You know the story, it starts with a panel of five men and one woman… you get where we are going with this? But wait, there’s a different ending.
Last week, at the annual World Science Festival in New York there was a panel called “Pondering the Imponderables: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology.” The group included five men and one woman, theoretical physicist and professor in the Department of Physics at UC Davis, Dr. Veronika Hubeny, who is an expert in string theory and quantum gravity. The panel was moderated by philosopher and New Yorker contributor Jim Holt.
When Mr. Holt finally asked Dr. Hubeny a question, regarding her area of expertise, he continually interrupted, spoke over her and answered his own question for her.
“In full outrage” by the ongoing situation, audience member Marilee Talkington took matters into her own hands and without hesitation shouted out: “Let. Her. Speak.” The audience roared with applause.
Marilee documented the entire account in a Facebook post, which has us all standing up and cheering.
As expected, the post has gone viral, and Dr. Hubeny even got in on the conversation, responding in the comments section of Marilee’s post. While Dr. Hubeny didn’t feel “affronted or discriminated by the moderator’s behavior,” she does acknowledge that sexism in science exists, and offers this optimistic pov…
I had early on decided that I like physics so much that I’d be quite willing to give up quite a bit of other comforts for it, but perhaps having made that decision and bracing oneself, then made the actual “discomforts” not only more bearable, but genuinely less discomforting. I think the subjective severity of a lot of these issues can be greatly influenced by one’s mindset, one’s psychology. If you allow yourself to enjoy the beautiful things that really matter, if you don’t let social or peer pressure dissuade you from pursuing a field which appeals to you, then no pettiness or childishness or boorishness that you encounter can harm you so much.
Please understand that I’m not trying to say that sexism in science is a myth. It is real and we should all aspire to diminish it. But I am trying to say that it need not pose as much of an impediment as you might fear and that you might be in more control over its influence yourself than you might think. Just as you put up with long lines to see a great show, or with sore feet or mosquitos to have a great hike etc., the annoyance of otherwise abominable behavior diminishes in the larger perspective of doing something you really enjoy.
You can read Dr. Hubeny’s entire response here.
And, if you’d like to see the video… start watching at 1:02:01