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Desktop Diaries: Temple Grandin


Next up, Flora Lichtman is here, our multimedia editor, with our Video Pick of the Week.


FLATOW: Hi, Flora. And it is super - we have a specials - we have special ones. This is a...

LICHTMAN: This is a special day for us.

FLATOW: ...special day.

LICHTMAN: Two legends of science in one hour at SCIENCE FRIDAY. We have a Desktop Diary, one of our series, where we go in and talk to people about the items on their desk to find out about them. And our subject is Temple Grandin, and this is a person who wears many hats. As many of our listeners probably already know, she's an expert in animal welfare and in the design of slaughter plants and in autism. And so we spent the afternoon with her in her office at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

FLATOW: This was great, and it's up there in our Video Pick of the Week. It's up there on our website at sciencefriday.com. It is one of your longer videos, but it deserves every second. You - she is an amazing woman.


FLATOW: You watch the video, she has this teeny-weeny, little office, right?

LICHTMAN: It's - and they're moving out. So things were sort of in a clutter that day. But she is really an amazing person. We got to see her in class, see her livestock handling class, talking about humane slaughter, which was an education in and of itself, you know, how to - because she's known for her empathy of animals. So the way she described it is that she's autistic, and that allows her to sympathize or to see the world in a more sensory-based way. That's what she says. And that's how animals see the world, is her argument. And so she can design slaughter plants that are sort of more humane, because she can see things more easily, perhaps, than other people cannot.

But it turns out that, also, Temple Grandin was one of the most entertaining interviews. We have a montage of one-liners from Dr. Grandin, and it was really almost impossible to select.


TEMPLE GRANDIN: I'm, like, pure geek, pure logic. You know, autism's a big spectrum. It's like you take out a few social circuits, then you get geek circuits. Like, I was reading about crowdsourcing for Wikipedia and things like that. I get all choked up when I read about that kind of stuff. That's the kind of stuff that's just, like, just so cool. The tendency now to want to just prettify things up. I use the slaughter. Oh, look at some of the stuff that people are looking at in the movies. That makes a slaughter plants look positively nice.


FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow, here with Flora Lichtman, talking about Temple Grandin on our Video Pick of the Week. And there's a lot more of that in the video.

LICHTMAN: So much more. As I said, I mean, you know, we really could have easily montaged(ph) together 10 minutes of amazing and interesting quotes. One thing that I asked Dr. Grandin about - and I was there with our senior producer Annette Heist, and we were doing this interview. We were wondering, you know, what role does autism play in her life? And this is how she describes it.


GRANDIN: You see, autism's an important part of who I am, but it's secondary to being a professor of animal science, being a designer, being a scientist. That comes first.

LICHTMAN: And she goes on to say that she would never trade it if she could. She likes autism because she thinks that her mind works in a very logical way that maybe other people's don't.

FLATOW: Yeah. She says in the video: autism give me some leg-up on other people...

LICHTMAN: Some advantages, absolutely.

FLATOW: ...an advantage of other people, because I can see things they can't or feel things and visualize things they cannot.

LICHTMAN: Right. And when she's designing these slaughter plants, and we saw - actually, she brought up her blueprints, which was really amazing. There's just a tube of them, you know, dozens. And she says that she can see the entire design in her mind before she drafts it. She can literally walk through these channels and imagine them, down to the detail of the catwalk material.


LICHTMAN: Just - my brain doesn't work that way.


LICHTMAN: That's for sure.

FLATOW: Yeah. And she says that, because that's a gift that the autism has given her, the ability to do it. How do long did you spend with her when you were out there?

LICHTMAN: Well, we spent an afternoon. We got - so we saw the class, and then we did an interview, and then we went to Chipotle for burritos...


LICHTMAN: ...which might have been the best burrito I've ever had.


FLATOW: So what keeps her busy now? What does she do?

LICHTMAN: She's on speaking tour all the time. She's - I mean, I think we caught her, like, one of the few days she was there that week. She just seems to be going from place to place and, I think, talking both about animal handling and also about autism, sort of some and some. And she said that, you know, she's 65, and she has no intention of retiring. And as you can see in this video, it's hard to imagine her retiring anytime soon. But right now, what her main interest is, is in getting young people interested and inspired.

FLATOW: Yes, she does - she gives talks to young people.

LICHTMAN: Lost of talk to young people.

FLATOW: And she has such a fascinating history, that, you know, there's so much to talk about with her.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I mean, HBO thought it was fascinating...

FLATOW: That's right.

LICHTMAN: ...enough to do their own special, which was a terrific movie.

But you got stuff that HBO didn't get, because HBO was a movie. You talked reality.

Well, I always think, yeah. Reality's better.

FLATOW: Reality, absolutely.

LICHTMAN: It's also better.

FLATOW: They made it. They had an actress who played her, but you got to make a movie with her.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, no, it was the highlight.

FLATOW: And it's - we're talking about our Video Pick of the Week. It's Temple Grandin as you've probably never - anybody's ever seen her, because she's, you know, no one's made the video about her.

LICHTMAN: I haven't seen one yet, although, you know, I think she has a huge following. And so people - and she's written so many books that tell the story of her life, but this was a very personal glimpse and...

FLATOW: And not only she has a visualization talent, she has a gift of the gab, right? She...

LICHTMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you heard in the clips, but, you know, this is someone who describes herself a visual thinker. But, you know, some of her lines were - sounded very verbally minded - to me, anyway.

FLATOW: Yeah. All right. It's up there. It's up at our website, at sciencefriday.com. It's Temple Grandin. It's about seven minutes long. It's good, nice chunk, right?

LICHTMAN: It's a tiny, tiny film.

FLATOW: Tiny film. It's also - we mirrored it up on YouTube. So...

LICHTMAN: Yeah. You can find it on YouTube. Just search for SCIENCE FRIDAY. We have all of our videos up there. Check out our channel. Oh, and one more thing. The leaf pile is up. Did you submit your leaves?

FLATOW: Oh, the leaf pictures are gorgeous.

LICHTMAN: Oh, they're great. I know people are going to be requesting, you know, full-size posters.

FLATOW: I want a - we're going to make a poster out of it.

LICHTMAN: They're really beautiful. I agree.

FLATOW: They're gorgeous pictures that - you - we asked for them, and people in the audience have sent them in, beautiful single leaves put together...

LICHTMAN: Put together by Annette Heist. They're on our SciArts blog. Go check it out. It's really, really pretty.

FLATOW: Gorgeous. I didn't think you could make something out of leaves that was that gorgeous.

LICHTMAN: Forget sweeping them up. Yeah.

FLATOW: That's right. Thank you, Flora.


FLATOW: That's about all the time we have for this hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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