Next Steps for ESN — Science Edition

discussion group photo

Coming to a blog near you. (Photo by Big_Lynx )

Looking at Tom’s Next Steps posts, I realized I am (not coincidentally) also coming up on 5 years blogging for ESN. So I thought I’d share a few “next steps” thoughts of my own. I especially want to highlight future editions of the blog book club. I enjoyed reading along with you and being able to chat here in the comments and via video chats, so I want to see if we can make that a more regular feature.

I started out writing a monthly post here. Then we added a weekly news item on Facebook to supplement those monthly posts. And that turned into a weekly post, typically highlighting a recent science news story, with a longer exploration of one or more of those stories at the end of the month. The discipline of writing every week has been beneficial to me, and I hope the posts have been worthwhile for you. I’ve also learned about some fun topics: Pluto has unpredictable sunrises, bacteria have learned how to eat plastic, and I apparently am a cyborg. Plus practical tips for pie!

At the same time, covering science as news generates a bit of a tension. The most recent studies are not necessarily the most definitive, and science generally proceeds from the consensus of multiple lines of inquiry rather than individual publications. The news also likes to highlight what is different or unexpected, results that run contrary to conventional wisdom or the status quo. Theories and hypotheses do get overturned in science, but sometimes unexpected results turn out to be misinterpreted or experimental error rather than revolutionary.

So I’d like to get away from the weekly news cycle a bit. Adding more book discussions will help. Of course, science books have their limitations as well. They aren’t necessarily peer-reviewed in the same way that journal articles are, and some scientists use books to explore their more speculative ideas. Still, they represent an opportunity to cover topics in more depth and to synthesize a wider range of material. Plus they provide a greater opportunity to get a discussion going by give you a sense of what we’ll be talking about from week to week, rather than hopping from topic to topic.

discussion group photo

Searching for book club photos turned up a surprising number of images like this one of desserts served at book clubs.
Desserts were missing from our first blog book club; we’ll have to rectify that. (Photo by betsywatters )

I’ll still keep an eye on the headlines for important stories, especially items like the Canaanite story from earlier in the month where there is a clear connection between science and religion. I’d love to answer more reader questions; you guys have asked some doozies. Feel free to drop those in the comments any time. I’m sure I find time for the occasional sci-fi movie review (Blade Runner 2049, The God Particle, and Mute are on my radar; anything else?) and topical series. And I look forward for more chances to chime in on ESN-wide initiatives, like the STEAM question series, Scholar’s Compass, and theologies of different disciplines.

Looking ahead a little further, I am hoping to attend the ASA Annual Meeting next year and meet some more of you in person. Stay tuned for possible further announcements related to that meeting.

Oh, and I wrote a book myself. I don’t think I’ve shared that here. I’m submitting the manuscript to my publisher this Friday. I’ve been told you can expect it in the second half of next year; more details as I am allowed to share them. The book is a blend of science fiction, science, and theology that asks the question “How can modern science of the very big and the very small help us know an infinite God better?” It looks at how to be a living sacrifice in terms of entropy with some help from Batman, Two-Face, and the Joker, and how to understand sin using optimization and The Martian. And so on.


So that’s what you can expect going forward, along with some of the highlights of where we’ve been in the past 5 years. Now for a bit of brass tacks on the book club. I’d like to try reading one book a semester. You can vote in the poll below to pick a book for this fall. I’ll leave that open for a week and announce the selected title next Wednesday (9/6). Then we’ll give everyone two weeks to get a copy of the book and get started reading. That means the first post will go up on September 20th. The schedule from there will depend on the book, but I think after the experience with The War on Science we’ll probably try just one chapter a week. Video chats will be every couple of weeks. I hope you can join us for those; I thought they were a great way to keep the conversation going and to hear from you instead of just me monologuing. Sound good?

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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