Science Corner: 2017 in Review

Photo of New Year's fireworks in Sydney, Australia

Can’t have those New Year’s fireworks without science! (specifically, transition metal chemistry) (Photo by *vlad* )

Time for the customary look back at where we’ve been, blog-wise, over the past year. Maybe you’ll find a topic you missed the first time around, maybe you’ll have a chance to dig into a series you didn’t have time for earlier, or maybe you’ll just find it helpful to review what you’ve already read. Whatever you are looking for, I hope you find something helpful here.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence wound up a pretty big theme across the year. In May, we had a story about humans collaborating on a task, with some of them unknowingly getting input from an AI contributor. August brought an interview about a Google project for using AI in creative applications like composing music. And in November and December, I interacted with J. Nathan Matias et al‘s series on AI and Christianity. In four blog posts, I didn’t get to cover everything in that series; there was a lot of good material there. Seeing the breadth and depth of topics in need of wider Christian conversation and involvement makes me wonder if the American church needs to spend less time thinking about where we’ve come from (e.g. biological origins) and more about where we are going.


I am as surprised as anyone by just how political the blog got over the past year (or maybe some of you are surprised that this is what getting political looks like for me). I wrote about healthcare policy and legislation in January and again in March. In April, I discussed alternative approaches to public funding of science. In June and July, we discussed the book The War on Science (more on that in a bit), a call to action for improved scientific transparency and accountability for American political candidates. And in April, I attended and reported on my local gathering of The March for Science.

The conditions inspiring an uptick in politically oriented posts look to persist into 2018, so you can probably expect this theme to recur. I remain professionally interested in healthcare policy and public health, and as a science and faith blogger I obviously care about science communication and science advocacy.


2017 was a big year for books on the blog. In January, I reviewed Creating Language: Integrating Evolution, Acquisition, and Processing by Morten H. Christiansen and Nick Chater. While a bit outside my usual range, it caught my eye at the library and held my attention with its compelling case for studying language as an entity which has evolved to be acquired and processed by human minds. In October, I reviewed the discussion guide Jesus, Beginnings, and Science by Dave & Kate Vosburg, a great introduction to science & faith topics and reference resource for those looking to go further.

Then in June, we kicked off the first of two blog book club sessions, this one on Shawn Otto’s The War on Science. We went through the book a couple of chapters at a time, chatting via the blog and occasionally live video. There was plenty to discuss, with some interesting material on the history of science, especially the public perception thereof, and on the concerted effort to obfuscate scientific results relating to fossil fuels and climate change. The book’s insights into religious concerns regarding science weren’t as deep or well observed, leaving an opportunity to fill in some blanks via our conversation.

Overall, I thought the book club experiment went well enough to try again, so in September we discussed John Polkinghorne’s Quantum Physics & Theology. I probably could have done a better job describing the book, since the title in retrospect may have been off-putting. Those who could see their way past it found a thoughtful reflection on how the process of science and the process of theology, both searches for truth, share more in common than is often credited.

Books already figure prominently in my 2018 plans. I’d like to run another blog book club over the winter/spring semester; look for that to kick off in February. But feel free to start thinking about a book to read; maybe something you got for Christmas, or got a chance to read over the holiday break. And in summer of 2018, I expect that my first book, Faith across the Multiverse, will be published. You can count on hearing more about that as I have confirmed specifics to share.

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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. His book Faith across the Multiverse is available from Hendrickson.

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