Some of you have probably noticed that I've been a bit absent lately. Part of that probably has to do with our summer break on the Weekly Space Hangout (It's amazing what a deadline does for one's motivation...), but I've also been hard at work on an exciting new project. I can finally talk about it, and today I'm thrilled to introduce you to Above & Beyond: Cosmic Conversations.
The idea for Above & Beyond began to develop this past spring during the run of Fox's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Each week I hosted a screening of the latest episode at Fiske Planetarium along with Fiske's director, Dr. Doug Duncan. After the episode played, we'd run a Q&A session about that week's topic. Pretty standard stuff, but, as the weeks wore on, something interesting began to happen. As regular attendees became more comfortable with the setting, they began to address each other, not just us. Wanting to keep the questions coming, we'd nudge the focus back on to us. That worked to keep things moving, but it seemed to rob the sessions of their full potential.
After Cosmos ended, I kept thinking back to these Q&A periods. Sure, Doug and I were supposedly the "experts," but did that really mean we had a lot more to contribute than anyone else? Maybe we knew more facts or more names, but was our perspective on a topic the only one we should consider? I began to think not. Around the same time, I started to attend a bunch of Fiske's recurring shows to get a sense of how their presenters were teaching the public about various aspects of astronomy and space exploration. What I noticed was a lot of solid facts and some great (and often very funny) anecdotes. But one thing stood out as glaringly absent: a broader narrative. How did our study of black holes or volcanoes or the climate fit into both our daily lives and the grand sweep of human progress? Without these connections, were people really internalizing what they learned? I don't know.
Enter Above & Beyond, a series of discussions divided into two parts. In the first half, that night's host will introduce a topic which encompasses an intersection between science and society. What's the general idea? Why do scientists think this is a direction worth pursuing? How should the rest of us integrate the ideas and results of this inquiry into our everyday lives? After this introduction, it's time to talk! As scientists, we spend too much time handing down knowledge from Mount Science and not enough receiving the thoughts, feelings, and priorities of those for whom we labor. So, in this second half of the evening, the audience has an opportunity to discuss with us and each other what they see as the value and direction of this part of the scientific endeavor.
Will this work? I have no idea. Is it worth trying? Absolutely. If you're in the Denver metropolitan area, I hope you'll come by and share your thoughts. You can purchase tickets here. For the rest of you, I'm hoping to turn at least the first half into a podcast which will show up here alongside the Monthly News Roundup. So, stay tuned!