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Female Physicist Told To Apologize After Shutting Down Male Family Members’ ‘Armchair Physics’ Theories

Woman discussing Physics with two men
Morsa Images / Getty Images

Physics, among the other sciences, generally requires a great deal of research and fieldwork to acquire the knowledge, whether that’s in a traditional classroom or through private studies.

Physics isn’t one of those subjects you magically just “pick up,” agreed the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.

Due to this, Redditor aitathrowaway808 was becoming frustrated with several of her in-laws, who insisted they were as well informed about the subject as she was with her doctorate.

When she was accused of potentially ruining Christmas with her attitude, the Original Poster (OP) wondered if this was something she should just let go.

She asked the sub:

“AITA for shutting down my Father-in-Law’s (FIL’s) armchair Physics?”

The OP was becoming frustrated with her father-in-law.

“I (30 Female) have a Ph.D. in Physics. Obviously, I’ve taken a ton of math/physics classes over the years to be able to conduct research properly.”

“My FIL (60 Male) recently retired from his job in Sales. Since then, he has taken up studying Physics. This does not mean that he went back to college and took physics/math classes (he took a semester of calculus in college like 40 years ago for his business major). Instead, he gets high and watches YouTube videos.”

“For a while, it was fun when he asked me to explain what we know about dark matter to him and I’d draw out galaxy rotation curves, but about two years ago, he started claiming he’s figured out how to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity.”

“This is a huge unsolved problem in physics and would surely be worthy of a Nobel prize.”

“I tried to shut him down and encouraged him to study more math, but he was pretty adamant that he didn’t need to know math and his ‘outsider perspective’ was actually a huge advantage.”

“I was annoyed. Eventually, my MIL (Mother-in-Law) and husband told him to stop bothering me.”

But misery loves company.

“I thought that was it, but my sister-in-law (32 Female) recently brought home a new boyfriend (38 Male) over Thanksgiving.”

“This boyfriend has no schooling past high school (no hate, just want to make it clear). He does not study math/physics on the side either.”

“He loves getting high with my FIL and listening to his physics theories, fancies himself a bit of a physicist himself, and they bounce ideas off each other.”

“I always make myself scarce when I notice this happening.”

The theories escalated to an impossible project.

“Eventually, my sister-in-law’s (SIL’s) boyfriend noticed and called me out one night as I was leaving.”

“I tried to brush it off as, ‘Oh, I’ve turned my brain off for the night.'”

“Then my SIL’s boyfriend said that with my Ph.D., I could really help them by fine-tuning their theories and getting them published.”

“I said no.”

“FIL said he’s really figured it out, he thinks he can get a book deal, and I should really listen to his theories.”

“I said no, and reminded him that he should study more math.”

“My SIL’s boyfriend then called me a snob who went to a fancy school and accused me of jealousy.”

“So I finally said that I might be a snob, but they’re just two armchair physicists who probably know as much calculus as my cat.”

“Then I told FIL I’d listen to his theory if he could tell me what a metric is (big concept in differential geometry, the branch of math you need to know to understand general relativity).”

“Then I told SIL’s boyfriend I’d give him an even easier question and asked him what an integral was.”

“Dead silence from both, so I left. We flew out the next day.”

The problem resurfaced before Christmas.

“Honestly, I thought this was all behind us, but my husband and I are flying out to my MIL and FIL’s tomorrow, and my SIL and her boyfriend are coming too.”

“But yesterday SIL called me and said her boyfriend is waiting for an apology from me, and so is FIL.”

“I told her to put her boyfriend on the phone. Then I asked him if he knew what an integral was yet.”

“He still didn’t so I laughed and hung up.”

“SIL then texted me that I was going to ruin Christmas.”


Fellow Redditors weighed in:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the A**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Some were just as annoyed as the OP by the in-laws’ armchair theories.

“There is a conspiracy theory out there that SCIENTISTS are just GATEKEEPING, keeping real knowledge and solutions from the everyman, with their fancy journals and jargon.”

“For f**k’s sake, some people are so d**n dumb.” – scarybottom

“Does FIL want to have an outsider perspective or do they want to consult with OP? When OP tries to weigh in, she’s shut down, but they want an apology for OP shutting them down instead of weighing in?” – Bnhrdnthat

“Stoned Me came up with a theory about third-world economies being cyclical. I think it’s pretty well constructed, but would I start lecturing an economist about it? F**K NO. Because I’m a historian by education and a bonehead when stoned.” – Blowup1sun

“NTA and they are just the types of the people who plague university physics departments with their manifestos claiming they’ve solved [insert theory here] and demand faculty listen to them/help them publish/teach a class/present their findings, whatever.”

“The study of physics is mind-expanding. The consumption of certain drugs is also mind-expanding. Just not in the same way.” – BevNap

“Ph.D. in applied mathematics and statistics here. I had a whole lot of people try to explain data to me over the past two years because of a pandemic… Apparently, the news made them experts, lol (laughing out loud).”

“That being said, I do occasionally enjoy hearing people out so I can chuckle to myself about it later.” – R2D2Creates

Others were equally annoyed about the men’s blind entitlement to the OP’s intellectual labor.

“NTA. I’m sure they don’t mean any harm, but they’re acting entitled to your labor, and also it’s frankly insulting that they think they can know more (or even an equal amount) about physics than you off of just YouTube videos.”

“It all feels like it has undertones of misogyny if you ask me. If you were a cis man with a Ph.D. in physics, would they be doing all of this and demanding things of you? Probably not.”

“The way you handled the phone call with your SIL’s boyfriend probably will stir some things up and make it weird at Christmas, but you weren’t wrong for it, you just might want to do some damage control to make the holiday more enjoyable (for your own sake, not because you owe it to them).”

“Definitely NTA though, and if you’re not feeling like doing damage control, then more power to ya!” – Appropriate-Value54

“I am in a STEM field and a woman and have gotten the runaround from people like this. My SIL is in nuclear and constantly gets asked if she’s ‘actually’ the team lead. My partner is a Ph.D.-level chemist and also has people try to tell him all kinds of things they’ve been ‘researching’ when we go back to his hometown.”

“He is the gentlest human and tries to reason with them, but I have no time for this nonsense. People like this discount how many years it takes to get a Ph.D. and how much work goes into it!”

“If I could have mastered mineralogy via getting high and watching YouTube, I’d have way less student loan debt. NTA.” – Laniidae_

“Honestly, I’m as far from STEM as it gets and every time I have a talk with someone like you, I just make sure they wouldn’t be annoyed with questions because I love getting an understanding of concepts that are totally alien to me in an informal setting and in the same beat could spend hours explaining to someone all the things I’m passionate about.”

“The ego some folks have is just insane… is feeling like ‘you’re right’ really above knowing how it works?” – GlitterDoomsday

“It’s not just the essential sciences that get this stuff. I’m a dentist and I have people try to tell me how to do my job all day.”

“Or I get people telling me I’ve been lied to about fluoride, in school. Or I get conspiracy theories about fluoride/radiation/mercury.”

“Or I get people telling me that the dental X-ray is going to cause x y or z because Dr. Oz or some other quack said something. Even had to shut down my dad on one of those and he listened!”

“I’ve had multiple people come in after super gluing crowns back on (and they didn’t get it seated). One guy even said, ‘Okay, smart guy, then what and I supposed to use to put a crown back on?'”

“I flatly said, ‘A dentist,’ and he just sat there frowning at me as my assistant scrambled down the hall bursting to hide her laughter.”

“Before anyone asks, drug stores sell temp cement for crowns, or you can use a dab of toothpaste to seat it for a short period, but call your dentist to find out what is best for your situation.” – TarHeel2682

“Ph.D. in immunology. The pandemic and the creation of mRNA vaccines were a real treat for me.”

“All my friends and acquaintances let me know about the ‘research’ they did, linking me the most unscientific cockamamie anti-vax theories and wanting to have ‘scientific discussions.’ I lost a handful of friends.” – Solo_need_help

Though people might mean well when they do their own research, either to be more informed or to serve an interest, we all need to understand that our individual research likely will not be at the same level as formal education. It’s also highly unlikely to land us that major book deal.

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit