Just back from the NICAR, the tribal gathering of all data-oriented journalists, where I gave a talk about the importance of talking openly about uncertainty.
Last night at the conference there was a moment which, for reasons having to do with the demographics of mathematics, was unusual for me: I was standing in a circle of five people, talking about a technical subject, centered on a talk I hadn’t attended, and the four people other than me were all women. And it occurred to me: this is actually a situation where it would be totally natural and appropriate for me not to contribute to the conversation. So let me try. Let me try to actually let this discussion go on for five minutes without opening my mouth.
And first of all let me say that I successfully did it. But it was hard. I felt twitchy and uncomfortable, just standing there silently. And it was hard for me to learn about the topic being discussed, because some portion of my mind was still working hard at autogenerating answers to “What could I say now?”, interfering with my ability to listen.
I’m not proud of this. I think when you’re a man, and you get older and acquire some amount of professional status, you start to feel like it is a kind of universal physical fact that people need to hear your view about the topic under discussion. Whatever topic it is! Whether you actually know anything about it or not!
Or maybe it has nothing to do with general social forces, and it’s just me. In either case, I’m going to try being silent more often and see if I can get used to it.