Alan Alda Speaks with Ashley Hamer and Cody Gough from Curiosity Daily

Cody Gough and Ashley Hamer
I’m Alan Alda, and this is C+V, conversations about connecting and communicating
Cody and Ashley chit chat.

That’s Cody Gough and Ashley Hamer, hosts of the podcast Curiosity Daily, a wonderfully bite-size chunk of fascinating science tid-bits. And their banter is a part of their show’s appeal – their way of connecting to their audience. In the clip we just heard for instance, Cody launches from chit chat about bedroom temperatures into an explanation of the difference between our body’s white fat and brown fat – who knew we had two types of fat?
Cody and Ashley dropped into our Manhattan studio the other day to talk about their show and how they put it together.

Alan: 05:21 How do you work together? Do you, do you, uh, pick stories together? Do you have a producer, a pick stories? Is one of you, the producer where, how do you do this?
Cody: 05:31 I’m more producer podcasts side and she’s the managing editor of the whole website.
Ashley: 05:36 I do most of the content choices. Um, yeah. And so the way that I will choose the things that we talk about are, I mean, some of it’s kind of boring. It’s the same way that any, any publication might, you know, I look through, um, press releases and new studies and new discoveries, but, um, one of my favorite ways to find ideas is just going about my day and finding those moments where I go, huh, I wonder how that works. Or I wonder what the history of this is or why does this look the way that it does.
Alan: 06:08 That’s great. So it comes out of your own personal curiosity.
Ashley: Yeah, a lot of the time it does.
Alan: And that must give it a lift. When you talk about it, you bantered together a little bit, which is fun to hear.
Yeah, we do.
Yeah, we’d like to do that. Just take a little moments. And actually my first podcast was a video game podcast. And what I learned from that was people would listen who didn’t have any interest in video games.
They just want to hear a human interaction.
They did, they loved, my friend John and I, my cohost, we went back to second grade friends and they could hear that, that connection. So when, when we started doing the daily podcast, I, I knew people wouldn’t… if Ashley and I were just narrators they could listen to an ebook or they could go, go read a manual somewhere on something. What they need is that human connection and they would come back and want to hear it. If we’re having fun together and people can hear that.
So how would, how would you describe your connection? Are you married to each other or are you like Nicols and May who are married but not to each other?
I think, yeah, it’s probably, it’s a work. He’s my work husband.
Yeah, I probably it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s, we, we just were very weirdly similar in a lot of ways.
You both play the saxophone, you’re both curious. You’re both have taken improv classes. I think you were made for each other.
I think we got very lucky. Absolutely.
We get very lucky. It was a very lucky thing, but there are a lot of things we’re opposites on.
So what about when you disagree about something, how do you settle that? Big silence. Wow.
I’ve thought about this. I think we know when to pick our battles because we definitely, we have minor, very minor disagreements very regularly I would say. And it’s over like a word.
Speaker 1: 08:08 It’s, yeah, very tiny details that, that bring out a ton of passion in one of us.
Speaker 2: 08:14 Well, can you give me an example of that? That sounds really fun.
We just had this happen, uh, the, the uh, this week when we were recording.
Oh, it was a pronunciation of a word and I pronounced Oh, it was, it was the word anondamide and
Speaker 2: 08:31 It’s, what is that?
Anondamide. It’s a chemical in your body. I can’t even remember what it is now.
Anondamide. I can’t even parse it.
so how did you pronounce it? Anondamide
Speaker 1: 08:56 Yeah, I pronounced anondamide and, and we had decided, okay, is it, is it anondamide? Okay. It’s anondamide. So we recorded it anondamide and then when Cody was editing, he, he looked it up one more time and he realized, Oh, it’s anAndamide Oh no. And I was like, it’s really not that big of a deal. It’s, it’s, it’s one syllable. And he’s like, I gotta change it. Okay. There’s one point in when we recorded where you pronounced it differently. So I’m gonna, I’m going to slot that in every other time you say it. And to me it didn’t seem like it was that important. But Cody, you know, this is his, this, he is the podcast producer. He wants to create the best product he can, which I totally respect. So he did that and it worked out.
I also want to avoid a listeners that are sometimes can be a little pedantic with their feedback. Uh, is that the right word? Pedantic, I think. Yeah.
Speaker 2: 09:47 It’s pedOntic, yes.
Um, yeah. Who, who get a little in the weeds and things and Hey, that’s, that’s their right.
So what about criticism? Do you get criticism on the accuracy of your reports? Because not everybody agrees with every study that’s done. I’m talking about some scientists disagree with other scientists. Uh, do you, do you get into, uh, that kind of discourse with, with your audience?
Speaker 4: 10:14 We’re very careful about our language. And I think that it’s important to always, when talking about science, there’s no absolutes. We mentioned that in our conversation earlier and we’re like that, you know, so even if there’s a new study that, uh, that says you might sleep better if you do this, we’ll say, here’s a, here’s a life hack, here’s a tip. You might sleep better if you do this. You might, because not every person is the same. Not everything works for every single person. Even if a scientific study says this is going to work for 99.99% of people, there’s going to be some variation in someone. So we’re just careful about that. And we say, look, here’s what the study is. Here’s what it suggests. But we always say could or it might. And as we know, science is always changing. Our understanding of things are always changing and evolving. So it’s, I think that when you, when you put things the right way and not in absolutes, that that kind of protects you. And it’s important to do in general.
Speaker 1: 11:33 We actually, when we started, we did it without scripts. We, we would just have bullet points of the facts and tried to just kind of do it off the cuff and talk about, Oh yeah, this new study says this and this and this, and we got so many emails. Because when you’re just talking off the cuff, you’re not being precise with your language.
So you said things that weren’t necessarily correct.
Right. And so we quickly learned that we needed to have everything written out and, you know, we can, we can banter within the script. We can, uh, change up some of the ways that we say things, but for the most part, we need to be very careful about how we say everything we say.
Speaker 3: 12:15 And you go back and forth in a, in a good way between the, uh, the accurate script and the personalizing it you, it’s fun to hear your personal and when you talked about how much sleep you get and that kind of thing, it makes it a human thing to compare yourself to, to the person talking what you meant when you were talking about spending so much of your time communicating about science. Let me ask you a question that you asked me when you were interviewing me for your show. Why do you think it matters to communicate about science?
Speaker 1: 12:56 There are two reasons. One of the reasons is that science is just so cool and so beautiful and so inspiring and so moving that I feel like it’s, it’s a shame that more people don’t experience that and I want to bring into that.
Speaker 3: 13:17 You stole my answer
It’s true, you said something very similar,
Speaker 1: 13:22 But the other reason is that to be an informed citizen of the world and of your country, you need to know what’s going on. So I think, I think on the one hand it helps people enjoy life more. On the other hand, it makes us all more responsible people.
Speaker 1: 14:51 What I think is important to communicate about sciences. Some of the surprising things, like some of the surprising explanations for why something is, so we did a story one time about an Island of snakes off the coast of Brazil. There’s one snake in per square meter or something along those lines.
It’s one of the, it’s some of the most deadly venomous snakes there are.
So I guess the hotel rates are low there.
Pretty low, pretty low. So one could easily present that in any kind of podcast and say, look at this weird Island of super venomous snakes that you never want to go onto. But then when you peel it back, just a single layer, you say, why did they evolve to be so venomous?
maybe because there are so many of them.
It’s a lot of competition, but it turns out that it’s because the, um, they needed to be able to invenomate, to bite a bird and have it dead before it had the chance to fly away to mainland. So that was like one of the, the reasons it kind of developed. And then you’re like, Oh, I just learned something about, you know, potentially the way an animal evolved then it has to do with, with uh, the whole ecosystem of that area. And it just, it kind of makes you, instead of looking at something from like a 10 foot view, you’re suddenly zooming out and there’s a 5,000 foot overview. And once you communicate science in a way like that, that says not only can we tell you a cool story or not only can you think about how a cool thing happened, but also the reason is really interesting and kind of like this aha. I think that’s a really valuable thing about science. This really difficult to, to, to, to reach in a classroom setting, let’s say when you’re in grade school growing up, cause like your job, there’s to learn about stuff, but it’s, it’s not always, you know, you’re, you’re more nuts and bolts and kind of in the weeds there. Sometimes it’s harder or less obvious, less clear what the big picture is and what, what, what those things are really helping you do.
Speaker 3: 16:53 But, and you’ve done something just now that we find when scientists do it after they work with us, uh, training to communicate, uh, is very helpful, which is, you just told me enough to make me want to know more. You haven’t told me everything there is to know about those snakes on that Island. But now I’m, I’m just pumped with questions. How did all those snakes get together on one Island? Why did they all congregate and where did they come from? How far back do they go? What else is on the Island? What did they have? Did they only get to eat the bird that’s stupid enough to land? I have a dock out in the country where seagulls like to drop crabs and eat them. And the doc is constantly covered with their refuse. So I put rubber snakes out to scare the seagulls away. The snakes apparently got in the way. So they moved the snakes over to another part of the dock. So some birds may be worried about snakes and some don’t. But I’d like to know more about your Island of snakes. So you’ve been very successful at exciting my own curiosity, which is what your business is. It’s great.
Speaker 4: 18:38 Yeah. And the, that, that wanting to know more is why Ashley just told me a story about why she got into science, really with that story about what you were curious about in music.
Speaker 1: 18:50 Oh, yeah. Well, so yeah, I have this background in music. Um, and I get asked a lot how I got into science, which is, uh, just, uh, I’m not even sure, but I, I, uh, when I was a freshman in college, I remember asking, uh, one of my teachers, um, a question that he couldn’t answer. And I thought, that’s okay. You’re a professor. Like, don’t you have all the answers, you know? Um, and I, I, that question stuck with me for through my undergrad, through my master’s and eventually, you know, I had to take a class in research and how to, how to research and, and, um, you know, write about, uh, jazz cause it was a jazz studies program and I, I realized that, Oh, this question that nobody has the answer to, I can get the answer. I can, I can find the answer and answer this question that no one has ever answered before. And that was intoxicating
Isn’t that great?
Yeah. Yeah. Um, and that, that was kind of the moment where I was realizing how cool just finding things out on your own really is.
After a short break we’ll return to my conversation with the team behind the podcast Curiosity Daily.
This is C+V, and now back to my conversation with Cody Gough and Ashley Hamer
Speaker 3: 20:00 well, let me ask you that. You inflamed me with this question to which you said kind of an ordinary question, but it’s just at the right time to ask this. Well, each of you, what’s, what’s the most amazing thing you’ve learned doing your show about curiosity?
One of the coolest things I have learned is about how smart plants are. Huh? You never think about,
What do you mean, I can’t eat plants anymore? What am I going to do?
Dwindling.. Um, plants have nervous systems. They have alarm calls, maybe not calls, but they, they, they pump out chemicals that warn other plants when a caterpillar is eating them. There is a, there’s a vine that can mimic the leaf shape of the plant that it’s climbing. And, and just there are such amazing things that plants can do. This thing that you just think is, you know, a decoration on your mantle.
Speaker 1: 21:29 What about you Cody?
Speaker 4: 21:32 Ashley, keep me honest on this one.
Oh, I will.
But it’s the fact that women are actually colder than men.
Colder. In what way? You mean temperature?

Speaker 1: 22:02 There are a lot of different things going on. Our blood vessels are thinner. Um, I think, I think our fat content has something to do with it. Um, and also we’re just smaller, just, just smaller. Um, but I think, uh, a woman and a man of the same size, the woman is still going to be colder than the man.
Speaker 3: 22:26 So to get more answers to that, we need to hear your show. But we always end our conversation with seven quick questions. Are you both game for that? Absolutely. These questions really tend to apply to you in some ways more than to a lot of other people we’ve talked to. Like the first question is what’s the hardest thing you’ve ever tried to explain to someone?
Oh boy.
Speaker 3: 22:54 I need to have music to play during those poisons.
Speaker 4: 22:57 My grandmother, my mother’s mother was living alone and I guess probably her mid seventies late seventies and she had never used a computer before and my mom got her a computer because she thought it might be nice to have her on Facebook and I had to teach her how to use a computer. But what was the most interesting part of that experience and the hardest part to explain was helping her understand what a cursor is and how to move a cursor. It’s the number one thing you take for granted with any computer. Like, literally the, just the concept of moving a mouse moves this cursor on the screen. Like, think about how you would explain that to someone so that, that was just, um, very different from me. I had to improvise.
Speaker 2: 23:53 How about you?
Speaker 1: 23:54 So one of my, the proudest things that I do on Curiosity is explain really deep scientific concepts in a way that people can understand. But early on, things like quantum physics were very, very difficult to explain. But you know, the reason for that is because I didn’t understand them fully.
Speaker 2: 24:14 Richard Feinman said, if you understand quantum is physics, you haven’t been listening.
Right, right. So I think, I think if it’s hard to explain, you just need to go back and, and learn more about it.
Second question, how do you tell someone they have their facts wrong?
Speaker 1: 24:33 I asked questions.
Oh, how? And like, what?
Like, um, Oh, Oh, where did you hear that? Oh. And how does that work? And, and let them explain the whatever it is that they’re explaining and, and let them find the gaps in the logic.
How about you Cody?
Speaker 4: 24:53 Usually back off and just say, are you sure? Oh, I thought I heard differently. If I have a specific example that contradicts what they got wrong, I’ll, I’ll maybe throw that book. But, but my mom had that car that year.
Speaker 2: 25:06 All right, here’s the next one. What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?
But are you single? Oh, a woman in a bar asked me, are you single? And I was never, I don’t think I’ve ever been more surprised to hear a question. It just never happened to me before. And I was like, what? Why? Like why would you ask me that clearly? Cause there’s some [inaudible] it was very weird.
Cody, are you single?
No, I am married now. I very happily married.
Speaker 2: 25:49 Okay. I thought about this.Um, the strangest question anyone has ever asked me was, uh, when I was about a setting up for a gig, I was dressed exactly the same as all the other men on the stage. Um, I was setting up my, my instrument and um, a couple comes up to the stage and calls me over and so I go over and they say, excuse me, can we have a table?
Speaker 2: 26:17 Could they?
I didn’t know. I didn’t know.
Here’s one. How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Speaker 4: 26:31 If you’re in a group, turn to the third person and start talking to them, ask them a question which forces them to respond. A lot of times the compulsive talker will see the two of you engaging and will be so excited to go continue talking to someone else that they’ll kind of float away.
You totally stole my answer.
Did I?
Yeah remember I was like, yeah, you pull in backup, you get, you get someone or you told them the answer to this. We talking, I don’t remember.
Well that saves us a lot of time. Wow do you start up a real conversation with someone you don’t know at a dinner party?
Speaker 1: 27:09 that’s the one I’m still working on.
Yeah. Really?
Yeah, it’s my, my boyfriend is very good at starting conversations that are real. And the question that he asks people is, uh, is, what’s, what’s, what’s something you’re excited about? And that’s, that starts a really good question. Uh, conversation.
Speaker 2: 27:32 What have you been into lately? Is a good question. But th the number one priority is just find a connection. Anything family where you’re from, are you into this band at this video game?
How about this, this next to last question? What gives you confidence?
Speaker 1: 27:52 I always like it when a scientist tells me that I explained something well.
Yeah, that’s good.
That’s, that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Yeah.
Speaker 2: 28:03 This is really cheesy, but my wife gives mw a lot of confidence.
Mine does too. Every time I leave the house to go do something, she says, you’re going to be great. Oh, that’s really helpful.
It is really helpful though. I thrive on it. Here’s an interesting one. We haven’t asked many people this. The last question. What book changed your life?
Speaker 1: 28:30 Honestly, and this is a controversial statement, but blink by Malcolm Gladwell because that was when I was still just a musician in school and I was just music, music, music, and that was probably the first pop science book I ever read and it, it changed the way I saw the world. It made me realize that, you know, not all was as it seemed and, and it got me further down the rabbit hole of what science could do for me.
Speaker 2: 29:04 So what was there about it? What was the thesis that you latched onto?
Speaker 1: 29:08 Well, blink is about how people use their X. People who are very trained in something can just use gut feeling to make a decision about something that’s usually right.
Speaker 2: 29:20 Once you’ve been well-trained. Is that the idea?
Exactly. Yeah.
How about you Cody? What, what book changed your life? Can you think of one?
Speaker 1: 29:30 I can,
Speaker 2: 29:31 you mentioned you can think of a book that changed his life. Yeah, I was thinking that too. I mean, I don’t know if I would say changed my life.
How do you know what she’s thinking? Wait, what was I thinking? Um, uh, that the righteous mind by Jonathan Haidt.
Right. You’ve had them on your podcast.
What about that changed you?
Speaker 4: 29:54 It just shows you where morals come from, moralism and different types of that and that that’s so much, it’s so much, it’s a book about the core of what drives people. This very, very deep seated core motivations and how society impacts that. And once you understand that, you understand, I think it helps you have empathy for a broader range of people because you understand that they’re operating from completely different frameworks of, of reference and of, of just thinking. It’s, it’s, uh, it’s very good, but for understanding that people come from very different places.
Speaker 3: 30:30 Well, I sure have enjoyed our talk three curiosity motivated people getting together and I loved it. Thank you.So for the next couple of weeks, you’re going to be taking over our slot while we take a little time off and get ready for our comeback in the world of podcast. How are you, how are you feeling about that?
Speaker 2: 31:01 I’m pretty excited. I, I want to, um, I’m excited to know how your audience likes our show.
Speaker 3: 31:06 They can’t not like it. It’s so good. What do you think?
We just wanted to give you a little vacation. [inaudible] you earned it. You deserve a break.
I look forward to hearing the show when you’re doing it for a couple of weeks. Thanks so much for being here.
Thank you.
Thank you.

Be sure to check out Cody and Ashley’s exuberant take on how science can improve your life as the hosts of Curiosity Daily take over C+V for the next couple of weeks. I’ll be back on November 26th with a wonderful talk I had with Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma. Till then, bye bye!