Alan Alda’s father wanted him to become a doctor, but it wasn’t meant to be. “I failed chemistry really disastrously … ” Alda says. “I really didn’t want to be a doctor; I wanted to be a writer and an actor.”
Which is exactly what happened, but Alda didn’t leave science behind entirely. His new book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, is all about communication — and miscommunication — between scientists and civilians.
“People are dying because we can’t communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another,” he writes. “It sounds like an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is. When patients can’t relate to their doctors and don’t follow their orders, when engineers can’t convince a town that the dam could break, when a parent can’t win the trust of a child to warn her off a lethal drug. They can all be headed for a serious ending.”
Alda explains why empathy is crucial to successful science conversations, and describes his work at the Alan Alda Center For Communicating Science.