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Ann Nelson Took on the Biggest Problems in Physics(quantamagazine.org)

47 pointsdigital55 posted 6 months ago24 Comments
seattle_spring said 6 months ago:

She was a mod in a Washington Facebook group for hiking, which had about 150k members. She was the only mod who took a stand against bad behavior in the outdoors instead of just sweeping it under the rug.

I was devastated to see such a tragic loss.

mtnGoat said 6 months ago:

This is not true at all, I am personal friends with a number of the mods, none of them are allowing bad behavior in that group and none of them promote bad behavior in the outdoors. And they certainly aren't sweeping anything under a rug.

mtnGoat said 5 months ago:

Down voting it, doesn't make it any less true. Interesting response though.

seattle_spring said 5 months ago:

You can't downvote direct responses to comments, so it wasn't me.

But yes, they absolutely do sweep it under the rug. Anytime someone calls out bad behavior, the comment threads are locked. People who consistently call out bad behavior are banned ("put on the scat list"), and it's expected that you just "scroll on".

Ann was, as far as I could tell, the only one who would create campaigns on awareness.

It has to be one of the worst run Facebook groups on, well, Facebook. There's another group called "You run a Facebook group, not a country, but OK," which pretty much targets the overbearing moderation practices exemplified by that group.

And no, I've never been banned, so you can save that assumption :)

mtnGoat said 5 months ago:

well when you moderate a group that big(for free, in your spare time) and have first hand experience you can speak to how they are handling things, otherwise its just another uninformed opinion.

How else would you deal with threads that are constantly off topic? Aside from turn comments off? How else do you deal with someone that keeps whining about the group and how its members act? How its moderated? If you don't like it, leave. ya know? it's exactly how id treat someone that kept complaining... show them the door. Many have left on their own to form different groups.

Anne was a great lady, but to say she was the only one moving the needle or to assume they are hiding things is just bizarre to me.

seattle_spring said 5 months ago:


lordgrenville said 6 months ago:

The article is about the subject's social justice activism, not about her physics research. Nothing wrong with that but not what I was expecting.

tempguy9999 said 6 months ago:

As I get older I tend not to see things falling into distinct groups; they all blur together.

While you say it's not physics, to me it is because fixing one problem will help the field so (again, to me) separating them seems a mistake.

But that's just one POV.

b_tterc_p said 6 months ago:

Is someone a great physicist if they produce 0 papers but reduce stigma in STEM

tempguy9999 said 6 months ago:

If the reduction in stigma got more people involved who did produce quality work, then they've improved the field of physics - so in a way, yes.

You may reject the label 'physicist', I'd understand that, but results are results. (Edit: in which case, does the label matter?)

pepy said 6 months ago:

this is how they market themselves to HN

oefrha said 6 months ago:

> Particle physics, even compared to the rest of physics, is a notoriously homogeneous discipline, full of white men.

I’m a non-white-male theoretical particle physicist myself and I somehow don’t feel that (dominated by, maybe; full of, absolutely not). Need some stats to back that up.

thicknavyrain said 6 months ago:

Also a (former) non-white-male particle theorist (well, phenomenologist) here. This isn't hard data by any means but in the first year of my PhD, I attended a mandatory summer school for all particle theorist (and associated fields) PhD students in the UK.

There were about 95 student attendees. About 5 of those were women and only two of 95, including myself, were non-white. And very amusingly, the other non-white guy was someone I went to high school and university with. Also, he was on ATLAS and not strictly a theorist as such! If we discount myself on the grounds of being a phenomenologist, that probably makes things even worse.

JetSetWilly said 6 months ago:

The general population of the UK is overwhelmingly white compared to eg. the US. Many parts of the UK eg. Scotland it is 98% white or more, so it would be expected that courses in any discipline are going to be overwhelmingly white at universities in those regions.

thicknavyrain said 6 months ago:

For sure, although given that 87% of Britain is White British, for a cohort of 95 students in my year, one would expect all things equal for there to be about 12 non-white students, when in fact there were two.

This is not to get mired into a debate about inclusion in STEM, but it's also worth noting that both me and my other non-white friend (who's background I know because we grew up together, weirdly), were very fortunate to have had quite middle class upbringings too, and hailed from Northwest London.

In fact, I doubt it comes as any surprise for me to say that from my time at undergrad all the way up to completing my PhD, I suspect that the much bigger discriminant for getting into Physics is class more than race (gender is a separate issue here I suppose). I remember this coming up in a talk from someone on the IOP commission to look at inclusion in Physics, although for their online reports I can only find the ones on gender, for anyone interested: http://www.iop.org/education/teacher/support/girls_physics/r...

JetSetWilly said 6 months ago:

Another thing to consider is that the UK as a whole not being 99% white is a recent development of the last four or five decades. At least in the first few decades most immigrants were working class and so you wouldn't expect their offspring to be proportionately represented at university level for socioeconomic reasons.

So I would argue the disparity is more of a socioeconomic access one than a racial one.

kgwgk said 6 months ago:

UK population is 87% white (2011 census), US population is 72% white (2010 census). So non-white population is 13% in the UK and 28% in the US, "only" twice as much.

oefrha said 6 months ago:

I hail from one of the top institutions in the U.S. and I'm happy to report that the diversity at least amongst grad students is much better. I didn’t count but the number of non-whites (that basically means Asian) is much greater than two, out of maybe thirty (phenom included).

thicknavyrain said 6 months ago:

I will qualify this to say that of the people I know at CERN and other experimental collaborations, the groups seemed more diverse.

aaronbrethorst said 6 months ago:


81.2% of Astronomers & physicists are Male

84.6% of Astronomers & physicists are White, making that the most common race or ethnicity in the occupation. Representing 10.7% of Astronomers & physicists, Asian is the second most common race or ethnicity in this occupation

said 6 months ago:
oblib said 6 months ago:

Made me think about the lifters and grifters we all run into during our lives. Ann Nelson was a brilliant and powerful lifter.

zeristor said 6 months ago:

She died whilst hiking, how common is that?

Are there any guidlines to reduce these dangers, was she walking in a particularly dangerous area?

mtnGoat said 6 months ago:

She was aware of the risks, the area wasnt overly dangerous. She was waking on a ledge that crosses a cliff face, I've crossed it a few times, it's sketchy but "safe", in that dozens do it yearly without issue.

It's hard to quantify the seriousness of deaths while hiking because we don't know how many hikes there are each day, and there are agencies actively working to downplay and hide the data.