This Science Panel Attendee Called Out The Host For Interrupting A Female Physicist

"Let her speak, please!"

An audience member at the World Science Festival in New York City recently brought attention to the issue of sexism in the science community (and society at large) when she called out a male host for interrupting a female scientist.

Theoretical physicist Veronika Hubeny was the only woman on a panel titled "Pondering the Imponderable: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology." It was moderated by New Yorker contributor Jim Holt, who asked Humeny about her expertise in string theory and quantum gravity.

Unfortunately, Holt interrupted and talked over Hubeny while she was trying to respond, which was made even more frustrating due to the fact that she had not been given many opportunities to speak earlier in the panel. After this happened several times, Marilee Talkington shouted from the audience, "Let her speak, please!" This was followed by applause from the crowd.

Holt quickly heeded the comment, and later told Mic in an email, "I talked too much. The reproach from the audience was well-merited. I apologize to Dr. Hubeny and salute her for her stellar contribution to the discussion."

Still, the moment has brought up a discussion of issues such as "mansplaining" and "manterruptions," which can cause women's voices to be silenced and their intelligence undermined in various fields, including science. It clearly struck a nerve with other audience members who were witness to the interaction, many of whom approached Talkington after the panel to thank her for speaking up.

Talkington shared in a viral Facebook post what went through her mind following the experience: "God, please god let this be an opening for those that were here today and the tens of thousands that watched the live-streaming of the panel yesterday and the hundreds of thousands that will watch the video this year- to speak up when we see this happening. And please let me not be afraid to do this again ... and again ... and again."

Hubeny herself commented on Talkington's post, and applauded her for standing up for her beliefs. However, she also shared that Holt's interruptions didn't bother her, and she didn't believe it was rooted in sexism, adding that she "gave him the benefit of doubt that he was so excited ... that he couldn't resist, and that the same might have occurred had the panelist been a male instead of me."

She added that, although she is often in the minority in her field, she "never felt discriminated against or thwarted in my calling," and encouraged women not to let "social or peer pressure" hinder them in pursuing their interests.

"Please understand that I'm not trying to say that sexism in science is a myth," she continued. "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."

Regardless of Holt's intent, the incident, and Talkington's response to it, have clearly sparked an important conversation.

You can witness the interaction leading up to Talkington's comment starting about one hour and five minutes into the video below:

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