Science and the Power of Storytelling

Alan Alda, actor, director, screenwriter, author, six-time Emmy and Golden Globe winner, known for his starring roles as Dr.Pierce in the TV series M*A*S*H,  spoke at Stanford’s Panofsky Auditorium on January 16th in front of a packed audience about the use of storytelling in Science.

From 1993 to 2005, Alan hosted the PBS series ‘Scientific American Frontiers’ where he interviewed over 700 scientists from around the world:

The series gave him grave insights into the world of science and Alan wondered why scientific knowledge still baffled the majority of the public. He realized that the language of science was not warm enough to excite a layman. So in conjunction with  Stony Brook University Alan Alda formed the ‘Center for Communicating Science’:


The goal of the center is to train scientists all around the U.S in effective means of public speaking. And this was the purpose of Alan’s visit to Stanford. He had led a week long workshop for the scientists at SLAC and used the tradition of improv to train them to construct a better narrative to describe their work.

Alan said that science can only become attractive to people once emotions are added into its description. In his talk, he demoed before and after videos of scientists speaking about their work. The before videos showcased the scientists fumble over technical jargon and unable to clearly define the purpose of their work. The after improv workshop videos showed an enthusiastic version of the same scientist passionately describing their wonderful discoveries. This change of narrative made it easy for the audience to understand the importance, significance, and implications of the scientists research.

Alan mentioned that effective and good communication is needed for science. Stories are powerful engagers and that is our greatest strength and achievement as humans.

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