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Image Hosted by Tonight on TDS, Dan Rather, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News; and on TCR,  Alan Alda, Center for Communicating Science's The Flame Challenge.
sausage grinder of snark

Dan Rather (with "contributor" Digby Diehl) has a book out -- Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News. There are various reviews up at Amazon & B&N. Amused me that the Publisher's Weekly review-slash-PR piece points out that Rather writes "with his usual conversational writing style", since that's probably how Diehl got the material with which to write the book, but as usual I liked Kirkus  best:
A renowned journalist settles scores in this investigation of how the news media has become dangerously intertwined with politics and corporate interests.

With the assistance of Diehl, Rather (The American Dream: Stories from the Heart of Our Nation, 2002 etc.) comes out swinging as he delves into the circumstances behind his firing from CBS News, where he had worked as a reporter since 1962, covering everything from Vietnam to Watergate to the conditions at Abu Ghraib. Unfortunately for Rather, his determination to air a potentially damning story about then-president George W. Bush’s spotty military record irked the higher-ups at CBS’s parent company, Viacom, leaving the feisty anchor unemployed at 75. Never one to shirk controversy, he sued CBS for breach of contract; although the suit was dismissed before it could come to trial, he has no regrets and no qualms about naming names. Indeed, this memoir reads as a muckraker’s delight, with Rather lambasting CBS management as “spineless” and “risk-averse.” He painstakingly details the cloak-and-dagger operations that Bush proponents resorted to in an attempt to hide the truth and discredit Rather’s source materials. Invoking Edward R. Murrow, Rather rails against those who would distort the news for their own gain and intentionally mislead the public. In between, he provides fair-minded portraits of the presidents he has interviewed, traces his passion for the news to his upbringing in a news-savvy family and expresses concern for the future of independent media in an industry that is increasingly kowtowing to the almighty bottom line. While Rather occasionally lapses into platitudes—a chapter on 9/11 offers little beyond well-worn observations about courage and patriotism—he always gives credit where credit is due, and his sincerity is never in doubt.

An engaging grab-bag: part folksy homage to roots, part exposé of institutional wrongdoing and part manifesto for a truly free press.

Didn't take me long to give up on the google search (favorite title: F.A.Q.: Why is Dan Rather's new book so depressing?), but then, I never liked him much (either). I've got a handful of links for you if you want them, though.

Also this:

(Official video here -- beware the flashy lights!)

Hey, Alan Alda is doing science communication these days!  At SUNY Stony Brook, turns out.
Alan Alda, acclaimed actor, writer and director, has joined the faculty of the School of Journalism as a Visiting Professor. He is working with the Center for Communicating Science to help current and future scientists learn to communicate more clearly and vividly with the public. Along with Theatre Arts faculty members, Deborah Mayo, Steve Marsh and Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, he is pioneering the use of improvisational theater exercises to help scientists connect more directly with people outside their field. These exercises, as well as other science communication techniques, will be offered this spring in credit-hearing courses for science graduate students at Stony Brook.

Although Professor Alda is best known for his award-winning work in movies, theater and television, especially his role as Hawkeye Pierce in the TV series “M*A*S*H,” he has an equally distinguished record in public communication of science. For 13 years he was the host of the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers, which he has called “the best thing I ever did in front of a camera.” After interviewing hundreds of gifted scientists around the world, he became convinced that many researchers have wonderful stories to tell, but need to learn how to tell them better. That realization inspired the creation of Stony Brook’s multi-disciplinary Center for Communicating Science in 2009. “Communication is not something extra you add on to science,” according to Professor Alda. “It is the essence of science.”

And they have a Master's program. Hmm.

They'll probably be talking about this Flame Challenge thing:

I have a long history of wanting science to be a little clearer. I was very curious as a boy and when I was 11 years old I got fascinated with the flame at the end of a candle. I couldn't figure out what was happening in there. So, I asked my teacher and she said -- a little abruptly, I thought -- "It's oxidation."

That doesn't quite explain it when you've never heard the word oxidation before.

It's been many years since I asked that question, but I recently decided to ask it again. I started a contest to see if scientists would rise to the challenge of explaining this common thing -- a flame -- so that an 11-year-old would understand it.

The idea was not primarily to teach kids science, but rather to encourage scientists to think about the tough problem of making science clear and vivid, without dumbing it down -- and thereby disrespecting both the kids and the science.

This is what we teach at The Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, which offers classes and workshops in which young scientists can learn the skills of communication as a fundamental part of their education.

The center set up a panel of scientists to check entries for accuracy before they went to the judges. But the best part of the contest was that the judges were real 11-year-olds. The winner they chose will be announced June 2...

Once it got under way, we were surprised to find that the question was way harder to answer than we had suspected. Explaining a flame requires reference to some of the most basic structures in the universe. Even so, we had more than 800 submissions from scientists all around the world.

We were even more surprised to see how excited the kids were about judging the scientists' entries...

Finalists are up at, & they'll be announcing the winner at the World Science Festival this weekend in NYC (why do I only ever hear about this the week before? Usually via Colbert. Gonna have to fix that). Alda also hosted  A Performing Arts Salute to Science yesterday, so that might come up in the discussion.

While it might be lots of fun to see Stephen's character interacting with SuperLiberal Alan Alda, I suspect that real-Stephen's fascination with science will win over faux-Stephen's right wing outrage. But we'll see...

Up this week:

Mo 5/28: Pre-empted
Tu 5/29: Michelle Obama
We 5/30: Dan Rather
Th 5/31: Jim Parsons


Mo 5/28: Pre-empted
Tu 5/29: Charlize Theron
We 5/30: Alan Alda
Th 5/31: Jack Hitt

(listings and occasional links  via The Late Night TV Page, some links & more guest info available at,, and a judiciously-used

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