And who knew that Alan Alda would be their teacher - and that it's all his idea?

At 77, Alan Alda the actor has become Alan Alda the real-life professor, teaching scientists how to relate to people in ways they can actually understand.

"You don't think of knowledge as a curse, but it's a curse if I think you know everything I know and I talk to you in ways [where] you can't understand me," Alda said. "So that's not only the public, that's policy makers like Congress, who have told me over and over again they cannot understand scientists who come in to talk to them."

"So a scientist comes in, testifies on Capitol Hill, Congress doesn't know what he or she's talking about?" said Smith.

"Why would you give money to somebody whose work you don't understand?" Alda asked.

He trains scientists to be more sensitive to their audience, so instead of speaking what we might hear as scientific gibberish ("I study spatial planning and the valuation of ecosystem services to different stake holders"), we get this: "I study ways oceans are used."

"If scientists can't communicate with the public, with policy makers, with one another, the future is going to be held back," Alda said. "We're not going to have the future that we could have."

That notion of straight-talking scientists became a mission. Alda approached New York's Stony Brook University to let him teach their science students to talk, and the idea caught on.