An Unlikely Communicator

by Kim Stangle

Depending on your age, you may know actor Alan Alda from his notable role on “M*A*S*H” – or more recently – “The Blacklist” or “30 Rock.”  I think he has one of the most recognizable voices in television and movies.  But, it wasn’t until today while listening to a few minutes of his interview on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show that I learned he’s also a visiting instructor at a center bearing his name:  the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.

As longtime host of “Scientific American Frontiers” on PBS, Alda’s love of science has been at the forefront, but it’s his desire to help scientists and researchers better tell their stories that I find so fascinating.  He told Rehm during the interview about “The Sagan Effect,” which generally describes the biased perception by some that the better you are at communicating science the worse you are at actually being a scientist.

Can you imagine being punished for being an effective communicator for your industry?  It’s our job as communicators to break down the most complex information and make it simple.  And, that’s exactly what Alda and faculty are teaching at the Center.  Through courses ranging from Improv for Scientists to Writing to be Understood, they’re training the next generation of scientists to communicate more effectively.

Emmys and Golden Globes aside, Alan Alda’s contribution to communication deserves the highest honor.

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