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A Blind Date with Science

Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind brings actor Alan Alda to campus to show scientists a better way to communicate with the public

We’ve all seen them. The senior scientist with his back turned away from the audience, trying to explain a data-filled slide to a puzzled group of nonscientists that has long ago tuned him out. Or the junior professor, head down, reading a lecture word for word in a monotone voice from behind the podium.

It’s the bane of academe. Complex ideas in science need to be conveyed with precision. Yet most scientists also believe the public needs to understand the details, without personal opinions or emotion, so that people can draw their own conclusions based on facts.

Emmy Award-winning actor and director Alan Alda thinks that’s wrong. And he came to campus last week to convince senior administrators and young scientists to do it differently. Learn to develop an emotional connection to your audience, he urged, because that’s how you build trust with a public often fearful of scientists.