Some actors inspire warm blues like Alan Alda. At the age of six, he’s still the epitome of “nice daddy”: the kind of guy you’ll find in a cardigan after reading a copy of Sunday Times In the armchair. But Alda’s popular image does not cover the remarkable breadth of his career. Of course, his eleven years of playing hockey. “Mash, ”Era-defined wartime drama. (The ending of the series, directed by Alda, is the highest-rated part of the scripted series to date.) He was featured in Woody Allen’s films in the eighties and nineties, and had a voice in Marlowe Thomas’ children’s album “Free to Be”. . . . Between you and me, the Republican presidential candidate in “The West Wing”, an elderly hippie in “Flirting with Disaster” and a kind but unjust divorce lawyer in “Marriage Story.”MashFor years, Alda has been an outspoken figure in the feminist movement. He has directed four films, written three books, and hosted PBS’s “Scientific American Frontiers” from 1993 to 2005, becoming a kind of pop-culture science teacher. In 2009, he helped set up the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
Nowadays, Alda’s primary business is podcaster. He recently released the 200th episode of “Clear + Vivid with Alan Alda”, in which he interviews writers, artists, scientists and veterans, including Yo-Yo Ma, Helen Mirren, Stephen Breyer and Madeleine Albright. (It has an all-science offshoot, “Science Clear + Vivid.”) His conversation style, as you might expect, is mild, informative, and endlessly curious. Recently, when Alda appeared on my zoom screen, she was wearing turtleneck glasses and occasionally took a blue sailboat. He had a visible tremor in his right arm, a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. He was at his home on Long Island, where he had contracted an epidemic with his wife of 65 years, Arlene Alda. When he’s not preparing for his podcast, he and Arlene play chess during the day (“She hits me three times in a row, which makes her happy”) and a ladder ball before dinner, then a nice dinner and watch TV shows (recently, Scandinavian) Family Drama). “There’s no noise in the country,” Alda said. “I don’t need to show up. Places come to me. ” Our conversation has been edited and abbreviated.
What made you want to be a podcaster in your eighties?
It was to help the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Any revenue generated from podcasts goes directly to the center. We have trained about twenty thousand scientists from nine different countries to better communicate science. But the podcast itself is funny, so for me it’s doubly annoying. It’s about communicating in every way, including acting, music, food. I get to talk to some of the most interesting and intelligent people in the world.
Do you have a guide for interviewing?
I do, and that means having a real conversation and not asking them questions I already have. It should come out of real curiosity, because it opens up the person in front. As I was doing “Scientific American Frontiers”, I realized that I was using what I learned as a reformer and as an actor.
How does improving your communication with non-actors help you?
Relationships are needed to improve. I’m not talking about improvising comedy – I’m talking about improving Viola based on Spolin’s work. The person in front has to be observed. You have to look at their face, their body language, because you know what they are really saying to you. When I was talking to scientists, they took them out of lecture mode and put them into conversation mode.
I will try to remember all this while asking you questions.
You know, it’s funny. For the book I wrote about it, “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?” The book, which we’re talking about in a nutshell, I think the three people who interviewed me said, “I accept the challenge. I’m turning off my laptop right now. “
Your real passion is to help scientists communicate. Have you noticed a problem that you need help solving?
I don’t think the problem is solved. What we were doing on the television program was useful to make science easier for people, and I wondered if, if we trained scientists, actually started to improve, they would relate to the audience as they relate to me? I kind of experimented. One day I was at a university in LA and I had twenty engineering students at a time talking to others about their work. Then we revised for three hours and they spoke again, and everyone in the room was amazed at how clear it was, how connected they were to the audience, not just confusing them. Later, we developed a curriculum.
Can you give an example of improved exercise done with scientists?
One of the most basic is mirror exercise. Let me and you do it. You are my mirror [He holds his palms up.] No matter what I do, you have to do the same thing immediately. [I put my hands up to the screen. His hands drift apart and then together, and I follow. Then he jerks his right hand to the side, and my left hand trails behind.] Now, have you seen what happened recently? Why can’t you stay with me
Am I not focused?
No, because I went too fast. When you do this, what you learn is your responsibility to help the person in front of you become a mirror. Another basic thing you learn is that if you don’t observe the person in front of you so carefully that you can guess what they are going to do, it will not work, because it must be urgent. And that’s just the beginning. After we do a number of exercises based on improvising, we help them get their message across to the audience.
When public-health officials have to communicate complex and evolving information to everyone on the planet, it seems to relate to what we have experienced in epidemics. Dr. Faussie is a good communicator, and yet people have a hard time understanding what is happening day by day.
I am sorry to hear that the basic message about science has not been communicated better than before, that is, science is evolving. We have had this problem for a long time Kovid, Where people will say, “You told me last year that red wine is good for me. This year, you’re telling me it’s not. What are you going to tell me tomorrow You can’t think of yourself! ” Good scientists doubt their own work. They seem to be contradicting themselves, but they are learning more about it in different ways. A scientist has a good analogy: if you’re playing football and you’re playing the same game over and over again, but you’re still losing, a fan will say, “What are you doing? You are changing plans! First, there was the passing. Are you telling me to run away now? “
And yet a lot of people say, “Why are you asking me to wear a KN95 mask, when the cloth mask was good six months ago?” Science is evolving, and viruses are evolving, so naturally it’s going to change.
I think when you look at a line at the bottom of a science article, “more research is needed.” It should be close to the top. And the headline should not say, “New progress! Everything is for sure! ”
Why do you think anti-science sentiment persists in this country? In times of epidemics, this is really pronounced with the anti-wax movement, but it seems to be a feature of American life. Or maybe it’s human life.
I don’t know why people have lost touch with the basic functions of science. When you hear people who don’t believe in the problem of climate change, they call themselves skeptics. There are scientists Professional Skeptics When the majority of them talk about the problems of climate change, they are acting on a set of facts that the person has just heard about.
As a science enthusiast, do you have any specific scientific concepts that you are really interested in right now?
It all knocks me out. I just have a lack of knowledge, so I don’t have to pretend to be ignorant. I thought it was really interesting CRISPR, A gene-editing tool, a device borrowed from bacteria that can detect spots in the DNA of viruses that are trying to invade bacteria and break down the virus’s DNA. So it can detect like a GPS system and flick like a pair of scissors, I understand. And the vile bacteria are now helping to revolutionize medicine. Did what I said make sense? I’m curious.