I’ve been amazed at the small explosion over Tommaso Dorigo’s post concerning Lisa Randall’s talk at a recent conference at CERN. He described her physically as well as the feel of the room when she began to present, and then proceeded to give a detailed account of the physics.

Asymptotia denounces him, Arcadian Functor defends him. Lots of debate about the objectification of women, the PC police, “sexophobia,” and Italian culture in the comments on those three blogs lately. The angriest arguments have been concerned with what women face in this male-dominated field, most of them centered around women as eye-candy.

I get the impression that Dorigo was surprised by the sudden storm, and his main defense has been (as a clever but unknown 18-year-old pointed it out), that the subtitle of his blog is “private thoughts of a physicist and chessplayer.” that Lisa Randall is a public figure and, like other celebrities, is open to such comments. [edited 2:14pm 8/31/07]

Andrea Giammanco, commenting on the now moderately-infamous Randall post (25) wrote

I remember a conversation with some colleagues at the cafeteria, about two other colleagues that I knew and they didn’t. When talking about the male one, I was asked “is he smart?”, and when talking about the female one, the question was “is she pretty?”
I am ashamed to say that it took me a couple of seconds before saying “ehy, this is a textbook example of sexism on the workplace!”

But I’ve heard this conversation go the other way many times, talking about a lab partner or coworker. Often, women ask, “Is he cute?” before “Is he smart?” Political correctness will not stop people from noticing when a colleague is attractive, though it may keep people from talking about it.

So what if Dorigo noticed Randall’s body? He noticed her discussion of the capacities and limitations of the LHC in far greater detail. Eye-candy is pretty and useless. In Dorigo’s estimation, Randall is clearly beautiful and brilliant. And as long as he isn’t discussing her looks in a professional setting or engaging in unwanted flirtation, I can’t see a reason to condemn him. While many people consider blogs a professional space, Dorigo makes it clear in his subtitle that his is a personal record. Public, but not professional.

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