing to grow fast? I just posted the following on the Randall thread.
I Find it hard to resist this thread. In Italy sexism is everywhere! Find me an italian male that is not sexist and most likely he grew up abroad for most of his life. Tommaso’s remarks about Randall, from an italian perspective, are perfectly normal. He could and should have avoided them as his blog is read from many non-italians.

Strangely, the prime vigorous vectors of the propagation now-a-days of sexism in Italy are italian women themselves. I live in Italy and I have become somewhat contaminated, but I am really shocked to see many italian women enthusiastically raise their small female children to dress, pose and behave just as this new TV-dominated sexist culture expects them to. I am ashamed to say that I’ve become sensitive to this ONLY after having a small baby girl.
How are you going to raise your children?

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3. Anonymous - August 30, 2007

I suggest you just blame it all on a “wide stance”.

And leave it at that.

4. Thomas Larsson - August 30, 2007

A sexist and a woitino – you’re condemned forever 🙂

5. Chase - August 30, 2007

It’s hard to judge people on their merits without being biased by things that don’t matter like their appearance. If we don’t make an effort to identify and try to ignore some of the things that don’t matter, our evaluations of people and their work will certainly be affected. I don’t think people are looking for a workplace where everyone is controlled and censored and doesn’t speak what’s on their mind. I just want to work somewhere where we all share a common understanding: we will try hard to be fair to one another and judge each other’s work on the value of the work itself.

It’s not hypocritical – no one is telling you to pretend not to judge people’s looks. Instead, we should recognize that everyone does react to appearances and make a conscious effort to not let that judgment get mixed in with the professional judgment of someone’s work. Your description of the seminar left the impression that you saw no need to separate the two. It’s a substantive criticism that your comments and new post are not addressing, but validating.

6. jeff - August 30, 2007

the defense that the blog expresses private thoughts is not a very good one. Your thoughts ARE public. So expect flack, not only plause.

Hi Thomas Larsson. What is a woitino?
A sexist Who-I-ino? (supersymmetric sexist in denial)

7. Thomas Larsson - August 30, 2007

Woit-ino: a small Peter Woit.

8. riqie arneberg - August 30, 2007

Although I cannot stand the man, Rash Lummox (rush limbaugh the radio host) has a point when he uses the term “feminazis”. All ape behavior has a sexual connotation, but the fashion is to pretend this is not so.

Lisa is georgeous. I HATE HER lol.

9. Thomas Larsson - August 30, 2007

Jeff: Apologizes for being overly explicit, but I was alluding to this post.

10. An American girl in Austria - August 30, 2007
11. An American girl in Austria - August 30, 2007

This was a reply to your post about American men being assholes back in Aug. 2006. As in, I just replied to it last night – a year later it seems. ehem.

12. Tony Smith - August 30, 2007

in an interview on the web at http://www.style.com slash vogue, Lisa Randall is quoted as saying:

“… I think there are a lot of women in physics
– and there really aren’t that many women in physics –
who sort of don’t really know how they should dress …”.

If your positive remarks about her appearance caused you to be criticised as sexist in a bad way,
what about her negative remarks about the “dress” of “a lot of women in physics” ?

Is there a similar storm of comments on the web calling Lisa Randall a bad “sexist” for saying that ?

Also, doesn’t Lisa Randall, through such remarks, make her apearance and “dress” a public issue open for blog comments ?

Tony Smith

13. Luboš Motl - August 30, 2007

Hi Tommaso,
just leave these frigid PC robots freeze out. 😉

A few years ago, my sister fell in love with an Italian guy when she was getting suntan in Italy. So she learned Italian.

Of course, it is somewhat sick – I would understand to fall in love with a Scandinavian guy – but Italians? 😉

Nevertheless, the Czech temperament is probably somewhere in between the Finnish and Italians – and on a different continent than Americans, in these questions: unfortunately.

The ideas that Lisa is harmed by your article and that women like her need a defense is utterly absurd. A woman would need a defense if she met a chap like you on the street – that would be really annoying an encounter – but on the blog?

Most readers who actually get the desription of yours are nice people who got here from the Reference Frame and I am sure that Lisa wants to be admired by those people and you are doing a good job in it.

What’s more troublesome are the anti-theorist attitudes. Can’t you introduce some policy at CERN that everyone who says a general ant-theorist sentence or makes an anti-theorist gesture is kicked into a sensitive part of his body? This policy would greatly help physics.

Thanks for your co-operation

14. Eric - August 30, 2007

It seems to me that Randall has become something of a celebrity in the media, not just for her scientific accomplishments but specifically for her attractiveness. I think it would be really unfair to recognize that one of the reasons for the publics fascination with Lisa is that not only is she smart, but she’s also very beautiful. For this reason, she has appeared in several fashion oriented magazines. Thus, I don’t think it’s any more inapproriate to comment on her clothes or other aspects of her physical appearance than it for other celebrities such as actors, models, and musicians.

15. Professor - August 30, 2007

Take it easy, Tomasso. If Vogue magazine can write about Lisa’s physics achievements (well, the Oscar de la Renta suit was also really astounding…), why can’t you make some nice comments about her appearance on a physics blogue?

16. Al Fansome - August 30, 2007


I find your comment that because you put a subtitle on your blog that it is your “private” thoughts, yet you post them on a platform where over 1 billion people can read them somewhat amusing and disingenuous.

From your photo, it appears that you are short and have small hands and feet. Should we infer anything from that?



17. Andrea Giammanco - August 30, 2007

> Strangely, the prime vigorous vectors of the propagation now-a-days of sexism in Italy are italian women themselves.

I can confirm.

18. Stuart Coleman - August 30, 2007

The answer to your title is, in my opinion, “no”. I didn’t think much of that paragraph, and was a little surprised when I saw Chad Orzel’s blog saying that was some hullabaloo about it. I think you’ll weather the storm quite nicely though.

Also, that “two foot penis” remark is awesome, I wonder how I missed it in May.

19. Bee - August 30, 2007

Sorry, I don’t have time for commenting, I am stuck in the middle of a move, but you might be interested my brief post on the issue. Best, B.

20. M - August 30, 2007

Technicolor and warped extra dimensions are AdS/CFT dual (i.e. they are the same thing).

Then why Lisa talking about warped extra dimensions gets more attention than a bald male theorist talking about technicolor?

21. Amara - August 30, 2007

Yes, obviously. Tryouts to be a velina (*) are highly competitive, often pushed by the Italian mothers. Perhaps they have experiences of no other measures of success in a culture where both men and women are not evaluated on merit. So where to begin to change the situation? Do enough Italians want it to change? It will take time, a generation, if they do. I do have colleagues with little girls who are distressed about the situation, but these scientists’ opinions could be fringe.

(*) To others: veline are the leggy, full-cleavage, minimal-speaking, dancing girls on most of the TV channels, who appeared concurrently with Berlusconi’s ownership / control of 95% of Italian TV. The definition in my Zingarelli dictionary says: A velina (plural veline) is “a young television assistant who exhibits herself in succinct clothes during a transmission”. Those women who don’t qualify as veline can content themselves with less glamorous roles, such as letterine (women who hold the letters up), numerine (women who hold the numbers up) or microfonine (women who hold the microphones).

22. marco - August 30, 2007

Oh, give me a break.
Linking sexism as an Italian problem to what Tommaso wrote in his post is quite a stretch, don’t you think so?
Let’s try and keep the discussion within reasonable boundaries.
I have no time and interest to go through every single word of Tommaso’s post on Lisa Randall’s talk and look for hints at Tommaso’s supposed sexism, but the general impression I got from it was that Lisa Randall, beside being a clever person, is also quite an attractive women.
Do you find this statement sexist?
Well, if you do, please add my name to the list of horrible sexist men, a list that, by your standards, should contain a few billion names 😉

23. Steve - August 30, 2007

I heard about this thread elsewhere, and it is so good to see someone making a stand against all the misguided political (in every sense) correctness that infests our lives these days. To show my commitment I have just added you to my list of blog feeds that I will read regularly. Keep up the good work.

24. Amara - August 30, 2007

marco: Sorry, I think it is a cultural issue, that is difficult for people outside of Italy to understand. Ciao.

25. marco - August 30, 2007

Amara, I am sorry but either I don’t really get it or I thoroughly disagree with you.

26. Amara - August 30, 2007

Marco: That comment by Tommaso would be considered so innocuous by an Italian woman scientist, that the most it would invoke is a roll of her eyes and she would move on and wouldn’t think twice. However, working in an Italian research group of 70% women with a woman boss, I can tell you that every woman here ‘knows’ that her career can only advance so far in this society, and such comments like Tommaso’s, while a fact of life, _are_ noted. A woman’s work is rarely evaluated on its’ merit, but on other things such as looks, connections, first. It’s just that nobody makes a fuss and it’s part of the silent acceptance of the conditions of the society where few people take a stand on principle. The glass ceiling that exists for women with careers in Italy isn’t even on the radar. It’s barely relevant in a culture where jobs are so frequently given based on ties of family or friendships. Doesn’t it seem odd to you that out of the hundreds of social issues that Beppe Grillo has addressed, not a single one is about the unequal representation of women at the highest levels across the whole spectrum of society from politics to business to education? It’s not on the radar because on the scale of things that have gone wrong in the country, it’s not important. There are many more important things to fix. But to people outside of Italy it looks strange. Why did Tommaso start his post about Lisa Randall’s science by describing her appearance, first? Well such a thing is normal in a culture where appearances are deeply embedded and appearances are on everyone’s mind. But to people outside of Italy, it looks strange.

27. a - August 30, 2007

dear Professor, I would like to see Sundrum on Vogue. Tommaso, what about a blog entry about his moustache?

28. jeff - August 30, 2007

I rest my case!

29. Rick - August 30, 2007

If we lived in a gender neutral world where everyone was judged on merit, then discussing someone’s physical appearance would not be a problem. We do not, however, live in that world. The world we live in has a very obvious and very damaging inequality where men are judged by one standard and women by another – to the detriment of us all.

In our world, each and every one of us has a responsibility to do the right thing, and we all know what the right thing is. Nobody should have to tell you to not reinforce damaging stereotypes or to not propagate sexist commentary. It is not sexist because you think something sexual. It is not sexist because you are attracted to a woman or even tell other people that you think that a woman is attractive. It is sexist because you use your platform on the web and your status as a professional physicist to communicate your opinions to the world. You are, by your own actions, a role model and authority in the physics community and your thoughts are no longer private, regardless of any disclaimer tacked on the sideboard of your blog. In your opinion, this woman’s appearance is more important than her contribution to physics. That is fine for you, but it’s not fine to put in print.

Even if you disagree with me regarding your blog and your position in the physics community, shouldn’t you work towards changing the status quo? Knowing as you do how difficult it is for women in science, and women in physics especially, shouldn’t you just not contribute to the problem? It’s really a very small thing to ask.

Be part of the solution, not the problem.

30. JoAnne Hewett - August 30, 2007


A young woman scientist named Michelle commented on Asymptotia
(http://asymptotia.com/2007/08/29/still-so-far-to-go/#more-1608, comment #46) and explained very well why the langauge in your post does real harm and contributes to turn young women away from science. I encourage you to read it. You can either reflect on that, or you can write another post which insults me personally.

31. Tumbledried - August 31, 2007

Dear Tommaso,

I would like to say that I find your blog on the whole to be well written and fairly well informed, and a pleasure to read. I particularly like your posts on chess games, those are quite nice!

As a man in science, I would actually argue on the other side, that although career wise men seem to have the odds unreasonably stacked for them, there is actually discrimination against male geeks as well – to the effect that we are supposed to be sexless machines, without emotion, and without need for female company. I personally find this to be a real problem when I deal with people outside of science, since I often feel coerced into behaving like something I am not. I am in my mid-twenties and I have never had a girlfriend. I am considering the merits of leaving science for this reason alone.

But back on topic- we all make mistakes, or, at least, we are bound to step on people’s toes for something or rather eventually. That is just life. Sexism is a touchy subject – after all, you are potentially offending about 50% of people by saying the wrong thing in this regard. But then again, the net is free, we should have the right to say what we like – and people should have the right to say what they want in return. The joys of freedom of speech.

So my advice is, don’t take this to heart, learn from it, and keep writing good stuff.

32. criminyjicket - August 31, 2007

I’m not sure if you are a sexist, but you are one seriously self aware dude

33. Pavel Krapivsky - August 31, 2007

Dear JoAnne,

A young 18 years old “romantic physicist” named Francis Caestecker commented on Asymptotia and explained extremely well why the language of Tommaso’s post could not harm anybody.

Also in this thread you can see a reference (comment #10) to an old post by Tommaso named “American men” where he writes:

“I think a good 80%, a strong majority, of american men behave as assholes in their private lives.”

He can certainly express his opinion on american men and any other issue, this is after all his blog. What seems strange is that calling Lisa Randall attractive you and your friends (Sean, Clifford, et al) find completely awful but saying that 80% of american men are assholes is apparently OK for you.

34. Ron - August 31, 2007

Dear Tommaso,

The story told in these comments is universal, across fields, across cultures. Alix Olson describes a conversation at a poetry festival:

I am the only female spoken word poet at this international festival. For five days, I’m surrounded by male poets eager to bond across cultural barriers. It’s a cornucopia of breast-size jokes. On the last evening, a poet from Holland who I have studiously avoided all evening leans toward me and says, “Holland doesn’t have sexism, so I’m not used to this American feminist thing.” He leans back, drains his beer, and confides the Secret to Art: “Preaching ruins poetry.”

35. Jack - August 31, 2007

JA Hewitt wrote: “You can either reflect on that, or you can write another post which insults me personally”

The latter, please!

36. Tumbledried - August 31, 2007

My apologies for my earlier post – I realise that its character was in parts a bit overly negative, and self-obsessive, even for this discussion. Nor did I fully mean what I said. I have not had much sleep this week and it is making me feel a bit the worse for wear.

I did mean my comments about your blog however – it is most excellent and intelligently written. And I agree with what you said over at Clifford’s blog – Americans should care more about their foreign policy rather than a paragraph written in a foreigner’s blog. I might point out that the fact that one president can get impeached for infidelity while another can get away with responsibility for a war that has cost thousands of lives is an amazing hypocrisy.

Lots of sleep, wine, and walking for me this weekend I think.


37. jeff - August 31, 2007

If your not part of the solution then you are part of the precipitate!

38. dorigo - August 31, 2007

Hi all,

here are my answers to selected comments:

#4 Thomas, being a controversial figure has its pluses. Look at Lubos: he thrives in it, and I do not blame him for that. The web is full of other examples.

#5 Chase, my description of th seminar left that impression in those who do not get that my writing style implies an introduction to set the atmosphere before I delve in the physics.

#6 Jeff, ok. I should have expected flak, but I still think this is first and foremost my space, not a public place. As one who exposes a rainbow “PEACE” flag out of the window, I am entitled to my opinions and I have the freedom to express my thoughts here.

#8 Yes Riqie, we are not so far from apes, I don’t think.

#12 Tony, of course the case of sexism is built on the muddiest foundations ever in this instance: Lisa is a public figure.

#13 Lubos, italians do it better, remember ? And I am a gentleman, never harass a girl in the streets or anywhere else… As for your suggestion on anti-theorist gestures, it is a bit too reactionary for me to consider it.

#14 Thanks Eric, you have a good point there.

#15 Yes, I do take it easy, although I am spending the better part of this morning by answering comments here 🙂

#16 Yes, Al. You can infer that I have trouble with the third movement of the Appassionata. My penis is 7 inches long, which I find sufficient for what I do with it. Anything else you needed to ask ?

#18 Thank you Stuart… And the word penis is coming out too frequently in this blog. I am starting to fear a spam attack 🙂

#22 welcome to the club of the abominable sexists, marco.

#23 Thank you Steve, I look forward to hearing from you again soon!

#26 Amara, I think you stretch it. I would agree with what you describe if it was toned down a bit, but saying “the glass ceiling that exists for women with careers in italy isn’t even on the radar” is an overstatement and automatically derates your point. Montalcini, Hack. Bonino. The head of the italian group of CMS physicists (hundreds of smart guys and gals) is a woman, and so is the head of the ATLAS group. I could go on. We fell short of getting a female president a few years ago. We had an admittedly not very smart woman taking the third most important charge in Italy 13 years ago. I think you are misrepresenting things.

#29 Rick, thank you for your note. It is a balanced criticism and I will take it into account. Anyway, I do contribute to the issue as I can, by encouraging my female students to pursue a career in physics. I think that counts more than a few words here and there in the mare magnum of the web.

#30 JoAnne, I read, considered, answered there.

#31 Tumbledried, you raise an excellent point. Males are discriminated too, in a way. And I strongly sympathize with you for your difficulty. The higher one’s instruction level, the lower the chances of mating.

#33 Pavel, you fished out a comment I am not too proud about, but so be it, it’s the power of the web. Yes, I let go with the occasional politically incorrect statement here, and it is usually not against women!

#34 Nice quote Ron, thanks!

#36 Tumbledried, never apologize, especially from an anonymous nickname 🙂 And thanks for your appreciation. Make the wine be a good one.

#37 Jeff, Lol!

39. dterryn - August 31, 2007


I have just gotten back from abroad and I was astonished that the physics blogosphere has exploded in this fashion over such a (from my perspective anyway) trivial comment.

So you comment on the looks of the speaker. Who just so happened to be a woman. For some reason people inferred from this that you are abnormally concerned with these matters, and therefore must be a sexist.

I get the impression that the main outrage is due to the fact that
a) Comments on looks do not belong in a scientific setting
b) The comment was made because she is a woman

On the subject of a) I must respectfully disagree. Obviously, your ability to do science does not depend on your fashion content. But personal appaerence has it’s importance in every social setting, including professional ones. I enjoy seeing people who dress smartly, be they women or men. Maybe this is due to my upbringing (my father was both in the military and in civil aviation, where these thing matter alot), but I consider it a mark of cultivation and good taste when someone is well groomed and dressed nicely. Even more so, she was giving a public seminar, which I esteem is no place for crooked ties or hair gone wild. Regardless wether the speaker is female or male.

On b) I very much doubt that that you made the comment purely because she is female. I myself compliment friends if they pick a nice tie/shirt combination, or when a female friend accesorises her jewelery well. I’ve never felt that I was dismissing their abilities as a scientist in any way when doing that and that is the case with you.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I sympathise with you. Your innocent and well-meant comment has been dragged into the “female discrimination in professional life” discussion (which I will not go into here, I’ll only remark that indeed things are less then perfect in this regard), which I believe you did not deserve.

All the best,


40. dterryn - August 31, 2007


rereading my post, I must apologise for my attrocious spelling.

41. Amara - August 31, 2007

Dear Tommaso, I am interested to know what you think has improved for women reaching the top level (full spectrum of politics, business, research) in Italian society during the last twenty years.

42. dorigo - August 31, 2007

Hi Dimitri,

thank you for your support, and the point that yes, looks are important in science as well – and physicists should start dressing better, men and women alike.

Hi Amara, I don’t think much has improved in Italy in the last twenty years. In fact, things are going bad because mainly of commercial television filling people’s heads with rubbish, and national tv following suit to avoid losing ground. But in physics I see things progressing. I mentioned the heads of two important, combative, eterogeneous groups of physicists (ATLAS-It and CMS-It). What more do you want, a kidney ?


43. Andrea Giammanco - August 31, 2007

> The higher one’s instruction level, the lower the chances of mating.

Hmmm, most (or probably all) of my mates were mostly (or only) attracted by my culture, rather than by my look. This not only applies to Real Love cases but – maybe surprisingly, maybe not – even to “one night stands”.
Certainly less frequent than if I were an uncultured football player, but ehy, I really suck in playing football 🙂

To our young colleague Tumbledried I would suggest not to drop science, if science is what he likes, and if getting laid or finding romance is so important (and I fully agree that it is, indeed) there is another solution: just avoid to stick around with people who assume that you are (or should be) a “sexless machine, without emotion, and without need for female company”. Otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

44. dorigo - August 31, 2007

Hi Andrea,

huhm, good for you… What statistics are we talking about, anyway ? :)))

However, for those who do not know Andrea: he is a handsome young guy, with very bright eyes and the apparent disdain to comb his hair. I think he must be quite attractive to women both younger and older than him. So I do not buy that he got many laid because of his brains.

I concur to his suggestion to tumbledried.


45. Alejandro Rivero - August 31, 2007

#29 starts with am interesting argument:

“If we lived in a gender neutral world where everyone was judged on merit, then…”

Problem is, being judged and rewarded -with a position in the power hierarchy- is a residual of the way of life of the primates; in these species, the hierarchy is usually reserved to the male members (some exceptions have been reported) and the position in the hierarchy was translated to sexual rights. By calling attention about the [non]problem of sex differentiation, a cloud of smoke is thrown to hide the problem of hierarchies. Political feminism is a mix of both notions: “not being male” is a call to reject hierarchies, while “gender equality” simply asks for equal opportunities to climb the ladder of contests and prizes.

Tablet II of the Old Babylonian version of Gilgamesh epic, and tablets I and II of the Standard version, are very relevant here. They contain memories of perhaps the first cultural revolution in the (pre-)history of mankind, overthrowing the sexual rights of the alpha-male: Endiku rejects the right of Gilgamesh to lie with the bride, but does not claim the hierarchical position of Gilgamesh for himself; he has been civilized. But the revolt does not produce as result a flat hierarchy; instead the acknowledge of the merits of Endiku is absorbed in a “men fraternity” and the female sex is kept apart. Shamshatum (Shamhat) becomes Helen.

A remark: I like Dorigo’s blog because -and, amusingly, this is also very italian- it is (or it feels) less hierarchical than most physics blogs. This is particularly rare in blogs, webpages that are built around personality and individuality.

46. Andrea Giammanco - August 31, 2007

> What statistics are we talking about, anyway ? :)))

Too private to say here, but I will tell you if I experience a significant increase in statistics in cause-effect relationship with your comment 😉

47. dorigo - August 31, 2007

Wow Alejandro, that is the best compliment my blog received in quite a while. I hope I can keep it to those standards.


Andrea, best wishes… Ask them if they have sisters and remember the friends.


PS I imagine how many will frown at the exchange between Andrea and I above. Sorry! I hope I did not insult anybody this time.

48. Amara - August 31, 2007

But in physics I see things progressing. I mentioned the heads of two important, combative, eterogeneous groups of physicists (ATLAS-It and CMS-It). What more do you want, a kidney ?

Scaciatto. There is a lot of room for improvement. This is where you precipitation is going. Ciao.

Click to access Italian_Paper_Sonia_Morano-Foadi.pdf

_Academic Scientific Careers in Italy_ (Sonia Morano-Foadi, 2004)

Pg. 21, 22 Women in academia

[…] if for women to have some sort of qualification (especially a university degree), is a conditio sine qu non to enter the employment market, it guarantees neither to be employed at the same level of a man equally qualified nor to be able to re-enter the employment market, should she choose to leave it for sometime (often in order to raise a young family). In other words, education can only partially lower the level of job segregation but is is not as effective tool as it should be to fight the gender gap. Statistics reveals a worrying picture: 50% of women with a university degree works as a clerk as opposed to 26.2% of men with the same or lower qualification. Furthermore, amongst women with university degree, only 16% is in professional jobs as opposed to 35.1% of men. […[ Again despite in the last 10 years women working in academia has increased 20.6% compared to 9.2 percent of men, there is still a clear unbalance between the two sexes: women are in fact persistently less than men. In almost all disciplines the feminisation rate is below 50% (i.e. the parity level). Whilst the proportion of women researchers in natural sciences (31.0%), medical sciences (22.9%) and humanities (41.5%) has increased they are poorly represented in engineering and technology (13.4%). Furthermore, the presence of women decreases passing from a lower to higher hierarchical level. The feminisation rate is low, in all disciplines, among professors: natural sciences (15.0), engineering and technology (5.2%), medical sciences (9.5%), agricultural sciences (10.2%), social sciences (16.8%) and humanities (22.9%). […] In this already difficult scenario, women appear to be further penalized. Despite the apparent neutrality of the promotion criteria, there is evidence that it is more difficult for women to pass from the lower to the upper stages. In 1997 women were 38.6% of the researchers, 23.4% of the associate professors and 9% of the full professors. […] Whilst women are the majority of the administrative staff and among the researchers women are almost half of the total, among professors (both full and associate) women represent a minority. In other words, although the position of women has increased in recent years, their presence decreases as we go from bottom to top positions. […]

Pg. 23, 24, 25 Career path in research institutions and women representation

Until a few years it was difficult to analyze data on women in scientific research, as the majority of them were not geared to gender issues. […] Although there are women in all of these organizations, there is a clear majority in the administrative sectors (54% in the ISS and 84% in INFN), few women in the bottom and intermediate levels, only a minority of women in managerial/leading positions. […] The feminisation rate at the CNR follows the same pattern. […] Finally, women who wish to follow the natural pattern of having both a family and scientific career, encounter a set of typical drawbacks like: * in daily life women are hardly able to dedicate all their time to research, […] * the ‘crystal ceiling * in particular, because of childbearing during the the years of career building, women do not have the geographical and professional mobility of their male colleagues. […]

49. Fred - August 31, 2007

Hello Amara,

I understand and sympathize with a number of your points. But what are the solutions towards changing these conditions and what would the timeline be for the various implimentations that would have to happen? Who would be ‘given the axe’ to accommodate these revisions? Who would be responsible for the inevitable compensations to be granted due to the restructuring? Which organizations would be the directors of these actions? What industry or region has created the equilibrium you seek to offer as a guide or an acceptable reference concerning sexual equality in the work place? Practically speaking, the child bearing argument will never hold water within most enterprises. This is a harsh reality but probably a very prudent policy for most as the economic bottom line holds precedent. Throughout history, society has generally moved at a conservative pace for social change which can be a very long time for many so patience might be your best friend, unfortunately.

Best wishes

p.s. Tommaso, I wish there was a photo of Lisa’s presentation so we might be able to critique your literal description. I was more intrigued by the audience’s initial reaction to her introduction and how you might have improved and expressed your opening thoughts in the written form. ie. I liked your sentence, “Her hair was collected in a pony tail.”, but it strikes me as a phrase one might have penned a while ago.

50. Count Iblis - September 1, 2007

There is definitely something wrong with the way Americans are brought up. The taboo on anything remotely connected to sexuality is not a good thing at all. It is actually the cause of the problem Sean and others are talking about in the first place.

Suppose that Lisa Randall had given her talk at a conference in Saudi Arabia. Then she would have had to wear a headscarf, perhaps even a burqa. 🙂 Are women then so much better of in Saudi Arabia, protected by burqas so that they are not, to quote Sean, “outsiders to be gawked at rather than colleagues like anyone else” 🙂

51. Al Fansome - September 1, 2007

only 7 inches?

52. Kea - September 1, 2007

Wow. I come back from a walk, and look how many posts here! You’d guess that nobody thinks about anything else, which is quite surprising given that I hardly ever hear anybody talking about this issue in the tea room in the department. Keep up the good work, Tommaso.

53. Tripitaka - September 1, 2007

“Al Fansome – September 1, 2007 only 7 inches? ”

Never trust a number given without a band of uncertainty?
Hi T, while I would rather read your physics updates, your blog is going gangbusters atm, best wishes for any blogger to meet with such success!
You ask if you are a sexist… well maybe, but I mean who cares, isn’t everyone to some extent? A blog without glimpses of the author’s personality would be one I wouldn’t bother reading.

54. Amara - September 1, 2007

Dear Fred: In Italy, funding in science is the primary problem –I guess you know how low the salaries are, and the total funding continues to drop, now it is less than 1% GDP, perhaps 0.5% — then there is a hierarchy of secondary problems with the university ‘baron’ system and various other stranglehoods on work environments where young people cannot enter. In the private sector, almost no businesses have R&D departments. In school, the emphasis is on the classics, so young people are not exposed well to science and with little money spent for outreach by the government research institutions), there is no improvement there either. In my view, this generation of Italian scientists is lost, and the ‘Drain Flood’ will continue. So the unequal representation of women in the sciences in Italy is secondary to all of that. The problem still exists, though, but nobody talks about it because it is not relevant in the scale of things in the country to fix.

For women to try to manage the hard problem of balancing their scientific work and family lives, I usually suggest to women this. It won’t work in Italy though. Their draconian assisted reproductive technology laws stopped that cold. If Italian women and couples want that help, they must travel out of the country (and they do).

Thanks for your comment.

55. Amara - September 1, 2007

>In Italy, funding in science is the primary problem

sorry, I meant with respect to Fred’s comments. The primary problems in the country are not science-related.

56. dorigo - September 1, 2007

Hi all,

I agree with Kea – it is surprising how hot this topic is (can I use the word “hot” without people miunderstanding me ? I assure that walking in here and finding all the comments did not trigger an erection).

Anyway let me answer comments in order.

#48 Amara, what is “scaciatto” ? Sciatto ? Sciacallo ? I really did not understand it, and since the rest of the comment does not clarify whether my sentence outraged you or if you agreed to it, please answer. Anyway, I must say I mostly agree with you when you say Italy has other problems to deal with, and I totally concur to highlighting those you mention (the horrible law against assisted fecundation, the funding of science, the way hiring is done in universities, which are not even our worst problems in Italy but touch us more closely as scientists).

#49 you are right, Fred, I sometimes use wording which is not “normal”, mainly because English is my second language. I think the way a woman combs her hair does change a lot of her appearance, and I did not want to miss that detail in the description. Unfortunately I did not have a cam with me, otherwise this whole thread would not exist since I would have avoided the paragraph altogether.

#50 Good point, Count Iblis… I think this shows the lack of perspective I accused some of my critics of.

#51no further comment is necessary, child.

#52 Kea, it would be so good if people talked about it in university tea rooms! My wife is angry at me for the amount of time I am spending at the computer during my free time these days…

#53 Hi tripi, please define “gangbusters atm” for me, will you ? Anyway sorry. I did slip there, but I just wanted to show the child that I really do not give sex that statute of obscene, not to be discussed, awkward topic. We are human beings, with our physical appearances, our pulsions, our nightly activities. This IS my personality – looking at things from a distance. Thank you for your interest in this blog, see you around!

#54 and 55: Amara, please keep visiting here, and you will discover I not only am not a sexist even if I discuss penises and other trivialities without blushing, but that we have more in common than you first thought. Did you hear about Pegah (see my post a week ago) ? How many of your politically correct blog friends talked about that matter ?



57. Al Fansome - September 1, 2007

i just wanted you to see how it felt to have your physical appearance objectified by someone who you had no relationship to.

how does it feel?

58. Count Iblis - September 1, 2007

This case speaks volumes. Sexuality to Americans is like what Mohammed is to Muslims.

Al Fansome, I’m sure that like everyone else, Tommaso wears trousers and keeps his private parts private. So, your analogy isn”t valid. If Randall were deeply religious and wore a burqa to keep her looks private, then the analogy would have been more appropriate.

Suppose, e.g. that in Saudi Arabia a man speculates about how a woman in a buqa looks like. In that culture that may be as inappropriate as for us in the West to speculate about the size of someones hidden body parts.

B.t.w., I’ve read that in the Minoan civilization women used to show their breast in public. So, perhaps in their culture it would not have been inappropriate to make positive compliments to someone about her breasts in public.

59. jeff - September 1, 2007

Count Iblis.
Your sentence “Sexuality to Americans is like what Mohammed is to Muslims.” is false and STUPID. Are you false and stupid or just pretending? Darn good simulation! I hope Tommaso doesn’t cut out my reaction.

60. Tony Smith - September 1, 2007

Tommaso, doesn’t “scaciatto” mean something like the slang-English phrase “get outta here” ?
Is it a regional expression in Italy ?

Tony Smith

61. Count Iblis - September 1, 2007

Jeff, it’s an imperfect analogy, I think you know very well that I mean the official attitude toward things of a sexual nature. In Britain and some other European countries like Italy and Ireland they have a similar problem.

Just consider the following facts:

The F-word is bleeped out on t.v. In mainland Europe this is not the case.

A 17 year old has been jailed for ten years for having consensual sex with a 15 year old. Unthinkable in Europe.

Accidentally bumping into an American woman can lead to “sexual harrrassment” charges.

62. Al Fansome - September 1, 2007


So if I said based on the picture of Tommaso, the bulge between his thighs is somewhat smaller than we see in the typical American asshole male the analogy would work?


and a curiosity? why inches? doesn’t Italy use the metric system?

63. Count Iblis - September 1, 2007

Al, I guess it would be similar to a Saudi journalist speculating how sexy a woman would be if she took off her Burqa. 🙂

64. dorigo - September 1, 2007

Hi all,

Al, as I said already, I feel quite fine about discussing whether my teeth are yellow or my hair still exists, or the like. I understand I may be not “normal” in that respect, and so discussing my case is useless, but you will never get me to understand that discussing a silver bracelet or a pony tail is offensive. And ah, I use inches because anglosaxons find it hard to think in the metric system, while I have no problem with inches and feet.

Jeff, I never cut out posts. My spam filter is aggressive though, so if anybody gets filtered out, please let me know – I get far too much spam to be able to sift through it.

Count, you forgot to mention that some sexual practices which may be considered normal between consensual adults are punishable in a few US states.


65. Amara - September 1, 2007

Probably every man and women would appreciate knowing that others thought he/she was attractive. However, when I’m at a conference giving a scientific presentation, I would like to be evaluated on the work that I am presenting.
If it will help you, Tommaso, I’ll wear a white arrow attached to my pony tail that points to the screen to help focus your eyes.

66. dorigo - September 1, 2007

Amara, what led you to believe I did not appreciate Lisa for the work she was presenting, exactly ? My description of her ? Come on. I think you found a target for your feminism today and you unloaded the whole round, without thinking at it too much. And your last sentence is not funny because of the column of comments it was preceded by.

I am not the person you think you wanted to unleash your anger against. You are showing some stereotyped kind of thinking instead of reasoning on things for a second: the fact that many other women who are sensitive to feminist issues here have defended my post should have rang a bell for you. It hasn’t, and so I despair it will later. Let’s please move on.


67. Amara - September 1, 2007

Dear Tommaso, I’m not angry, or offended. When I’m giving a scientific presentation, I would rather the focus be on my scientific presentation.

Dear Alejandro,
“Endiku rejects the right of Gilgamesh to lie with the bride, but does not claim the hierarchical position of Gilgamesh for himself; he has been civilized.”

That’s funny, my version missed the ‘sexual revolution’ aspect, instead mine says that Gilgamesh threw Enkidu (and ‘won’), but then his fury died and I have the same conclusion: Gilgamesh and Enkidu sealed their friendship. Yours is much more interesting! The theme I like best in the Epic of Gilgamesh is his search for knowledge and immortality. Especially the latter. With each challenge, he was driven to live better and he never gave up his standard lot in life.

And I’m looking forward to this Gilgamesh movie : http://www.baghdadmuseum.org/film.htm It seem that they couldn’t get a theatrical distributor (to show it in movie theaters). So its status is in eternal “pre-production.’ Unmade now, but maybe still to be made in the future. This little trailer looks great: http://www.stonelockpictures.com/production.html

68. Alejandro Rivero - September 2, 2007

Amara. you are right, the versions I have found around the internet say that Gilgamesh threw Enkidu (that “he threw him”, so to say. I regret by Babilonian is not very fluent…) and then Endiku … argues! In some respects is even better because the sexual revolution is won by the word and not by the sword (er, have they got swords anyway?), but it seems that my memory did not consider this solution very self-consistent and retorted it a little bit.
Yes, the epic is best known by the inmmortality quest, including the references to the flood. So the content of tablets I and II is even more surprising, and very on topic. The last verse of tablet I, “she got him to comb his hair”, abstracts a good part of female-male relationships!

69. Tripitaka - September 2, 2007

Off topic… a chilling but vaguely comic account of an on-line spat that ended only after one party burnt down the other’s house and wound up in prison


70. Tripitaka - September 2, 2007

Also off topic, what about some putting some site stats up T?

For example is the “Am I a sexist” thread the most replied-to ever for your blog (and what might that say about the “state of the global physics community” apart from that they need to get out more often?). I’ve had a couple of red wines so hopefully you can indulge me here hehe.

71. Tripitaka - September 2, 2007

Or you could display a table of the most frequent posters (maybe you could even design an algorithm to include a computer-generated ad hominem coefficient for each, actually I’d never heard that latin phrase until visiting your site where it appears quite often).

/\/\ Oh and “gangbusters” means wildly successful… atm is short for “at the moment”, sorry for slipping into slang earlier on in this thread.

72. dorigo - September 2, 2007

Hi Tripitaka,

nice story the one you link to, and I like the analysis given by the expert: “People tend to disclose more online, … They disclose more of their emotions, they disclose more of their opinions and they push barriers because they think they’re beyond reproach”.

About stats. It will maybe surprise you, but I have no idea how to tweak this interface to add some custom-made stuff. I am definitely growing old. Or maybe just too lazy. Anyway, I think there was a thread on Adnan Oktar which ended up in a very long thread earlier this year, but this may well come second as far as length is concerned here.

Thursday and Friday this week were my third and fourth best days as far as visits are concerned, a bit less than 4000 each.

So far this blog has had about 270,000 hits. 932 posts in 20 months have gotten 3894 comments. The rate of everything but the posts themselves has kept increasing, not surprisingly. If I fit the “average” behavior of my stats (ie take off anomalous spikes), workdays have an average of 800 views and weekends are at 500.
As for the recent posts, their total views are at 3289 (LR…), 1848 (am I a sexist).
Another measure is technorati, which sees my blog at 33650th place, with an authority of 148 and 632 blog reactions.
For comparison, Motls is at 5565th position, Backreaction is at 34433th, Woit inexplicably beyond 300000th. Maybe not so informative, huh ?


73. Amara - September 2, 2007

The last verse of tablet I, “she got him to comb his hair”, abstracts a good part of female-male relationships!

I didn’t know. Hilarious! Thanks. 🙂

Yesterday a friend loaned me a book of the Indian epics: The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, Gods, Demons, and and Others by R.K. Narayan, remade into a condensed version (the originals would be about ~10 volumes) called _The Indian Epics Retold_. The epics were written at about the time of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and some of the themes are the same (I’m told), but much richer in their elaboration. I expect I will find more on-topic themes in this collection, as well. 😉

I really love these kinds of ancient stories. Up to now the only epics I’ve read are Homer’s (Iliad, Odyssey), the Epic of Gilgamesh, and pieces of the Latvian Dainas.
http://www.dainuskapis.lv/ (Latvian)
http://www.bookrags.com/Daina (some English description)

The Dainas are not epics exactly, and did not begin in a written form; instead they are about a quarter of a million ancient song texts (Dainas), originally intended to be sung, and passed down over thousands of years by oral tradition. They were finally written for the first time (in many volumes) in the middle 1800s. The written text does not only contain songs, but also descriptions of of customs, games, riddles, proverbs, fairy tales, legends, anecdotes, dances, magic spells, and other folk traditions to comprise a description of a human life. An ancient human life too. Scholars who have studied the Dainas say that some are ancient stories, comparable only to those found in ancient Mespotamia. For example, a number of lines in the Sumerian-Akkadian Agushaya Hymn bear strong similarity to texts found nearly unaltered in the Latvian Dainas.

The twelve Dainas volumes that I have: _Latviesu Tautas Dziesmas_ (Chansons Populaires Lettonnes, Imanta Publishers, Copenhagen, 1952-1956, ed. A. Svabe, K. Straubergs and E. Hauzenberga-Sturma), were given to me by my father, and I remember him reading (heh.. not singing) these stories to my sisters and I as bedtime stories when we were children. My progress working through the books is slow because my Latvian is pretty bad and the books use an old Latvian style besides.

my Babilonian is not very fluent

Do you mean Akkadian ?

Well, mine is nonexistent. But I know another planetary scientist named Matt Hedman (Cornell) who can read Sumerian or Akkadian (or both.. not sure). One year ago, Matt and our two planetary ring colleagues visited my working group in Roma. Knowing their interest in archeology, for a fun excursion, I took them to several Etruscan sites (Tarquinia and Norchia). We had a great time. They loved it.. and as proof of their intense interest, I can say that that was the day and evening of the final match of the World Cup and they didn’t care if we returned to Roma in time to see it on TV. 😉

74. Arun - September 2, 2007

RK Narayan’s book itself condensed??? It wasn’t a long book.

75. Amara - September 2, 2007

Arun: Sorry, I wasn’t clear. It says in the intro of this book that the originals, in total, were many volumes (15-20?). So I consider his ‘retelling’ of the stories to a 650 page book to be quite a compression ratio.

Alejandro: I forgot to mention that the Istanbul Archeological Museum has 2-3 half-room-sized display cases of cuniform tablets of the Gilgamesh epic from several sites, if you’ve never been there. The exhibit is not well-advertised. If I had known, I would have given myself more time in the museum.

76. Georges - September 3, 2007

I was not reading your blog, even if I am your fellow physicist. I am now subscribed to your feed, thanks to this incident, so do not think you are only losing readers. Excellent writing, keep it coming. The Seans and Cliffords of this world are just bringing back the state of hypocrisy that pervaded the Victorian age. Good luck to them in their crusade, and this is coming from a man that has a deeply ingrained, utmost respect for the opposite sex. There is not an scintilla of sexism in what you wrote, their minds are closed, that is all.
Question for S&C: was Henry Miller a sexist? We know what their knee-jerk, predictable reaction to this one is. Let them now read “The Devil at Large” by no other than Erica Jong.
Keep your chin up, play a deaf ear to simple-minded comments.

77. Alejandro Rivero - September 3, 2007

That latvian collection seems interesting, I was aware of recordings of balcanic oral tradition, but not of the baltic. A lot of people looks at oral tales in terms of literary analysis: to find what literary topics are strong so that they perdurate. I like to try some chronological analysis, what histories are oldest, what histories are adquired recently and so. An extreme instance: if you find the same history in America and EuroAsia, when was it transmited? After 1500 CE or before 9000 BCE? I am told that some topics have been well researched, in particular the history of Odisseus and the Ciclops is more complete in northern europe, and it seems Homer is just a version more.

Not only literature. Dorigo, have you heard of people moving only three squares for bishop and queen? My father claimed this rule sometimes.

78. dorigo - September 3, 2007

Hi Alejandro,

yes, I think the original version of chess, in India, had bishops moving by three squares at a time. I will check on a book of the history of chess though. Also, another variant of the game comes to mind, one that is played in Vietnam (I think). Tim Krabbe’ discusses it in his site somewhere.


79. dorigo - September 3, 2007

Hi again,

the variant I mentioned above is Makruk, the thai version of chess: see http://www.xs4all.nl/~timkr/chess/makruk.htm … There, however, the moves are still different. I think what you are referring to are really the shatranj, where the elephant (predecessor of the bishop) moves as you mention.


80. Amara - September 3, 2007

Dear Georges: No, I don’t consider Tommaso sexist. However he walked into a minefield of issues of minorities and stereotypes in addition to old difficulties between different cultures and men and women not understanding each other. That’s the global community. He probably lost readers who prefer a different kind of professionalism, and he probably gained readers who like the more personal touch. Maybe that is the direction that blogs will be going.

Someday I would like to tell a story where an online group of Italians roasted me for not being aware (I was in fact oblivious) of an Italian stereotype, about which they were very sensitive. I’m sure that they would have wished me to be more sensitive, and I’m sure that, at the time, I wished that they could have broken out of their silly stereotype. Generally, I think it is too easy for people to use stereotypes for fighting, instead of thinking about the issues.

There _is_ a reality about scientific women needing to fight hard to be accepted for their merits. And probably, *if*, back in 1981 during my first scientific presentation and my much more impressionable years, I had read someone describe my scientific presentation with that emphasis in the beginning, I would have been discouraged. Discriminatory and sexist attitudes _do_ exist, all around us, all over the world for many different reasons. Italy has more than its share of sexist attitudes, I would say, especially for the top level career women, but that is usually not important compared to other things to be addressed in the society. While this firestorm on Tommaso’s blog was underway last weekend, in the Italian astrophysics community, men and women were, and are, fighting for more women representation at the top. Here’s hoping there will be a little more thoughtfulness on everyone’s sides in the future.


Subject: [Dip-INAF] Cmitato Presidente INAF -Lettera a Mussi
Date: Saturday 01 September 2007 15:11
From: grandi@iasfbo.inaf.it
To: dipendenti@ced.inaf.it, associati@ced.inaf.it
Cc: petizione.mussi@iasfbo.inaf.it

Care colleghe e cari colleghi,

desideriamo richiamare la vostra attenzione sulla composizione del neo-nominato Comitato per l’individuazione del futuro presidente INAF. In tale Comitato manca personale INAF, ma sono presenti associati INAF, e ancora piu’ grave, e’ assente la componente femminile.

Abbiamo pensato di scrivere una lettera aperta al ministro Mussi, in cui si manifesta un certo disappunto e lo si invita a considerare la possibilita’ di includere una scienziata in tale Comitato. Per non bruciare le poche candidate italiane, si accenna anche alla possibilita’ di internazionalizzare il Comitato, rivolgendosi, eventualmente, anche a colleghe straniere di chiara fama internazionale.

Per sottoscrivere la lettera e’ sufficiente fare reply a questo messaggio

indicando Nome, Cognome e Istituto

Poiche’ il Comitato e il Ministro Mussi si riuniranno martedi’ mattina (4 Settembre) e’ nostra intenzione inviare la lettera lunedi pomeriggio per cui chiuderemo le sottoscrizioni lunedi alle ore 14.

Vi ringraziamo per la collaborazione



Dear Alejandro: I wish that there was more in English about the Latvian Dainas! Someone should write an article about it. Hmmm……… 🙂

81. Amara - September 3, 2007

P.S. Alejandro, The chronology is interesting. I am also curious that the Fado, the Rembetika and the Blues emerged in the world at about the same time.

82. criminyjicket - September 3, 2007

talkie bunch, aren’t you?

83. narziss - September 3, 2007

This was an interesting read…and I have to agree with many of your points too.

84. Matteo Martini - September 12, 2007

Short answer.
No, Tommaso, you are not a sexist.
Your comment was fair, legitimate, and polite.
It is incredible to see how many bigots we still have around.
Keep up with the good work!!

85. dorigo - September 12, 2007

Hi Matteo,

thank you for visiting… and for the support. I think italians and americans are really different in the way they feel about these issues (different on a statistical basis, of course!).

What can I say… I think old ideas die with their promoters. We will see who lives longer.


86. Supremely Annoyed at Racist Overtones - September 12, 2007

I wonder why ”political correctness” takes a backseat when the same people that are shouting themselves hoarse here about women’s issues say inappropriate things about Asians.

joAnne had a post once that derided India and Indians. I didn’t notice anyone say anything to her. India, according to many, is so “backward”. And yet, in this “backward” country, the supreme court recently ruled that lesbians have the right to marry, adopt children, and own property the same way as heterosexual couples.

Ha! The “Advanced” West!

87. dorigo - September 12, 2007

Dear Annoyed,

you are indeed right – looks like they are politically correct on odd days of the week. Please add a link to the post you mention, and I will have a look (I do not read the cosmic variance site much).


88. Matteo Martini - September 15, 2007

yes, Italians ( at least, me ) and Americans do feel in a different way.
I would not have given two minutes of my attention to this fact:
but, apparently, Americans have been discussing this for months..

89. dorigo - September 15, 2007

Yeah Matteo, it’s a striking example of how different the two cultures are… I would have mentioned it in the discussion if I had remembered about it.

90. Unruled Notebook » Blog Archive » Hypocrites - February 18, 2008

[…] a formal report on a seminar talk by a speaker. This he continues even after Tommaso clarifies in a subsequent post at his […]

91. pyrozhuk - March 25, 2009

I guess I’m a bit late posting this, I came across this entry a bit late. A bit of sensitivity all around is never a bad thing. And a sense of humour (e.g. http://xkcd.com/322/) can’t hurt. Here’s my suggestion for the main lesson to draw from this interesting exchange: in some cultures it’s OK to demonstratively leer. In others, it’s considered crude and offensive. If you must leer, leer more subtly.

92. dorigo - March 25, 2009

Yep pyrozhuk, this conversation is more than a year long… But it did attract some attention for a while. The lesson I drew was that bigots are not afraid of demonstrating their bigotry -otherwise this would never have grown to the size it has.


93. pyrozhuk - March 25, 2009

And, incidentally, keep up the good work. Your blog is one of the first things I scan, most mornings.

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