Friday, August 31, 2007

Elegance and science

When I think of the word elegant in a scientific context, it is usually in the sense of "The Elegant Universe", although of course I think that mathematics is way more elegant than physics will ever be :-). However, occasionally one has to consider that elegant for a human being usually means well dressed.
The only time I saw Lisa Randall, that is what impressed me most: that she is carefully
dressed in a way that most scientists (female and not) aren't. Well, that and the fact that her handwritten slides where so hard to read: I can't deal with makeup but at least my handwriting is more elegant than hers. Unfortunately I also didn't understand her talk, but that was entirely due to my lack of an appropriate background.
I don't find it bad that Tommaso Dorigo commented on her looks: she obviously gives this issue a lot of care. I did go back and read previous reports of talks by Dorigo: he never seems to refer to the looks of the speaker, male or female, but in the case of Randall he made an exception, because the looks are really striking in this case.
As Tony Smith pointed out in the comments to a later post by Dorigo, she even made an appearance on Vogue: taken in context, her statement seems actually very reasonable, and not sexist at all.
This said, I don't think that people who criticized Dorigo for including a comment on Randall's looks and her attractiveness were totally unjustified. It also seems to me no coincidence that negative remarks came both from female and minority physicists. Unfortunately there are too many physicists who do not treat men and women on equal grounds (have a long read at FSP if you have doubts about it), and therefore even reasonable people have to watch their language.
I also don't agree at all with Dorigo in the third point of his subsequent explanatory post: politely requesting pc language (not imposing it, mind you) is a reasonable thing to do. When your words are wrong, your thoughts can easily go wrong, too. In the US, eliminating the word negro from polite conversation hasn't eliminated racism. But I still view it as a progress.

No comments: