Daily Mail sticks to its guns after suggesting race and gender a factor in Newsnight's choice of astronomers

The Daily Mail is sticking to its guns  after suggesting that two eminent astronomers were invited on to Newsnight partly because of their gender and ethnic background.

The Ephraim Hardcastle column said on Wednesday:

Newsnight's Guardian-trained editor, Ian Katz, is keen on diversity.

So, two women were invited to comment on  the report about (white, male) American scientists who’ve detected the origins of the universe – giggling Sky at Night pre-senter Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Sri Lanka-born astronomer Hiranya Peiris.

This prompted a furious open letter to Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre from vice provost in charge of research at University College London David Price who said:

The implication that anything outside of her academic record qualifies Dr Peiris to discuss the results of the BICEP2 study is profoundly insulting. She is a world-leading expert on the study of the Cosmic Microwave Background, with degrees from Cambridge and Princeton, so is one of the best-placed people in the world to discuss the finding. Dr Aderin-Pocock is a highly-qualified scientist and engineer with an exceptional talent for communicating complex scientific concepts in an accessible way.

Dr Hiranya Peiris, Reader in Astronomy at UCL, said:

I deeply pity the sort of person who can watch a report about ground-breaking news on the origins of the universe and everything in it, and see only the gender and skin colour of the panellists. I am disturbed that he has even erased the contributions of all of the non-white and non-male and non-American scientists involved in the discovery at the same time.”

Responding today, the Ephraim Hardcastle column states: “I accept without question that both ladies are highly qualified to discuss this matter. Their diversity was merely the icing on the cake.”

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