12 November 2012

Alan Alda says science and romance aren’t so different

Posted by kramsayer

Communicating science isn't too different from communicating love. (Credit: Kelly Servick)

Kelly Servick, a science communication student at UC Santa Cruz, filed a guest post about a talk by Alan Alda, and offers her own communication tips for both love and science.

“What’s hard to say?”

This was Alan Alda’s first question to an audience full of particle physicists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory on October 25. Alda’s talk, “Helping the Public Get Beyond a Blind Date with Science,” started by evoking the types of conversations, both personal and professional, that leave us fumbling for the right words.

As one of the few non-particle-physicists in the audience, I felt like a lucky interloper. The M*A*S*H star and host of the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers has built a new career on challenging scientists to communicate more effectively. As a science writer in training in the UC-Santa Cruz Science Communication program, I’ve been looking for all the guidance I can get… preferably framed by endearing analogies.

Alda didn’t disappoint. He fleshed out a theory of communication based on the three stages of love. He told us that our goal was to move the public past initial attraction, toward a deeper emotional connection, and finally into commitment. He suggested that communicating romance (“Why are you breaking up with me?”) wasn’t so different from communicating science (“What exactly is particle physics?”). Both, he said, require looking someone in the eye and using the words that person can understand.

For Servick’s complete blog post visit the UC Santa Cruz science communication blog “Out of the Fog”.