Archives for October 5, 2018

Physicists Condemn Sexism Through ‘Particles for Justice’

This week, of all weeks, should have been triumphant for women in physics. For her work on lasers, Canadian physicist Donna Strickland became the first female Nobel Laureate for the field after 55 years. She finally joined a short list consisting of just two other women, Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer.

But Seyda Ipek barely had time to celebrate. The UC Irvine physicist was preoccupied: A dumpster fire had just erupted in a neighboring corner of physics culture.

Just days before the Nobels, at a workshop on gender issues in physics in Geneva, physicist Alessandro Strumia of the University of Pisa delivered a presentation about how physics discriminates against men. (Women make up 18 percent of all physics doctoral degrees worldwide, according to a survey by the American Physical Society.) Case in point: a hiring committee had once picked a woman over him, he said. Before an audience of young physicists, many of them women, he explained how men like working with things, and women like working with people. He proposed an experiment to support his belief that physics has biological roots: measure the ratio between the second and fourth fingers on the hands of women physicists, an indication of testosterone exposure in the uterus.

Ipek, who wasn’t at the workshop herself, heard about Strumia’s presentation through her Facebook community. “I immediately got enraged and started tweeting about it,” she says. “He was telling a group of young woman physicists that they were inferior to their male colleagues. This was just mind-boggling. I couldn’t believe that Strumia did this—that he used his platform this way, that he used his title this way. I was like, no. I will not stand by idly while you do this.”

Her outrage quickly spread on Twitter. She and 17 other physicists decided that they needed to publicly denounce Strumia’s presentation. Last weekend, they created a Slack channel to coordinate their response. Through the channel, the group, which includes about equal numbers of men and women at various points in their careers, discussed how to refute Strumia’s arguments, trading thousands of messages in a matter of days to debate word choice and syntax. “I don’t think any of us slept more than 4 or 5 hours a day in the last week,” says Ipek.

It was important to respond, says physicist Djuna Croon, so that younger female physicists explicitly knew that established members of the community didn’t condone Strumia’s ideas. “I know from experience how difficult it is to deal with impostor syndrome,” says Croon, who works for TRIUMF, a particle accelerator in Canada and received her PhD in 2017. “I just think of myself from a few years ago. If these statements had been unopposed, it would have been a huge hit for me.” As a student, Croon recalls a physics teacher joking that women belong “in the kitchen,” and that people would encourage her to go into medicine, even though she excelled in physics.

In on an online letter, which they call Particles for Justice, they push back on the arguments, point by point, in Strumia’s presentation. They dug into Strumia’s personal anecdote of getting passed over for an opportunity in favor of a woman. His publications had been cited more often than hers, he’d said. “He reduces the quality of a scientist to one number, that scientist’s citations,” says Croon. “There is so much more to a scientist, and to the hiring process, than that one number.” Citations can be particularly misleading as a metric of a physicist’s ability: about a third of Strumia’s publications are papers written by gigantic collaborations of more than a thousand people. In these papers, “we can safely conclude his contribution […] was modest,” they write in the letter.

They published the document on Thursday evening after recruiting signatures from about 200 physicists. They also created a form so that physicists could keep signing the letter after publication. Within a day of publication, 1,400 more academics submitted signatures. “I’m not remembering the last time, as a community, we really jumped up like this,” says physicist Brian Nord of Fermilab, who signed the letter.

Strumia’s lecture is only the latest example in a long list of recent sexist controversies in physics. In 2014, British astronomer Matt Taylor went on television wearing a button-down shirt covered in cartoon drawings of half-dressed women, later dubbed #Shirtgate. In 2016, Nobel Laureate Barry Barish, who won the 2017 Nobel Prize for helping discover gravitational waves, delivered a presentation with a slide that showed a man writing on a woman’s bare back. A YouTube video starring one of this year’s Nobel Laureates, Gérard Mourou, shows him dancing in a lab surrounded by scantily clad female students.

Despite these high-profile controversies, some scientists still don’t believe systemic sexism or racism exists in their field, says Nord. “Humans in this world experience all kinds of discrimination,” he says. “Just because we’re the scientific community doesn’t mean we’re separate from that larger conversation. It’s important that the world understands this, that scientists understand this.”

But in response to these cultural missteps, scientists tend to keep their head down and tell each other to focus on the science. But this is a mistake, says Ipek. “I really dislike it when people say, ‘You’re a scientist. Why do you care about these things?’” she says. “I work here. It’s a workplace first. Workplaces need respectful relationships.”

They’re optimistic that the letter will have a lasting impact. CERN, which organized the workshop, issued a statement calling Strumia’s presentation “highly offensive,” and suspended their relationship with Strumia on Monday. “I am tired and frustrated and ready for big change,” says Nord.

“I had to put a halt on research,” says Ipek. “I couldn’t work on anything this week. That’s bad.” Research isn’t the only thing demanding work these days—so is the culture of physics itself.

More Great WIRED Stories

?Red Hat Satellite integrated new, improved Ansible DevOps

When Linux’s sysadmin graybeards got their start, they all used the shell to manage systems. Years later, they also used system administration programs such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)‘s Red Hat Satellite and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES)‘s YaST. Then, DevOps programs, like Ansible, Chef, and Puppet, appeared so we can manage hundreds of servers at once. Now, Red Hat is bridging the gap between the old-style server management tools and DevOps with Red Hat Satellite 6.4.

This new management tool comes with a deeper integration with Red Hat Ansible Automation automation-centric approach to IT management. This enables sysadmins to use the Red Hat Satellite interface to manage RHEL with Ansible’s remote execution and desired state management. This integration will help identify critical risks, create enterprise change plans, and automatically generate Ansible playbooks.

Also: How Red Hat’s strategy helps CIOs take baby steps to the cloud TechRepublic

Red Hat claimed, “This exciting integration is designed to help not only identify critical risks but then create enterprise change plans and automatically generate Ansible playbooks to better remediate those risks.”

The updated Red Hat Satellite also comes with these new features:

  • Redesigned user interface for easier navigation and improved auditing of user events.
  • Increased supportability including the ability to provision in AWS GovCloud and custom configuration preservation.
  • Enhanced performance including RHEL Performance Co-Pilot integration and general stability fixes.

Red Hat Satellite 6.4 will be available later in October through the Red Hat Customer Portal.

But that’s only the start of Red Hat’s DevOps and sysadmin news. Red Hat is also introducing a Red Hat Ansible Automation Certification Program to deliver tested, trusted, and supported Ansible Playbooks.

These certified Playbooks, from Red Hat and its partners, will provide everything you need to automate your infrastructure, networks, containers, and deployments. Besides Red Hat’s offerings, Cisco, CyberArk, F5 Networks, Infoblox, NetApp, and Nokia will offer 275 Ansible modules in the initial release.

These Playbooks, Modules and Plugins are scanned against known vulnerabilities, checked for compatibility, and validated to work in production. These will have a similar lifecycle to Ansible Engine. They’ll also be regularly re-evaluated for certification qualification and are fully-backed with Red Hat’s support.

Also: From Linux to cloud, why Red Hat matters for every enterprise

If you’re using Ansible and RHEL and you don’t want to build your own Playbooks, this new offering is a must.

Looking ahead, Red Hat is adding automated security capabilities, such as enterprise firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and security information and event management (SIEM) to Ansible.

In 2019, Ansible will include the following security features:

  • Detection and triage of suspicious activities: Automatically configure logging across enterprise firewalls and IDS,
  • Threat hunting: Automatically create new IDS rules to investigate the origin of a firewall rule violation and whitelist non-threatening IP addresses.
  • Incident response: Ansible will be able to automatically validate a threat by verifying an IDS rule, trigger a remediation from the SIEM solution and create new enterprise firewall rules to blacklist the source of an attack.

It will do this, in part, by integrating Check Point Next Generation Firewall (NGFW); Splunk Enterprise Security; and Snort, the open-source IDS program.

Joe Fitzgerald, Red Hat Business Management VP, explained in a statement:


Red Hat acquired Ansible in 2015, we have been working to make the automated enterprise a reality by driving Ansible into new domains and expanding automation use cases. With the new Ansible security automation capabilities, we’re making it easier to manage one of enterprise IT’s most complex tasks: systems security. These new modules can help users take an automation-centric approach to IT security, integrating solutions that otherwise would not work together and helping to manage and orchestrate entire security operations with a single, familiar tool.”

It sounds good to me. We’ll see early next year how well Red Hat delivers on this promise.

Related stories: