I’m Alan Alda, and this is C+V, conversations about connecting and communicating.
I think that it was really an effort for me to take a horrific, unbelievably painful and traumatic experience and try to do something positive with it. I think I felt at the time that I had this bully pulpit. I had a captive audience, at least for a few minutes in the morning. If I could help people understand that this was one cancer that is highly preventable if it’s detected early, if you get proper screening, that I could spare other families from going through what mine had gone through, and Jay’s had gone through, and leaving my daughters without a father at six and two.
Katie Couric’s decision to allow her colonoscopy to be broadcast live on television was but one highlight in an extraordinary career in television. As co-host of NBC’s Today show and later the first female anchor of a national nightly news program on CBS, her work has been distinguished by her ability to relate to her audience.
Alan: 00:00:00 Katie, this is such a great thing for me to have you on the show.
Katie: 00:00:04 Well, it’s so exciting for me to be here. Because truly, I’m not just saying this because it’s your show and I’m sitting across the table from you, but you’re one of my favorite people on the planet.
Alan: 00:00:15 Oh, thank you.
Katie: 00:00:16 So, I would do anything for you.
Alan: 00:00:17 That’s sweet, thank you.
Katie: 00:00:17 So, thanks for having me.
Alan: 00:00:19 Well, I have you in my book. I don’t know if you have me in your book.
Katie: 00:00:22 What?
Alan: 00:00:23 I do, yeah, because the last book I wrote was all about communicating. Of all the things you’ve done in your life that have been really extraordinary, when you made your colonoscopy public-
Katie: 00:00:37 Yes.
Alan: 00:00:37 … that had such a big impression on the whole country and on me, too.
Katie: 00:00:42 Well, I think getting up close and personal with my colon was kind of going to be, maybe, the first line of my obituary, I’m afraid.
Alan: 00:00:51 No, I was thinking that before, you must be so sick and tired of hearing about your colon.
Katie: 00:00:55 No, honestly, I’m not. Because people come up to me still, Alan, and say, “I got screened because of you.”
Alan: 00:01:02 I’m sure many people were saved.
Katie: 00:01:05 Some people say that, as well. It’s an interesting phenomenon as someone who’s kind of studied communication, and is a great communicator yourself, and interested in I know how Scientists distill complicated concepts. I think that resonated because I had been through such a personal tragedy. I think in order for something to really seep in, to permeate our psyches, and to really have an impact, and to change hearts and minds, you do have to have that emotional connection.
Alan: 00:01:40 Yeah, they do.
Katie: 00:01:41 I think coming on the heels of my husbands death-
Alan: 00:01:43 Yeah, that was a tragedy.
Katie: 00:01:44 … it was so powerful.
Alan: 00:01:46 How long after your husband’s death were you able to bring yourself to do that public thing?
Katie: 00:01:51 I think it was probably … I think it was just … You know, that’s interesting. I think it was probably about six months afterwards.
Alan: 00:02:01 That’s so-
Katie: 00:02:01 But I felt so just-
Alan: 00:02:03 Was it a moment of relief for you? Or did you expunge some of your grief that way?
Katie: 00:02:13 I think that it was really an effort for me to take a horrific, unbelievably painful and traumatic experience and try to do something positive with it. I think I felt at the time that I had this bully pulpit. I had a captive audience, at least for a few minutes in the morning. If I could help people understand that this was one cancer that is highly preventable if it’s detected early, if you get proper screening, that I could spare other families from going through what mine had gone through, and Jay’s had gone through, and leaving my daughters without a father at six and two. That I could somehow have an impact.
Katie: 00:03:05 I think it was really wanting to provide that public service for people, having learned the hard way. Honestly, Jay was only 41 when he was diagnosed, so too young to get a screening colonoscopy. But if I had been more aware, he had been more aware of some of the symptoms of colorectal cancer, I think he would’ve gotten medical attention for it much sooner.
Alan: 00:03:28 Are they not lowering the age when they recommend it?
Katie: 00:03:30 They are, in fact. Well, the American Cancer Society is seeing … They’re seeing a lot more incidence in colorectal cancer in younger patients now. People under 50.
Alan: 00:03:40 Is that because they’re getting screened more? Or is it just happening more?
Katie: 00:03:43 No, no, no. Well, those people are not getting screened, because the baseline recommendation is age 50, it was. The American Cancer Society has lowered it to 45. It’s been 45 for African Americans for quite a while, because there’s the higher incidence of colorectal cancer. That could have something to do with access to care, they’re not quite sure. But we’ve seen the number of younger people diagnosed with this disease skyrocketing. They also, Doctors, and Scientists, and Researchers, don’t quite know why. They think it could be related, obviously, to the obesity epidemic. They think it could have something to do with inflammation in the gut. Maybe, the colon is a hotbed of bacteria, obviously, and maybe antibiotics are affecting sort of the environment.
Katie: 00:04:38 So there’s a lot of theories out there. But, people just need to be incredibly aware of symptoms. They also need to start talking to their doctors about this. But it’s very troubling. The number of deaths over 50, I think, have declined. I got some nice credit for that after my colonoscopy. The University of Michigan did a study and found there was a 20 percent increase in colon cancer screenings after I did my thing.
Alan: 00:05:07 I know because that’s in my book.
Katie: 00:05:08 Yeah, oh, right. They call it the Couric affect, which was very-
Alan: 00:05:13 Yeah, isn’t that great.
Katie: 00:05:13 … very flattering, kind of weird to be so associated with that.
Alan: 00:05:17 How did you get to the decision to do that? Was it your idea? Did somebody come to you with the idea? Did you have to ponder for a while whether you wanted to be so personal about it?
Katie: 00:05:29 You know, it was my idea. I had learned so much. There’s nothing like fear and desperation to make you absorb everything you possibly can about a certain situation. I almost became an MD during those nine months Jay was sick. I was studying [Lancet 00:05:51], and [Jamma 00:05:51], and cancer, all these periodicals. I stopped reading all these garb … not garbage magazines, but less serious magazines. I was learning about anti angiogenesis, cutting off the tumor’s blood supply, and monoclonal antibodies, and targeted therapies, and all these scientific terms.
Katie: 00:06:12 I had a really good friend named Al Rabson, who was the Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute. Did you know Doctor Rabson, by any chance?
Alan: 00:06:20 No.
Katie: 00:06:20 He was just a lovely, lovely, wonderful man. I would call him all the time to talk to him about clinical trials or if I read some research on something. So he started calling me Doctor Couric, which was hilarious. But anyway, I guess I’m telling you this to say I gleaned so much from that horrific experience and learned so much, I felt like I needed to share it. I needed to share it. I said to the Executive Producer at the Today Show at the time, Jeff [Zucker 00:06:50], who also had had colon cancer, ironically, in his 30s. I said, “You know, people don’t talk about colon cancer.” It’s sort of like breast cancer 50 years ago, people were too embarrassed to say the word breast.
Alan: 00:07:04 Yeah.
Katie: 00:07:04 Remember? In fact, in the Emperor of all Maladies, did you ever read that?
Alan: 00:07:08 No, I know about it, but it … Graham will cut this throat clearing.
Katie: 00:07:13 Okay, okay, okay.
Alan: 00:07:17 No, I haven’t had a chance to read that.
Katie: 00:07:18 It’s interesting, I think you would really like it. Siddhartha Mukherje, who’s a Doctor, wrote it. It’s sort of the history of cancer. But he said that when the New York Times, when somebody wanted to put an ad in the Classified about a support group for breast cancer, the New York Times wouldn’t write breast. They had to put cancer of the chest wall, or chest cavity, or something.
Katie: 00:07:41 But no one talked about colon cancer and I felt like nobody really knew what a colonoscopy was, much less how to pronounce it. So I said to Jeff [Zucker 00:07:52], I said, “Listen, I really want to do this screening and I want to spread the word that people need to get checked for this disease.” It’s the number two cancer killer of men and women combined. It’s so prevalent. So that sort of was my decision.
Alan: 00:08:11 In the process of learning all about the medicine that applied … what’s the word you brought up, anti ango-
Katie: 00:08:19 Anti angiogenesis.
Alan: 00:08:20 Anti angi-
Katie: 00:08:22 That’s a mouthful isn’t it?
Alan: 00:08:23 Yeah. But it feels good, doesn’t it, to know you know what it means?
Katie: 00:08:25 Yeah.
Alan: 00:08:26 But the vast majority of us don’t have the time or the impetus to learn word like that. Yet, we need to know what they mean.
Katie: 00:08:36 Yeah.
Alan: 00:08:40 I know you work on that, but what do you think is the hardest thing about getting medicine and science to be understood by the rest of us who really need to know it?
Katie: 00:08:54 Well, I think it’s often very intimidating. You and I are both involved in this 3M Science initiative.
Alan: 00:09:06 Yeah, it’s a wonderful project.
Katie: 00:09:07 Yeah. I think a lot of people are confused and intimidated by Science. Anything, they feel inadequate. So, when they see complicated concepts that they don’t really understand, I think they kind of almost shut down. I think Scientists, honestly … and this is why what you’re doing is so fantastic, Alan. Need to learn how to synthesize this information and explain it to lay people. I think because that’s what I’ve done my entire career, taken things and tried to make them understandable and relatable, that was something that I could do when Jay was sick and that I’ve continued to do with Stand Up to Cancer. If I’ve done stories on cancer, or cancer patients, or new therapies, or talking about immunotherapy, and new developments. I think it’s also further complicated by all this information online that is not accurate.
Alan: 00:10:13 It’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t.
Katie: 00:10:15 Right.
Alan: 00:10:15 I mean, the joke goes, remember what Abraham Lincoln said, you can’t trust the internet.
Katie: 00:10:23 I’ve never heard that joke. But it’s true. I think people get … First of all, it’s really scary if you have a cancer diagnosis, to look it up online. I know many Doctors who say do not go on the internet, do not go online.
Alan: 00:10:42 But you can go straight to the scholarly articles.
Katie: 00:10:44 Right, you can go to scholarly articles.
Alan: 00:10:46 But then, they’re hard to understand for most laypeople.
Katie: 00:10:48 Exactly. I mean, ideally Doctors would be able to take the time to really talk to their patients about their situations.
Alan: 00:10:56 Well, we trained a lot of Physicians, too [crosstalk 00:10:58]-
Katie: 00:10:58 Right, or a patient-
Alan: 00:10:59 … thousands.
Katie: 00:10:59 … navigator. There are a lot of … We started a Center at New York Hospital the Jay Monahan Center after Jay died. We wanted it to be comprehensive and one stop shopping. There are people who can help you with clinical trials, genetic testing, nutritional stuff. The mandate is, you have got to be nice to people. You have got to be kind and nice, from everyone who answers the phone, to the nurse, to the Physicians, to everyone on the staff.
Alan: 00:11:32 It’s not that easy, I imagine. Because, there’s a tremendous burnout rate among Physicians and nurses. People who come into contact daily with death and dying.
Katie: 00:11:43 I know.
Alan: 00:11:44 Under tremendous pressure. So if they speak sharply or shortly to a patient, it’s understandable-
Katie: 00:11:52 Or coldly, I think.
Alan: 00:11:52 Or coldly or just talk in a foreign language of medicine.
Katie: 00:11:55 Right.
Alan: 00:11:57 There are two people undergoing a lot of stress meeting at that-
Katie: 00:12:03 Oh, yes.
Alan: 00:12:04 … at that juncture. The people with the hard to understand language have the biggest responsibility to make it understood. Not just the language, but to read the other person’s state of anxiety, what are they ready to hear. Don’t you think?
Katie: 00:12:20 Yeah, it’s hard and I feel for Physicians and Nurses and feel so proud and inspired by their commitment. But, I can understand how difficult it is to deal with people who are in that heightened state of, as you said, anxiety and fear every day. My nephew, Ray, is an Oncologist. My sister’s oldest son. My sister, I think he went into Oncology because his mom, Emily, and my sister died of pancreatic cancer when she was 54. He and I had this long talk about how you help families. How you tell a 37 year old father of two little kids that there’s nothing more you can do for him.
Katie: 00:13:16 Ray said sometimes he sits in the room with them and just sits with them. I mean, it’s just … it’s so difficult. But I also think it’s so hard to talk about these things. I think in a way, culture doesn’t equip us to have really hard conversations about death and dying. I just did this project with Merck, where cancer patients and caregivers write letters to their earlier selves. Like, what they wish they had known when they had been diagnosed or their loved one had been diagnosed. It’s called, With Love, Me.
Katie: 00:14:04 It’s a really powerful campaign, because it’s so confusing and upsetting when this happens. It’s like, suddenly, your life has changed forever. It doesn’t have to be because a lot of cancer patients survive. But if it’s an advanced case and the prognosis is bleak, your life changes in an instant. Someone asked me, “Well, what would you have written to your younger self? Or when Jay was diagnosed?” I said I wish that I had had a chance to have a real conversation with Jay about death, because we never did. We never said, “What if you don’t make it?”
Katie: 00:14:48 I just couldn’t bring myself to even talk about the possibility. I also felt like I was giving up or abandoning hope. I didn’t want him to give up either, so … I think that as a society, we need to learn the words and the language to have these really difficult, painful conversations.
Alan: 00:15:12 I think your taking the courage to dip into your own life to make those moments available to the rest of us will help the culture accept that. When you think about how the culture has changed, you talk about how the New York Times wouldn’t print the word breast-
Katie: 00:15:32 Right.
Alan: 00:15:33 … at a certain point in its history. Now, there’s not a part of the body they don’t go into detail about.
Katie: 00:15:38 That’s true. You know, that’s true. I mean, I sometimes worry that I started a trend when I got my colonoscopy, because I’ve had to watch people get prostate exams. I used to joke with the Today Show and say, “Hey, listen, I’m going to draw the line at a pap smear. I’m not doing that on national television.”
Alan: 00:15:55 No, you did a wonderful thing. I just don’t know if it was a good idea to use it as your 8X10.
Katie: 00:16:02 Very funny.
As we’ve heard, Katie’s deep dive into the science and medicine because of her husband’s illness made her a strong advocate for the need for scientists to better communicate with the rest of us. That need came out starkly in a project Katie and I were both involved with – an extensive survey sponsored by 3M exploring people’s attitude toward science and its role in their lives.
Alan: 00:16:04 But you mentioned the 3M Project. They’re doing an important thing, I think, in that they’re listening to the public. Because it’s one thing to say Scientist ought to communicate better, but you have to know who they’re communicating with. The old thing of know your audience is probably the most important part of communicating. They really have listened. I was really surprised to see they talked to 14 thousand people in 14 countries.
Katie: 00:16:31 Right, right.
Alan: 00:16:31 That’s really doing a survey that has some weight to it.
Katie: 00:16:36 Definitely. Some of it was pretty disturbing, you know?
Katie: 01:06:28 It’s called The State of Science Index. It’s the second time they’ve done this. They did an extensive survey, 14 thousand people, I think in 14 countries, to kind of measure how people felt about Science, and Scientists, and if they were skeptical, or did they respect Science. The findings were really, really interesting. In some cases, I think pretty disturbing.
Alan: 00:16:41 What were, to you, the most disturbing things?
Katie: 00:16:42 Well, I’ve got some of the findings, actually, I brought with me. One in every three of us is a Science skeptic. Overall skepticism towards Science grew globally in the past year. Skepticism is up three percentage points. Thirty-five percent of the population around the world say that if there was no Science, their life would not be much different.
Alan: 00:17:08 Thirty-five percent say that?
Katie: 00:17:10 Isn’t that insane?
Alan: 00:17:10 If there were no Science?
Katie: 00:17:11 Forty-five percent, nearly half, of people believe Science that aligns with their personal beliefs.
Alan: 00:17:20 They believe in Science that aligns with their personal beliefs. We’re talking about another survey in another program that came up with that same finding, which was so interesting. It showed that although you would think that the more knowledge people have about Science, the more they would accept a finding, say, on global warming. When in fact, they diverge. The more information they have, the more education they have about Science, the more they diverge on conservative liberal lines.
Katie: 00:17:52 So, why do you think that’s the case?
Alan: 00:17:54 Because of what you just said about belief. If belief trumps facts, which it does so often, then there’s a serious problem, because our lives are at stake if we don’t pay attention to the facts.
Katie: 00:18:09 I know, it’s so true. I was just reading an article on the way over here that was in Newsweek about a Flat Earth Convention, Flat Earthers.
Alan: 00:18:23 They all got together in one place?
Katie: 00:18:25 They did and a Scientist went there-
Alan: 00:18:28 That’s good because if they’re in one place, they can stay far away from the edge. It’s safe.
Katie: 00:18:34 Well, a Scientist went there and wrote this really interesting article about-
Alan: 00:18:38 Did he talk to them?
Katie: 00:18:39 Yeah, he did. It said that people are less likely to change their mind because of data and more likely change their mind because of a conversation with someone they trust. It’s a really interesting … I’ll email it to you. it’s a really interesting article-
Alan: 00:18:58 Yeah, I’d like to see that.
Katie: 00:18:58 … but it also … it speaks to, not only diverging along partisan lines, but this lack of faith in facts, but also in expertise. I think there was a book written a couple of years ago called, The Death Of Expertise. I think there’s such class warfare going on and so much class resentment, I think, fueled by this tremendous, tremendously problematic income inequality that people don’t … they resent Academics. They resent people sometimes who have access to all this information. I think it’s exacerbated by the internet where everyone thinks they’re an expert, because they can Google something, get all the information, and ergo they are suddenly the instant experts.
Katie: 00:19:57 It’s all very concerning that people … You saw it in Brexit, where … I think it was some labor official said, “Why should we trust the experts?” I can give you a few reasons why you should trust the experts, because they happen to know a hell of a lot more than you do.
Alan: 00:20:19 But look at this problem you have of people who will listen to those they trust and there’s more and more skepticism about Science. It almost seems that no matter what language the Scientist translate their findings into, if they’re not going to be trusted, they’re not going to be paid attention to. There seems to be something that needs to be done in the culture to make us more trusting of people with a lifetime of experience and learning.
Katie: 00:20:45 I agree. I think a couple of things, that it’s a real indictment of the education system in this country that people don’t respect Science more. I think it also speaks to this gravitation that some people have towards conspiracy theories. Thinking that 9/11 isn’t true. By the way, the purveyors of those theories, like Alex Jones who had the audacity and the mendacity, if that’s the right word, to spread that Sandy Hook was a hoax.
Alan: 00:21:24 It was cruel.
Katie: 00:21:24 It’s just repulsive. So I think you have these alternate universes where people are fed garbage. Then, they start to be brainwashed and regurgitating said garbage. It’s really troubling. Very, very, troubling.
Alan: 00:21:43 I wonder if one of the problems is we have divided ourselves into camps.
Katie: 00:21:49 Totally. I mean, I think that’s a big-
Alan: 00:21:51 Tribalism really seems to be a problem.
Katie: 00:21:53 I think it’s a huge problem. I think, honestly, the media at times, I think exploits it. Because as the landscape gets increasingly fragmented, you want to have a guaranteed audience. To get that guaranteed audience, you don’t want to … you want to, I think in some cases, engage in manufactured or appropriate outrage. As a result, you are kind of narrowing your aperture to appeal to people who want to hear their own views reflected back at them.
Katie: 00:22:33 A lot of times, it’s pure commentary and I think that the divide in this country, the polarization is definitely being exacerbated by the media. I mean, I think the President throws a monkey wrench into this whole thing. Because I sometimes wonder, what would it be like if, say, Mitt Romney were President and he hadn’t done what President has done, which is his super unconventional way of communicating. The way he makes everything deeply personal.
Alan: 00:23:15 It’s always us against them.
Katie: 00:23:16 Right. I think the media understandably has responded to that. Also, some of his actions, which warrant a lot of investigation and criticism. I think that’s completely appropriate. But I just wonder what exactly the landscape would be like if there wasn’t someone as outrageous as President Trump in the Oval Office.
Alan: 00:23:42 It seems, though, that before the current President got elected, the seeds were planted-
Katie: 00:23:50 Yes, I think you’re right.
Alan: 00:23:50 … for that to be allowed. For it to be effective.
Katie: 00:23:52 But I think this is just turbo charged it. Don’t you think?
Alan: 00:23:59 I think we had begun to get into tribalism and my side has the facts and yours doesn’t simply because it’s my side. I think we’ve been progressing toward that for a long time. The idea of having a conversation with somebody you don’t agree with politically and not screaming at each other is kind of far-fetched, now. It’s very-
Katie: 00:24:26 Yeah. I also think sort of a reasonable conversation about, say, trade policy or a number of … Immigration reform. It really is quite difficult to have a nuanced complex conversation to say, what should we do, how should we handle this situation. It’s either you are anti-immigration, pro-immigration, and never the twain shall meet.
Alan: 00:24:56 To have your conclusions already drawn up before you enter into a conversation or a negotiation, you’re halfway to not being there.
Katie: 00:25:07 Well, you know it’s interesting, speaking of communication. I think like our default position has become shutting down and shutting out. You don’t want to really even listen to someone. If they feel positively towards something that you feel intensely negatively about, you almost … you just shut down or you get immediately frustrated. So, I think you’re right. It’s just, as I always say, civil discourse has become an oxymoron. But, I also think you’re correct in stating that it predates the election of Donald Trump.
Alan: 00:25:46 I wonder if you do personally what I do, which is to look for people I don’t agree with and try to engage them just as a game. See how long we can talk civilly to each other, because it’s fun for those few minutes where you say, “You know, that’s actually a good idea what you’re driving at there.” To find something in what they’re saying that can actually enlighten me, change me a little bit for the better.
Katie: 00:26:13 I do, I try to talk to people who may not be in my circle. Especially, if I’m outside of New York City. I’ll ask about their lives, and how they feel, and what their concerns are, and their impressions of situations. It can be pretty instructive.
Alan: 00:26:40 What you just said, might be the secret, because I’ve seen that work in the stories of many people who have achieved success where people were at Loggerheads and facing each other with guns. When it would make them sit down and talk, they would only talk about their families and the things they had in common as parents-
Katie: 00:27:01 Right.
Alan: 00:27:01 … as members of families and communities. It’s harder to yell at somebody if you see them as a person. A person like you.
Katie: 00:27:12 Well, you know, I think that’s one of the big criticisms about Congress is there’s so much focus on fundraising and on going back to your Districts, which I can understand is important, too. To stay in touch with the people who voted you into Office. But, having said that, that members of Congress spend very little time together getting to know each other as people. They used to spend much more time. And when you do, I think it’s easier to find common ground. I think the problem, I think we’ve depersonalized everyone.
Katie: 00:27:49 On social media, you can lash out at someone because all you see is an Avatar, or a handle, or whatever. You kind of forget … I mean, I don’t, by the way. I’m subjected to this at times, but people forget you’re a human being with feelings, and thoughts, and family, and-
Alan: 00:28:10 But that, to me, is the essence of any communication. If you don’t realize there’s a person at the other end of what you’re saying. Even if you’re facing them, nevermind that all you see is an Avatar. But if you’re looking at somebody’s face and you still talk to them as if they’re a telephone pole that just needs you blast your ideas at them. Unless you regard them as an actual person, I don’t see how you’re going to be able to have any exchange of any kind that’s meaningful.
Katie: 00:28:46 Also, I think … You know, I studied a lot or read a lot and I did a Nat Geo hour on technology. I think that when you’re communicating via text or email, you’re not actually looking at someone face to face. Especially, as you’re developing your ability to be empathetic, and caring, and to read visual cues-
Alan: 00:29:14 Yeah, it makes it harder to write a message.
Katie: 00:29:14 … is really impaired.
Alan: 00:29:15 The good news is, I think that’s why … In my opinion, there’s some good news in that is when we wonder for one second how it’s going to be taken, what we just wrote. That’s when we reach for an emoji.
Katie: 00:29:31 That’s true.
Alan: 00:29:32 So for one split second, we’re second we’re saying, “Gee, I wonder if they’ll take this the wrong way. So we put in an emoji. A friend of mine said that she overuses exclamation points to make-
Katie: 00:29:41 I do, too.
Alan: 00:29:42 Yeah. Now I’ve begun to do that, too, because it softens the blow. If you say, “I’ll look into it,” and it’s a period, that sounds like I’m brushing you off. But, “I’ll look into it,” exclamation point means what a good idea you had.
Katie: 00:29:55 I know when my Assistant writes, “Thanks,” and doesn’t write an exclamation point, I think, “Oh, she’s mad.” Or, “This is kind of terse.” I overuse exclamation points, I have forever. I also feel like it conveys enthusiasm, and excitement, and warmth to a conversation.
Alan: 00:30:15 Right. Well, that is good news to me, because that means there’s still some flame flickering at us of wondering how the other person is doing while we’re trying to communicate with them.
Katie: 00:30:24 That’s a little sad, isn’t it? Because of emojis and exclamation points, but I guess it’s better than nothing.
When we come back, Katie and I dig deeper into her commitment to make science relatable – despite her own unsuccessful girlhood wrestling match with math.
This is C+V, and now back to my conversation with Katie Couric
Alan: 00:30:32 So what do we do about increasing trust for Scientists? I mean, these were very interesting findings. All these surveys are showing that on the one hand, there’s a tremendous respect for Science, right?
Katie: 00:30:46 Right.
Alan: 00:30:46 There’s well over 80 percent or higher, how people regard Science as important. But there’s still growing skepticism.
Katie: 00:31:00 Yeah. I think part of it is because of the Ivory Tower thing that I was describing earlier.
Alan: 00:31:04 That they seem elite to us, because they know so much.
Katie: 00:31:07 Yeah.
Alan: 00:31:08 Or they can’t say what they know. They’re like these robed Priests who have their own secret thing.
Katie: 00:31:13 Anti-elitism, right?
Alan: 00:31:15 Yeah.
Katie: 00:31:16 Anti-establishment sentiment that’s sort of sweeping, has been sweeping, across the country. I thought it was interesting that 88 percent want Scientist to share their results in easy to understand language and 84 percent agree that Scientist should make Science more relatable to their every day lives.
Alan: 00:31:36 Now, what do we do when so much of Science, which is often actually pretty expensive, is aimed not at any visible foreseeable benefit. I’m talking about basic Science. What drives the Universe? How is the Universe made? How did it begin? What happens in biology at a certain stage that has no hope, yet, of the release of a drug based on that knowledge? But it’s just understanding how things work. Those things often, almost always I think, lead to something good, something useful.
Alan: 00:32:16 But, we never know at the time what it is. Sometimes, it takes a hundred years before we’re able to make use of it. So, if they’re only going to respond, that is to say the public … If the public is only going to get excited about Science that has a foreseeable benefit, are we going to lose funding and lose interest in the things that give us the deepest knowledge of nature?
Katie: 00:32:40 Wow, I don’t know. I feel like … I don’t know, Kemosabe. Why are you asking me such a big question?
Alan: 00:32:48 Well, you’re the 3M girl, here.
Katie: 00:32:50 I don’t know. I hope not and I don’t think so.
Alan: 00:32:54 I hope not, too. But, I think you and I are both trying to work on that.
Katie: 00:32:57 Yeah, I mean I think that, obviously, Government funding is super important. But I remember when Jay was sick, I learned that only one in ten promising research proposals is funded by the NCI, so that’s nine ideas that are left on the cutting room floor. That’s one of the reasons we started Stand Up To Cancer, because we wanted to fund Scientists to work collaboratively with each other.
Alan: 00:33:22 Yeah, that’s so important.
Katie: 00:33:23 To share their … and by the way, they’re super jazzed about working together. But we also fund the sort of pie in the sky innovative research grants by young Scientists who have this kind of crazy idea. But crazy ideas often can bear fruit.
Alan: 00:33:39 There always should be some portion of resources, I think, put into risky but high payoff things.
Katie: 00:33:48 Well, that’s what we’re doing. Also, with young Scientists, because there’s a brain drain. A lot of Scientists are going to other countries where … Like, Singapore. I think a percentage of the GDP goes to cancer research. They feel more supported in some different countries. But You know, listen, as we become a more advanced society and as technology transforms every aspect of our lives, I think we’re at such an inflection point for curing disease, for understanding the world around us.
Katie: 00:34:22 Because, we’ve got data, we’ve got basic Science, we’ve got the convergence of Physicists, and Engineers, and all kinds of experts and knowledgeable people working together. I think there’s never been quite as an exciting a time in Science, at least from the Scientists I speak to. So I think what you do, getting them to translate and communicate what they’re doing and why they’re excited about it, and doing it when kids are little.
Katie: 00:34:56 Taking the opportunities … I remember hearing one Scientist from 3M say when she’s baking a cake with her little girl, they talk about the Science, and the chemical reactions, and what’s going on that … I mean, I wouldn’t know what to tell my kids. I’d be like, “Hey, you’re mixing it and it’s rising. I don’t know why.”
Alan: 00:35:17 Soon you’ll eat.
Katie: 00:35:19 But you use these little opportunities to talk about … If it’s Spring time, you talk about photosynthesis. Or all these opportunities to kind of make young people and children really turned on by Science. I think that’s so important, too.
Alan: 00:35:38 I remember you told a story in an interview once about a five year old girl who had seen the movie-
Katie: 00:35:46 Oh, yeah.
Alan: 00:35:47 I’ll get it wrong, you tell it.
Katie: 00:35:48 Okay. I did a series for National Geographic on big pressing social issues. I hope someone out there watched it. It was called, America Inside Out. One of them was on gender inequality in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Interestingly enough, it predated the #METOO / Time’s Up movement. I was working on it while all of that stuff was unfolding. I interviewed the writer who wrote, Hidden Figures.
Alan: 00:36:16 Which was about the women who did the computing for Astronauts.
Katie: 00:36:19 Right, the African American women at NASA. She said, and I’ve always been such a firm believer in this, that the images we see really help shape who we think we can be in the world, and who we are, and the possibilities that exist. She told this story about a little girl who was five walking with her mom and they were walking down the street. They saw three African American women approach. The little girl looked at her mom and said, “Mommy look, Astronauts!”
Alan: 00:36:58 I love this.
Katie: 00:36:59 Because of hidden figures. I think I’ve always … that’s one of the reasons that I chose to anchor the CBS Evening News. A lot of it, I was motivated by thinking when people see a woman, it’s kind of a novelty on an Evening Newscast. This was before there were 80 million ways to get news and information. I thought, “People need to see a woman doing this. People need to see a minority doing this job.”
Alan: 00:37:28 It makes an impression that’s lasting, and deep, and useful. We had a friend who was a concert pianist and her 10 year old … I think he was 10 maybe eight. He would hear her practice all day long every day at the piano.
Katie: 00:37:47 Yeah.
Alan: 00:37:48 One day he came in very upset because he was watching television. He said, “Mom, there’s something terrible. Something’s wrong. There’s a man playing the piano.”
Katie: 00:38:00 That’s so funny. Well see, it’s all about cultural conditioning, isn’t it? I remember when I went to the Galapagos one Spring Break, I took my daughters. There was a woman there and I was still anchoring the CBS News. She came up to me and she said, “I was so excited when you started anchoring the news on CBS. I picked my daughter up from school, I had her miss soccer practice. We came home …” No, don’t say, aw, that was sweet.
Alan: 00:38:34 I’m saying that’s sweet.
Katie: 00:38:36 Oh, you’re saying it … oh, I thought you were saying, oh.
Alan: 00:38:38 No, no. I need an emoji, here.
Katie: 00:38:42 Give it to me again. Do it …
Alan: 00:38:43 Aw.
Katie: 00:38:44 Okay, that’s better.
Alan: 00:38:48 But that was a corny version.
Katie: 00:38:49 Thank you.
Alan: 00:38:49 The other was sincere.
Katie: 00:38:49 But it worked for me.
Alan: 00:38:49 Okay.
Katie: 00:38:50 So anyway, she said, “I picked her up, we went home, I made her dinner. Then, I turned on the TV and I said, you know, Nancy …” Well, that’s such an old fashion name. “Ashley, there’s something really important happening. We have a woman anchoring the Evening News.” She said, “We watched you and we cheered you on. Then, we never watched you again.” I was like, “What?”
Alan: 00:39:17 I go back to my original, ah. Whoa.
Katie: 00:39:22 So rude, right?
Alan: 00:39:24 What kind of a story …
Katie: 00:39:24 I mean, what a buzz kill. I was like [inaudible 00:39:26].
Alan: 00:39:29 She felt she needed to tell you this. I don’t get it.
Katie: 00:39:32 I don’t get it, either. People are strange. Aren’t they? It was such a heart warming story and I was so moved. Then, I was like, “Really? Are you serious? Did you just tell me that?” Oh, brother.
Alan: 00:39:47 Well, now you got me stuck.
Katie: 00:39:51 Where do you go from there, Alan?
Alan: 00:39:53 You tell me.
Katie: 00:39:53 Where do you go from there? We’ve gotten [crosstalk 00:39:55]-
Alan: 00:39:55 Well, you know, you-
Katie: 00:39:55 … a very heavy, deep, and real conversation when you’re on this Podcast.
Alan: 00:39:58 Yeah, I know. I love it. That’s what I love about this. We just have a conversation. Stuff comes out that wouldn’t come out otherwise.
Katie: 00:40:04 Yeah.
Alan: 00:40:05 I heard you say something about your own daughter when she was about five or so. You didn’t want to tell her you were terrible at Math.
Katie: 00:40:16 Oh, yes, I didn’t.
Alan: 00:40:17 Did you actually-
Katie: 00:40:18 I didn’t tell her I was terrible at Math. But I was terrible at Math.
Alan: 00:40:21 You didn’t like Math, probably for some of the reasons we’ve just been talking about.
Katie: 00:40:25 I think, yes.
Alan: 00:40:26 You bought into the stereotype.
Katie: 00:40:28 I did. Remember when they had a talking Barbie that said, “Math is hard.”
Alan: 00:40:33 I remember reading about that.
Katie: 00:40:34 Everyone went so crazy. They made them take it off the market. Yeah, or they made them change the little recording.
Alan: 00:40:42 So you didn’t want to be the Barbie Doll to your daughter?
Katie: 00:40:44 No.
Alan: 00:40:44 So you hid it from her that you didn’t like Math?
Katie: 00:40:47 I did. I never told her, because honestly, I just really wanted them to be excited about Math and Science.
Alan: 00:40:54 So how did that work out?
Katie: 00:40:54 I got a two instead of a one in first grade. One was the highest score and I was a little bit of an overachiever, I know this comes as a shock.
Alan: 00:41:01 Wait, wait, you got a Q instead of a-
Katie: 00:41:03 A two.
Alan: 00:41:03 A two.
Katie: 00:41:03 A number two instead of a number one in Math. I’ll never forget, I got off the bus at the top of our hill and I ran home crying the whole way. I got home, this is when I was six, and I said to my mom, “I got a two in Math.” I think that damn teacher, even though I loved Mrs. Lowery, and she was a lovely teacher, and sent me a handkerchief when I got married, and came on the Today Show at one point. She really kind of ruined Math for me. Can I blame it on her?
Alan: 00:41:34 Yeah, well she gave you a two and she didn’t give you any special help.
Katie: 00:41:39 She didn’t give me a one. I don’t know, but it just sort of ruined me on Math.
Alan: 00:41:42 Well, I never liked grades in the first place.
Katie: 00:41:44 Yeah, I know, especially as a first grader.
Alan: 00:41:47 It seemed to me if they could’ve judged my curiosity and my interest in things-
Katie: 00:41:52 But I do think I was culturally conditioned to think that Math wasn’t necessarily a subject that girls excelled in. I was raised in the 60s, I was born in 1957, came of age in the 60s and 70s. I think there was still a lot of sort of stereotype thinking about certain subjects. I also didn’t do that well in Science. Mrs. Poland … what happened? Did she suspend me? Something happened in my … I think I got a D in Science. I got kicked of the Cheerleading Squad. I also got kicked off because I was smoking in the bathroom and I was just holding someone else’s cigarette.
Alan: 00:42:33 Yeah, right.
Katie: 00:42:34 Wink, wink.
Alan: 00:42:34 I heard that before.
Katie: 00:42:35 That’s what I told my mom.
Alan: 00:42:38 I wish people could see this now. This is when we ought to be on video, because as you descended into your past life and your transgressions, you started wrapping the mic cord around your finger.
Katie: 00:42:50 I know.
Alan: 00:42:50 Like you were knitting.
Katie: 00:42:51 I’m a little nervous kind of just really sharing this with everyone. But getting back to my-
Alan: 00:42:56 Like this is worse than your colonoscopy, I guess.
Katie: 00:42:57 Yeah. Getting back to my girls. Carrie, my younger daughter went to Stanford. I mean, talk about a Mecca for people to understand tech and to excel in Math and Science. Both my girls did well in Math and Science. But they ended up Majoring in English, like their mother. But I said to Carrie, “Hey, you’re at Stanford, learn to code. Coding is so important no matter what you do. If you learn to code, I think it’s going to be invaluable. You’re like at the coding Mecca of the country.”
Alan: 00:43:31 Did she?
Katie: 00:43:32 She said, “I don’t want to code, mom. You learn to code.”
Alan: 00:43:36 This is a typical mother / daughter exchange.
Katie: 00:43:39 Right?
Alan: 00:43:39 Parent / child. Yeah. Why don’t they develop an interest in what we’ve always wanted to do?
Katie: 00:43:46 I don’t know, but I really thought it was good advice, but it was ignored, I’m sorry to say.
Alan: 00:43:50 Well, my father wanted me to be a Doctor.
Katie: 00:43:52 Really? Was your dad a Doctor?
Alan: 00:43:54 No, he just wanted me to be one.
Katie: 00:43:56 Didn’t everybody want their kid to be a Doctor-
Alan: 00:43:57 My father was an Actor.
Katie: 00:43:57 … when we were growing up?
Alan: 00:44:00 Yeah. But he was an Actor and I guess he aspired to something like that.
Katie: 00:44:03 Was he a successful Actor?
Alan: 00:44:04 Very. He was very famous around the world. Robert Alda. He played the original Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls.
Katie: 00:44:12 I should know this.
Alan: 00:44:15 No-
Katie: 00:44:15 How do I not know this about you?
Alan: 00:44:15 … it’s before you were born.
Katie: 00:44:15 I know, but still.
Alan: 00:44:16 Yeah.
Katie: 00:44:40 Was your mom an Actress?
Alan: 00:44:41 No. She was unfortunately mentally ill with Schizophrenia.
Katie: 00:44:42 Oh, no.
Alan: 00:44:42 Which is not to say that … I’m stuttering here.
Katie: 00:44:42 That’s okay. We’ll cut that out. Graham, cut that out. We don’t want to insult-
Alan: 00:44:42 Graham, pay your-
Katie: 00:44:42 … Schizophrenics around the world.
Alan: 00:44:42 Right, right. So-
Katie: 00:44:42 But, let me ask you again. Was your mom an Actress?
Alan: 00:44:42 No, she wasn’t. She had won a beauty contest, which is as close as she came to being on the stage.
Katie: 00:44:47 Where did you grow up?
Alan: 00:44:49 I grew up all over the country, because when I was born, my father was in Burlesque. We took trains from one Burlesque Theater to another.
Katie: 00:44:57 Oh, my gosh. What a funny life.
Alan: 00:44:58 Then, when I was seven, he got a job at Warner Brothers and made a hugely successful movie about George Gershwin. He played George Gershwin from Burlesque.
Katie: 00:45:09 Oh, you’re kidding.
Alan: 00:45:10 Amazing.
Katie: 00:45:11 What was the name of that movie?
Alan: 00:45:12 Rhapsody in Blue.
Katie: 00:45:13 Oh, I’ve seen that movie.
Alan: 00:45:14 Well, then you’ve seen my father.
Katie: 00:45:16 Oh, my God.
Alan: 00:45:16 Yeah.
Katie: 00:45:17 That’s so crazy.
Alan: 00:45:19 But he wanted me to be a Doctor and I-
Katie: 00:45:21 Did he think that life of an Actor was just too-
Alan: 00:45:23 Well, it’s very hard.
Katie: 00:45:24 … capricious.
Alan: 00:45:25 He knew how hard it was. It is very hard. So he said, “Just do me a favor. Take a pre-Med course in Chemistry and just see if you like it.” So I took a Summer course where everybody was making up the course. They all had heard these terms before. I walked in, I didn’t understand a word anybody was saying for two months. Then, I had to take a final exam, in which I got a 10 out of 100.
Katie: 00:45:51 Oh. I thought you were going to tell me a perfect 10. Oh, that’s-
Alan: 00:45:57 It was a perfect 10, but it …
Katie: 00:45:58 An imperfect 10. Oh, that’s funny.
Alan: 00:46:00 The Professor called me into his office, and looked at the paper, and looked up at me, and said, “Why are you here?” I said, “My father wants me to be a doctor.” He put the paper down and let me go.
Katie: 00:46:12 Did he say that’s unlikely to happen?
Alan: 00:46:15 No, he just looked so ashen faced, I was afraid for his health. But what’s ironic is I really wish I had a better grasp of Chemistry. Now, I’ve tried to teach myself because I’m so curious about it and so interested in it.
Katie: 00:46:30 Yeah. Why?
Alan: 00:46:32 Because, it’s the language that they speak when they talk about certain biological aspects of our lives. I want to understand them in their terms as much as possible. Partly because, I want to be able to help them translate.
Katie: 00:46:48 Right.
Alan: 00:46:49 You know what you were saying about your organization funding collaboration. We really are working on the same problem, because I didn’t realize that when I helped start the Center For Communicating Science, that it would be more than helping Scientists communicate to the public. It turns out, it’s just as important for them to communicate well to one another when they’re not in exactly the same field. But when they collaborate across disciplines, that’s when we can get stuff we’ve never had before.
Katie: 00:47:22 Right, right.
Alan: 00:47:23 They have to make it clear to another. It’s ludicrously hard in some cases.
Katie: 00:47:29 Wow. Well, that’s good practice for them to then translate what they’re doing.
Alan: 00:47:35 Practice on each other, yeah.
Katie: 00:47:35 Yeah. What they’re doing for regular people. How can we make people know or spread the word about what you’re doing. How do you show these Scientists talking about complicated things in an understandable way? How do people access that?
Alan: 00:47:54 Well, we-
Katie: 00:47:55 You notice I’ve taken over your Podcast?
Alan: 00:47:56 No, I love it. It’s good. Could I be your guest sometime?
Katie: 00:48:01 Sure. You’re … right now.
Alan: 00:48:05 Well, you answer the question. It’s my Podcast, you answer the question.
Katie: 00:48:08 I don’t know the answer.
Alan: 00:48:10 What I like is … this has been one of the easiest jobs for me, because you ask your own questions.
Katie: 00:48:15 No, but I’m serious. How can people … I would like more people to appreciate, not necessarily what you’re doing although we do, but to hear Scientists because maybe that would have an impact on surveys like the 3M survey.
Alan: 00:48:31 Yeah, yeah.
Katie: 00:48:31 That people, A, they saw a human face behind the data.
Alan: 00:48:36 Right.
Katie: 00:48:37 B, they had someone explaining to it in a way that was easy to digest.
Alan: 00:48:43 We’ve trained 15 thousand Scientists.
Katie: 00:48:45 I know, where are these people?
Alan: 00:48:46 So what ought to do is make them wear a badge every time they talk in public and say-
Katie: 00:48:51 You should do videos of them.
Alan: 00:48:52 … this is where I learned.
Katie: 00:48:53 Have you done videos of them?
Alan: 00:48:54 Yeah. We’ve been featured and some television shows. But, it grows slowly.
Katie: 00:48:57 I know, but I just mean … do you have a website where they’re like-
Alan: 00:48:59 Oh, sure.
Katie: 00:49:00 Okay, let’s say, Alan-
Alan: 00:49:01 Okay, this is great.
Katie: 00:49:02 Okay, let’s say I wanted to learn more about immunotherapy. Just making this up, which is awesome by the way. It’s such an important development in cancer treatment.
Alan: 00:49:16 I think we ought to make them go to you if they want to learn about it.
Katie: 00:49:18 Well, Jim Allison … You have to watch this documentary called, Breakthrough. You would really like it. It humanizes this extraordinary Scientists. He’s done work with Stand Up To Cancer, named Jim Allison, a guy from Texas. Really colorful character and it does a really good job of explaining how you can marshal the body’s immune system and have it-
Alan: 00:49:41 Oh, great. I’d like to see that.
Katie: 00:49:42 Yeah, it’s called Breakthrough. But anyway, why was I telling you about that?
Alan: 00:49:47 You were helping me make this world famous.
Katie: 00:49:49 Oh, oh, oh. So, let’s say I wanted to understand a concept, anti angiogenesis, anything. Could I go to your website and say, “I want a three minute explanation from a Scientist explaining the work he’s doing on whatever.”
Alan: 00:50:09 [crosstalk 00:50:09]-
Katie: 00:50:10 Wait a second … The work she’s doing.
Alan: 00:50:13 Yeah, that’s right.
Katie: 00:50:13 I just gave a gendered pronoun and I’d like to apologize to all the listeners out there. That is very unlike me.
Alan: 00:50:20 Okay, well I agree and I accept your apology.
Katie: 00:50:24 Thank you.
Alan: 00:50:25 As an honorary woman. That’s a good idea. We don’t do that because on the contrary, we have ways for Scientists themselves to come to us and get help in communicating.
Katie: 00:50:39 Wouldn’t that be great.
Alan: 00:50:40 But that’s a great idea. I’ll bring it up at our next meeting.
Katie: 00:50:42 Yeah, please do that.
Alan: 00:50:43 Then, I’ll send you emails asking for more ideas.
Katie: 00:50:46 Okay. No, because I think that your work is so important. But it’s like a tree falling in the forest. If people don’t reap the benefits-
Alan: 00:50:55 Absolutely.
Katie: 00:50:57 … it’s hard to measure.
Alan: 00:50:57 This Podcast is an example of reaching out and spreading the idea. Because it turns out that one of the things I learned doing this was that it’s not just Scientists and Physicians who need to communicate better and would benefit from being able to better pay attention to the people they’re trying to communicate with. It’s everybody in every field.
Katie: 00:51:21 Definitely.
Alan: 00:51:23 If you’re an Economist-
Katie: 00:51:23 An Economist, definitely.
Alan: 00:51:25 Whatever you do, if you help somebody with their taxes. Don’t we all talk to these tax folks in amazement. We don’t know what … our eyes glaze over.
Katie: 00:51:36 Right.
Alan: 00:51:39 We don’t know what they’re talking about. We certainly wouldn’t be able to handle … I couldn’t handle the form itself without spending a month on it.
Katie: 00:51:44 Journalists, too-
Alan: 00:51:45 Yeah.
Katie: 00:51:46 … sometimes, I think, assume that readers or viewers have this wealth of knowledge or have followed every step of the way as a story develops. Often times, to break it down and to distill it would be so helpful to news consumers. So I think everybody could benefit from this.
Alan: 00:52:09 Yeah. Okay. Yes. Yeah. Did you hear that?
Katie: 00:52:23 Oh, I can produce your videos, Alan.
Alan: 00:52:26 Oh, wow, because you have this new company, which is called what?
Katie: 00:52:29 Katie Couric Media, how original.
Alan: 00:52:32 No, it’s good. It’s clear and simple. Clear and vivid. What do you do? How does it work? If I go to your website, what would I do on it? I have gone to your website, I just want you to say it.
Katie: 00:52:41 Oh, thank you. We’re still working on the website. But basically, we have a website. I decided that in this time of disruption and disintermediation, and having worked for so many networks, and for so many other people, I kind of wanted to do my own thing. So, we have created a company that … I’m doing it with my husband, John, which is really fun. He said he’d never see me if he didn’t work with me, because he knows I’m a bit of a workaholic.
Katie: 00:53:15 We’re doing a number of things. We have a daily morning newsletter called, Wake Up Call, where I-
Alan: 00:53:20 Oh, great. Do you write that?
Katie: 00:53:21 I do. With a team of writers where we curate stories and sort of synthesize stories for someone who is getting their information on their phones.
Alan: 00:53:32 So is there a category? Or do you cover all kinds of categories?
Katie: 00:53:35 All kinds of things. Then, we do some original content, too. We talk to interesting people. Today I did a little thing on something called, ASMR, which is … Do you know what this is? This is crazy.
Alan: 00:53:54 I think I’ve seen those letters, but I can’t remember what it is.
Katie: 00:53:57 Okay. I don’t even know what it stands for. It’s audio something. It’s these people who are on YouTube. My daughter was like, “Where have you been, mom? This has been around for so long.” I don’t know where I’ve been, everybody. But I’ve just kind of recently discovered it. Apparently, people my age are just discovering it, because Bill [Mahrr 00:54:15] did a funny thing on it on his show.
Alan: 00:54:16 Well what is it?
Katie: 00:54:17 Ellen Degeneres-
Alan: 00:54:17 You go to YouTube and what happens?
Katie: 00:54:17 Okay, all right. So, okay. They have a big microphone like this, and they talk, and they do all these weird sounds. Then, they like eat things. Like, pickles, or [inaudible 00:54:30], or weird stuff. Then, they chew and apparently it elicits a physiological response for some people. It grosses me out, personally. But for other people, they get like a tingling in their spine. I have got to show you this when we’re done.
Alan: 00:54:47 What?
Katie: 00:54:48 I know, you think it’s insane.
Alan: 00:54:50 Yeah.
Katie: 00:54:50 But, so I did a little thing about this today, because I found it fascinating. I interview people, there was … Jennifer Ashton wrote a book about her ex-husband committing suicide and how they … sort of the stigma and shame that is attached to suicide. So we do some original reporting. But then, we also kind of curate what we think are some of the most important stories happening that day.
Katie: 00:55:13 So I have a team of young writers that I’m working with. Then, I’m doing a lot of projects with purpose driven brands. Companies that share my values. So they care about big issues. Like, Science and 3M. Like, Merck and their With Love, Me campaign that connects people who are going through a cancer diagnosis with other people who have been there and other resources.
Katie: 00:55:40 I’ve done some projects with P&G, which is such an incredibly progressive and forward thinking company. In terms of tackling social issues like, race, or toxic masculinity, or gender inequality. I’ve done some work with them. I do storytelling, which has nothing to do with their brand. But reflects the values of their companies. So I went to Asia and did a project for SK2 about the pressure young women feel in Asian countries to get married and they’re considered leftovers if they’re not married by age 30.
Katie: 00:56:17 This generational shift where younger women are saying my goal in life, that is not to find a husband. My goal in life is to really discover who I am and I’d like to be married at some point. But I want to do it on my timeline, not on somebody else’s. So really interesting kind of projects, social issues that I’m interested. Environmental sustainability and documentaries. I’m trying to do a documentary about plastic and how so many companies and organizations are really trying to tackle this issue.
Katie: 00:56:54 I think we’ve reached a big inflection point when it comes to that and what it’s doing to our oceans. But, we’re seeing some real solutions out there. I’m working on a documentary on loneliness, which is an international epidemic. We’ve never been more connected, but we’ve never been so alone.
Alan: 00:57:10 It’s no wonder your husband never sees you. I couldn’t watch all those things, let alone make all of them.
Katie: 00:57:17 Well, you’re going to have to watch them now, because you’re my new best friend.
Alan: 00:57:21 Well, I went to your website, and it was a wonderful thing, and I never went back again.
Katie: 00:57:26 Oh, don’t say that. Graham, take that out. Take that out, we’re going to edit that. Snip, snip, snip, snip, snip, snip.
Alan: 00:57:33 We’ll take it out, I just wanted to tie it in with the other stuff we said.
This has been so terrific talking with you. We have to make room in the studio for the next troop coming in.
Katie: 00:57:45 Oh, well I loved being with you. I respect how you’ve continued to get out in the world, and do great thing, and stay engaged-
Alan: 00:57:56 Well, you should talk.
Katie: 00:57:56 … and active.
Alan: 00:57:57 That’s you all over.
Katie: 00:57:58 Spread your intelligence, and curiosity, and warmth around the world.
Alan: 00:58:04 I’ve covered the world with the slime of my amiability.
Katie: 00:58:07 Did you just come up with that?
Alan: 00:58:10 No, I stole it from somebody.
Katie: 00:58:12 Who said that?
Alan: 00:58:13 A guy called Alexander King about 60 years ago on television.
Katie: 00:58:17 What is it, I’ve covered the world-
Alan: 00:58:20 I covered the world with the slime of my amiability.
Katie: 00:58:23 That is very funny.
Alan: 00:58:24 It’s a good line.
Katie: 00:58:25 Who was he?
Alan: 00:58:26 He was a writer. He was often a guest sitting on the couch on early talk shows.
Katie: 00:58:31 Oh, that’s hilarious.
Alan: 00:58:39 Now look, before you go-
Katie: 00:58:39 Yes, Sir.
Alan: 00:58:39 We do seven quick questions.
Katie: 00:58:39 Oh, brother. Please don’t ask me what I would tell my 16 year old self. Do you know everyone asks that question now.
Alan: 00:58:44 Really? No kidding.
Katie: 00:58:44 It’s become so unoriginal. I want to pull my hair out every time someone asks me that. I’m like, “Seriously?” But go ahead.
Alan: 00:58:53 Well, let me get an eraser, wait a minute. So, some of these questions … we’re experimenting on you, we’re trying out a whole new set of questions.
Katie: 00:59:02 Oh, Lord, okay.
Alan: 00:59:03 Some of them, we’ve come up with, some have come from our listeners, and a couple are our favorites from before.
Katie: 00:59:11 Okay.
Alan: 00:59:11 So, here’s the first one-
Katie: 00:59:12 Do I have to answer them quickly?
Alan: 00:59:13 Well, if you can.
Katie: 00:59:14 Okay.
Alan: 00:59:15 They’re all mostly about-
Katie: 00:59:16 Is this a lightening round?
Alan: 00:59:17 No, it doesn’t have to be that fast.
Katie: 00:59:18 Okay, all right.
Alan: 00:59:18 Here’s the first one. Oh, wait, I have the wrong list in front of me. Now, here we go. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever tried to explain to anyone?
Katie: 00:59:31 Oh, gosh. The hardest thing I’ve ever tried to explain to anyone? Sex to my daughter.
Alan: 00:59:44 Okay, there you go.
Katie: 00:59:47 How a baby comes about.
Alan: 00:59:50 Explain that to me later when we’re off the air.
Katie: 00:59:52 Okay, that’s super creepy.
Alan: 00:59:56 How do you handle a nosy person?
Katie: 01:00:00 Well, I’m usually pretty gracious. I never say it’s none of your business, because I think that’s super rude. I think I’m good at sort of changing the subject. So, I change the subject.
Alan: 01:00:16 How do you tell someone that they have their facts wrong?
Katie: 01:00:20 I call them an ignorant slut. Remember that? Shana, you ignorant slut. Remember, they used to do a riff on [crosstalk 01:00:34]-
Alan: 01:00:34 Where does that come from?
Katie: 01:00:34 … [Kelpatrick 01:00:34] and Shana Alexander on … they had some counter point and Dan Aykroyd was … remember?
Alan: 01:00:42 Oh, I thought you made the phrase up. I was giving you more credit than you deserved.
Katie: 01:00:44 No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I probably wouldn’t use that term. Honestly, I do in all seriousness, I try to listen. I try to gently persuade. I think I then change the subject if I get too frustrated.
Alan: 01:01:11 So you don’t say, you’re wrong, this is the fact?
Katie: 01:01:14 Yeah, I do sometimes say, “Actually, you know what? You need to read this and this is what it is.” I will argue it. But some people, the more you challenge them, the more they dig in their heels. So I try to do it to a certain extent. Then, I’ve been known to send articles or material to someone with whom I’ve had an argument to just say, “Hey, it might be helpful if you read this.”
Alan: 01:01:39 Okay, next one. What’s the strangest question anyone’s ever asked you?
Katie: 01:01:39 Pass.
Alan: 01:01:49 Okay.
Katie: 01:01:49 Can I phone a friend?
Alan: 01:01:53 That’s the strangest answer.
Katie: 01:01:54 Alan thinks I’m super funny. I love this. You’re such a good audience.
Alan: 01:01:58 Well, you make me laugh. How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Katie: 01:02:03 Oh, oh, gosh. That’s hard, because you don’t want to be rude. You just say, “Hey, hold on. Let me say a few things.”
Alan: 01:02:14 Oh, okay. Number six, how do you like to start up a real true conversation with someone who you don’t know sitting next to you at a dinner party?
Katie: 01:02:24 Oh, that’s a good question, actually.
Alan: 01:02:28 Do you have a technique?
Katie: 01:02:29 Well, obviously, you ask a lot of questions. When people have social anxiety, I always tell them people love to talk about themselves, right?
Alan: 01:02:38 Right.
Katie: 01:02:38 So you just ask a lot of questions. It’s interesting, my niece lives in San Francisco and obviously I live in New York. She says the difference between New York and San Francisco. In New York, people say what do you do. In San Francisco they say, what do you like to do.
Alan: 01:02:54 Oh, nice.
Katie: 01:02:56 I thought that was interesting. So I’m going to start trying that out at a dinner party. Or usually I say something benign like, “Oh, how do you know the host? What brings you here.”
Alan: 01:03:08 Then, something comes up that you can-
Katie: 01:03:11 Yeah, I can talk to anybody about anything.
Alan: 01:03:14 Last question. What gives you confidence?
Katie: 01:03:22 What gives me confidence. Well, of course like all people, I have lots of insecurities. But I guess age, in a way, has given me confidence. The confidence to be who I am and to not … I don’t think I’ve ever really put on airs, that’s never my jam. But I think getting older, and more mature, and having experienced so many things. I think that’s a big confidence builder. What do you think? What gives you confidence?
Alan: 01:03:56 I think I notice when I’m lacking in confidence about something, I get the biggest boost from remembering that I’ve done it before and I can do it again. Or I’ve done enough like this that I can handle it.
Katie: 01:04:12 I think, also, preparation makes me feel very confident. If I’m not prepared for something, I don’t feel like I have a real grasp of the material, I feel very insecure and nervous. When I really feel like, oh, I’ve got this and I can take this conversation, I’m just talking about what I do for a living, in any direction, then I feel much more confident going into a situation.
Alan: 01:04:38 Yeah, that’s another flavor of having done it before, because you’ve explored it.
Katie: 01:04:44 Right.
Alan: 01:04:44 You’re familiar with it, you feel comfortable with it.
Katie: 01:04:47 Right.
Alan: 01:04:47 There’s nothing like that horrible feeling of stepping out on a window ledge 20 stories above the earth.
Katie: 01:04:52 Hey, I still have nightmares that I have a big Math exam in college or I have a Physics exam and I’d never went to the class. Do you have those dreams, still?
Alan: 01:05:04 I haven’t the actors dream in a while, which is you’re on stage-
Katie: 01:05:09 And you haven’t-
Alan: 01:05:09 … you don’t have the costume, you don’t know what the lines are, you don’t know what the plays about.
Katie: 01:05:13 Oh, God.
Alan: 01:05:14 I had it once and I was walking on a parapet in a Shakespeare play with a woman. I wasn’t even in costume, she had this beautiful gown on and had a silver mirror with all her lines engraved on the back of the mirror. So I thought, “Oh, thank God, now I can go down and I can look at her mirror.” All she had were her lines.
Katie: 01:05:32 Oh, no.
Alan: 01:05:34 I woke up in a sweat at that point.
Katie: 01:05:36 Oh, my God, that was a dream.
Alan: 01:05:38 Yeah.
Katie: 01:05:38 Wow.
Alan: 01:05:39 I have very elaborate dreams. But everybody’s had that kind of anxiety.
Katie: 01:05:45 Oh, of course.
Alan: 01:05:45 I’m supposed to be on the other side of town, and it’ll take me an hour to get there, and I can’t get … and the traffic is holding me up, right.
Katie: 01:05:51 Right. Or that I have to be on air and I haven’t left my house, yet. Yeah. I wonder what causes those anxiety dreams.
Alan: 01:06:04 Sheer madness, Alan Alda. Thank you so much for today, this has really been-
Katie: 01:06:09 This was so fun.
Alan: 01:06:10 … really been fun.
Katie: 01:06:11 I love being with you. Thanks so much for having me.
Alan: 01:06:14 Me, too. Thank you for coming in. Thank you. What’s the survey called?
Katie: 01:06:18 It’s called the State … it’s their second annual State of Science Index.
Alan: 01:06:23 Let me go back, 3M did this survey, right? What’s it called actually?
Katie: 01:06:28 It’s called The State of Science Index. It’s the second time they’ve done this. They did an extensive survey, 14 thousand people, I think in 14 countries, to kind of measure how people felt about Science, and Scientists, and if they were skeptical, or did they respect Science. The findings were really, really interesting. In some cases, I think pretty disturbing.
Alan: 01:06:56 3M also did this guide for storytelling for Scientists.
Katie: 01:07:01 Right.
Alan: 01:07:01 Which I took part in with you.
Katie: 01:07:02 I know.
Alan: 01:07:04 Not only the two of us, also Mark Kelley.
Katie: 01:07:08 Right, right. Mark Kelley the-
Alan: 01:07:09 The Astronaut.
Katie: 01:07:10 Scott Kelley.
Alan: 01:07:11 I’m sorry, Scott Kelley.
Katie: 01:07:12 That’s okay. Scott Kelley also took part and some other Scientists. I think that really hits to the core of what you’ve been trying to do with Scientists with your initiative. How can we make Science more understandable and more accessible to the average person.
Alan: 01:07:31 We all trade stories with one another in normal life. We’re all ready to communicate in stories, it captures our attention. If we can tell about Science and Medicine as a story, something that happened to a real person.
Katie: 01:07:50 Right. I think it’s that emotional connection, again, that people want. They want to see a personal story. I think if you can personalize Science and really show how it’s made a different in the world, then this statistic of a third of people saying that they don’t see the impact of Science in their every day lives, which to me is bananas. It’s all around us.
Katie: 01:08:21 But hopefully, if people hear these stories, and hear the impact, and how it’s changed lives, and saved lives, they’ll have much more respect for Science and for the people behind it.
Alan: 01:08:34 I would imagine you agree with what I’m going to say, but if you don’t, tell me. There are a few people in Science who are worried that telling stories replaces a factual account or an accurate account of the Science. But I don’t think it replaces, I think it prepares us for more detail.
Katie: 01:08:56 I agree. I mean, I think it should be infused or imbued with facts and information. But I think that if it’s just all facts, and figures, and data, and surveys, and graphs, and charts, it does kind of put people to sleep. But when you say this is what happened with the polio vaccine, this is what happened before it.
Katie: 01:09:23 These were the consequences, this was the life that a lot of people had to live with an iron lung or braces on their legs. Then, you show what an impact Jonas [Salk 01:09:36] had with the polio vaccine I think it just makes … people think, “Oh, gosh. What if I had been alive back then?” It again, it elicits an emotional response in people that I think makes them, gosh there’s probably brain science about this, more receptive to taking in new information. I don’t know. I would think that.
Alan: 01:09:57 Yeah, I’ve read of studies with MRI machines where someone telling a story related to a movie they saw … Telling that story to another person in an MRI machine, their brains are activated in many of the same places.
Katie: 01:10:14 Interesting.
Alan: 01:10:15 A story seems to sync us up.
Katie: 01:10:17 Right. Well, I think I’m sure it … I’m sure you can measure an emotional response in the prefrontal cortex. There are all kinds of really interesting things you can see with brain scans now. Did you know, for example, creativity, the area in your brain responsible for creativity actually lights up when you’re doing nothing.
Alan: 01:10:41 Yes, yeah, that’s … yeah.
Katie: 01:10:42 I talked about that in my daughter’s … I gave the graduation speech at her high school a few years ago. Like, five years ago. I talked about that because we’re so constantly connected to our devices and so obsessed that you notice … do you ever have a moment where you’re doing nothing, where you’re looking out the window, or you’re day dreaming?
Katie: 01:11:03 You might, but a lot of people, now, especially kids, their default is to grab the phone. If you have a moment that’s a break and you’re not doing something, you have to … you’re scrolling through Instagram, or you’re looking at Twitter, or you’re reading your emails, or you’re watching videos. That’s not when where our creative brain ignites.
Alan: 01:11:25 Right.
Katie: 01:11:25 In fact, when you’re taking a walk or in the shower-
Alan: 01:11:28 Or driving.
Katie: 01:11:29 … and you’re totally detached, that’s when the best ideas come to you.
Alan: 01:11:33 Right. I’ve experienced it many times. Graham, what do they call it? The default network that you fall into when you think you’re doing nothing or might even actually be bored.
Katie: 01:11:49 Right.
Alan: 01:11:50 The power-
Katie: 01:11:51 Boredom is actually good.
Alan: 01:11:51 Boredom is good for you.
Katie: 01:11:53 Busy is really the enemy of creativity.
Alan: 01:11:58 Staying busy.
Katie: 01:12:00 Busy is now a badge of honor, “I’m so busy.” IE … I’m so important.
Alan: 01:12:05 I know. Well, I can’t talk anymore, I have to go do something.
Katie: 01:12:08 Okay. Am I boring you?
Alan: 01:12:10 No.
Katie: 01:12:11 That’s good because you’re going to be more creative.
Alan: 01:12:14 What? Thank you, Graham. Thank you, Katie.
Katie: 01:12:16 Okay, thanks, Graham.
Alan: 01:12:18 I hope we didn’t keep you from your-
Katie Couric is a news icon and pioneer for billions of women around the world – she’s also been an immense force for change throughout her career and I constantly find inspiration in her zest for life and her real curiosity about – well, everything! She’s a light in every sense,
Katie has really re-invented herself as an entrepreneur and she’s once again breaking new ground with her new company, Katie Couric Media. You can sign up for her morning newsletter, “Wake Up Call” — and get access to all sorts of insightful feature stories and interviews on her web site – KatieCouric.com
Katie and I talked about a project we did together along with 3M called the “State of Science Index” – you can find this online, along with the publication we contributed to called the “Scientists As Storytellers Guide” – Go to 3M.com and search for “State of Science Index Survey” for more details.