Actor turns professor,wants scientists to ditch jargon

Communication: Alan Alda is on a mission to teach physicians,Physicists to get their points across in clear,simple language

Written by Associated Press | Stony Brook,new York | Published: May 2, 2013 1:18:00 am

Among the procedures Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce performed on “M.A.S.H.’’ was an end-to-end anastomosis.

Most of the viewers,actor Alan Alda concedes,had no idea he was talking about removing a damaged piece of intestine and reconnecting the healthy pieces. Today,the award-winning film and television star is on a mission to teach physicians,physicists and scientists of all types to ditch the jargon and get their points across in clear,simple language.

The former host of the long-running PBS series “Scientific American Frontiers’’ is a founder and visiting professor of journalism at the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science,which has just been named in his honor. “There’s no reason for the jargon when you’re trying to communicate the essence of the science to the public because you’re talking what amounts to gibberish to them,’’ Alda said.

A better understanding of science,Alda said,physicians can more clearly explain treatments to patients. Consumers can decipher what chemicals may be in their food. And lawmakers can make better decisions on funding scientific research. “They’re not going to ask the right questions if science doesn’t explain to them what’s going on in the most honest and objective way,’’ said Alda. “You can’t blame them for not knowing the jargon — it’s not their job. Why would anybody put up money for something they don’t understand?’’ the 77-year-old asked.

Alda said that as his 12-year tenure as host of “Scientific American Frontiers’’ was ending in 2005,he began seeking out a university interested in his idea for a center for communicating science.

Stony Brook,a 24,000-student state university near Manhattan,“was the only place that understood what I was trying to say and thought it was possible,’’ he said. Last week,the Long Island school officially renamed it the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

Among the courses taught by the center is an improvisational acting class that teaches scientists ways of communicating their thoughts clearly to others.

Alda shared what he called his best examples of clear communication with his teaching assistants. About a decade ago,Alda said,he was filming in Chile when he was stricken with sharp stomach pains. He was taken to a clinic,where a doctor examined him and said,“Some of your intestine has gone bad,and we have to cut out the bad part and sew the two good ends together.’’ Alda said,“You’re going to do an end-to-end anastamosis. He said,‘How do you know that?’ And I said,‘Oh I did many of them on M.A.S.H.’ That was the first operation I learned about on M.A.S.H.’’’

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