Archive for Snowmass

Physics in a diverse world…

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 25, 2022 by telescoper

Regular observers of the arXiv will have noticed a recent deluge avalanche of papers from the recent Snowmass Community Planning Exercise. There are many excellent reports although they came out all in a flurry which has made it difficult to keep on top of them.

An example that I missed was one that appeared in the Physics Education section of arXiv that arose from a talk by theoretical physicist Howard Georgi given at the KITP Conference: Snowmass Theory Frontier on Feb. 23, 2022. The paper, entitled Physics in a diverse world or A Spherical Cow* Model of Physics Talent, doesn’t have an abstract but is quite short and is well worth reading. You can download it here.

Here is a short extract with which I agree fully the philosophy of which I have tried very hard to follow ever since I got my first Professorship in 1998 (though not always with the cooperation of all colleagues, and sometimes, in the past, against the opposition of a few):

If your career is established and you are not making an explicit and continual effort to encourage, mentor, and support all young physicists, to create a welcoming climate in your department, and to promote the hiring of diverse faculty members, you are part of the problem.

I’m hoping next week to be able to pass on some exciting news in this regard about Maynooth University.

I wrote some of my own thoughts from the point of view of LGBT+ diversity here but much of what I said in that context is of wider relevance.

But that brings us to the question of why we should care about whether LGBT students might be deterred from becoming scientists. This is much the same issue as to why we should worry that there are so few female physics students. The obvious answer is based on notions of fairness: we should do everything we can to ensure that people have equal opportunity to advance their career in whatever direction appeals to them. But I’m painfully aware that there are some people for whom arguments based on fairness simply don’t wash. For them there’s another argument that may work better. As scientists whose goal is – or should be – the advancement of knowledge, the message is that we should strive as hard as possible to recruit the brightest and most creative brains into our subject. That means ensuring that the pool from which we recruit is as large and as diverse as possible. The best student drawn from such a pool is likely to be better than the best student from a smaller and more restricted one.

Big companies haven’t become gay-friendly employers in recent years out of a sudden urge for altruism. They’ve done it because they know that they’d otherwise be discouraging many excellent potential employees from joining them. It’s exactly the same for research

*This is an allusion to the old joke for the tendency of scientists – especially theoretical physicists – to adopt highly simplified models of complex phenomena.