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Depleted Soil, Dirty Water, Bird Brains & Big Ag: ATXSciWri’s Best in Fest Shortlist

Depleted Soil, Dirty Water, Bird Brains & Big Ag: ATXSciWri’s Best in Fest Shortlist

Originally posted on the Texas Book Festival’s site

For the past two years, one mission of Austin Texas Science Writers has been to uncover the best science and nature writing. In Fall 2018, we launched the ATXSciRead book club in collaboration with BookPeople. Our book club has tackled sci-comm classics, like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; welcomed authors near (Karen Olsson) and far (Deborah Blum, Katherine Eban); and sought out new voices on topics ranging from botany and indigenous knowledge (Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass) to race in medicine (Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat).

Here, we share our most anticipated science and environmental titles at the 2020 Festival.

Perilous Bounty by Tom Philpott

Teresa Carr – Board Vice President, Independent Science and Health Journalist

Compared to 50 years ago, today’s industrial agriculture produces far more food on less land — but at a cost of less diversity in crops, depleted soils, and heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides. In Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of Agriculture and What We Can Do to Prevent it, veteran journalist and former farmer Tom Philpott makes the case that poor stewardship of natural resources have put American farming — and the global food supply — in grave danger.

I can’t bring myself to read too much doom-and-gloom these days, so I’m looking forward to Philpott’s reporting on the innovators who are developing resilient, soil-building, and water-smart farming practices that could very well prevent the looming crisis.

The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman

Julie Grisham – Board President, Science and Medical Writer

As a daydreamer, I often find myself staring out the window and watching the birds in my yard. And as a writer who frequently covers neuroscience, I know that studying bird brains has helped scientists uncover many new findings about how human brains work. So I’m excited about Jennifer Ackerman’s new book, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. Ackerman’s book highlights recent research on birds, ranging from parrots to pigeons to penguins and more. Full of anecdotes and facts, it will make you think about our feathered friends in a whole new way.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

K. Angel Horne – Director-at-large, Nature Interpreter

While “activist fiction” doesn’t often make it to beach towels or wine-and-cheese-style book clubs, if one still has the luxury of literature in the fall of 2020, they are basically obliged to crack the spine of a darkly comedic examination of modern humanity framed by factory farming — don’t you think? Have you, after all, felt “cooped up” these long months? Have your grocery-store forays become a different beast altogether? Released this year, the book is not only timely, but lyrical and acute. It is a heist story and political commentary pregnant with complexity and presented through consciousness both homosapien and avian. Its deservedly lauded author, Deb Olin Unferth, has served us this opportunity wrapped in rich prose. Unferth is a Chicago native now teaching at UT Austin and running the Pen City Writers, a creative writing program at a max security penitentiary in South Texas. It is clear she is dedicated to uplifting the voices of those marginalized and confined, human and otherwise.

WASTE by Catherine Coleman Flowers

Eileen McGinnis – Board Secretary, Climate Activist

At first glance, a book about sewage might seem like a curious pick. But Catherine Coleman Flowers’ WASTE: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret is about so much more. Her book tells the story of rural communities of color throughout the United States that lack access to safe water and waste infrastructure. Flowers is the perfect guide: founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, she grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a Civil-Rights-Era battleground now enmeshed in a struggle for basic sanitation.

In a time of intersecting crises, WASTE promises a necessary — and deeply personal — education in environmental justice, as well as a path forward to building a more inclusive environmental movement.

You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

Emily Moskal – Director-at-large, Communications Specialist

Listening is the crux of many of life’s most important connections. Author Kate Murphy wants to improve your life with a simple adage: listen better. In You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, Murphy explores the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience behind this oft-neglected personal skill.

Superman’s Not Coming by Erin Brockovich

Nika Sarraf – Student Board Member, Environmental Science Student

Erin Brockovich’s newest book, Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It details the water crises being faced by Americans throughout the United States, and what we can do as individuals to help preserve this resource. Brockovich is no stranger to advocating for environmental issues, and she continues to do so by stressing the importance of citizen science and individual responsibility.

Internship Now Open for Applications!

Internship Now Open for Applications!

The Austin Texas Science Writers social media internship is designed to offer real life marketing and communications experience while serving to increase awareness of the organization’s mission and offerings. In addition to hands-on experience with traditional social media content creation and community management, the internship offers the chance to connect and work with a range of professional science communicators and engage directly with the local community. 

We encourage candidates with interest in any of the following areas to apply: editorial, videography, photography, marketing, advertising, journalism, media and public relations, digital communications, science. Our internships are of a flexible nature and we aim to provide students and young professionals with the opportunity to gain experience in the areas that best serve their goals. 

We expect this internship to begin June 1 and last approximately 10 weeks. Expected hours per week are 3, but there may be optional opportunities for community outreach that could result in additional hours if desired. The schedule is flexible, and some to all of the internship hours can be served remotely if this accommodation is needed. 

Benefits and Responsibilities 

This is a paid internship with a weekly stipend of $50. The intern will be responsible for brief daily check-ins with our major social media platforms as well as creation of online content based on our social media plan. Other duties might involve: helping to draft a monthly newsletter, developing static and dynamic content for the blog, and contributing ideas on outreach to peer groups (e.g, students or recent graduates). In addition to the stipend, interns receive the following benefits:

  • Professional mentorship on a science communications project of intern’s choosing throughout 10-week period
  • A year-long non-recurring membership to Austin Texas Science Writers at the student or associate level (depending on educational background) 
  • Access to networking and professional development workshops
  • Direct access to professional science communicators who can offer insight into the broad field of sci-comm roles and opportunities 


Helpful skills include: experience writing and/or editing in English, attention to detail and grammar, social media proficiency, some photography and/or videography experience. If you have 70% of these skills and a strong desire to grow through guidance and practice, we encourage you to apply. 

How to Apply

Applicants must submit the following by Monday, April 27:

  • Résumé with relevant coursework and work history
  • Up to three samples of your work (writing, photography, design, etc.)
  • Two academic or professional references 
  • A brief cover letter stating your interest in this internship opportunity — including specific skills you would like to develop

Email cover letter, résumé, two references and samples of your work to: atxsciwri@gmail.com




We are thrilled to announce that ATXSciWri T-shirts are now available for purchase through Bonfire.

Your T-shirt purchase will directly benefit fellow Central Texas science communicators. Our non-profit will use T-shirt sales to offer future programming, beginning with a podcasting workshop this spring.

We also hope that these T-shirts will inspire camaraderie and community. Wear your shirt to the next happy hour or tabling event!

And once your shirt arrives, don’t forget to take a photo and tag us @atxsciwri or #atxsciwri on social media. We’ll use these submissions to select the winner of a book giveaway…stay tuned for details.


Can You Predict a Classic Read?

Can You Predict a Classic Read?

Written by BookPeople discussion facilitator of ATXSciRead, Christine Havens


The world of fiction has its canon, those books agreed upon by old white men sitting in closed rooms, though PBS’ The Great American Read recently and publicly gave more voice to “everyday” readers, thus opening up the list of novels considered classics. Each fiction genre has its own canon, too. But what about the non-fiction realm, specifically the genre of science? Which books are the standards, the classics, the ones that a person studying science would be shame-faced to admit he, she, or they haven’t read?

That’s a question that has come up in the first two ATXSciRead book group gatherings. Our first meeting, in October, was a discussion of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; we read Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don’t (2012) for November’s gathering. While the group readily agreed that Carson’s book is a classic because of her impassioned, eloquent writing and her topic, the consensus was that Silver’s book might not become part of the canon of science writing. Both books have been groundbreaking, or at least, Silver’s work has been groundbreaking, however, members felt that The Signal and The Noise lacked a certain resonance that marks a classic.

That doesn’t mean the group didn’t enjoy the book. Each person related more strongly to certain sections than others. Not all could relate to Silver’s discussion about baseball stats, but did find his discussion of hurricane prediction relevant, though he misses some things about climate change. Election prediction and just the ideas of prediction, statistics, and the human desire to look for patterns formed a large part of our conversation. Silver’s challenge to readers about whether they were hedgehogs or foxes garnered laughter as we each considered our responses.

While not every book that the group reads must be a classic, or have the potential of becoming one, the question makes for thoughtful conversation, especially since a few folks are also science writers who look to the books being read as examples for themselves. And even for those who are not hoping to become accomplished authors in the genre, the question sparks thoughts of future generations of readers. It’s not easy to predict a classic, or is it?

For example, our December read is Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, by Mary Roach, who is herself becoming a classic, or at least a standard, of science writing. Roach’s books and articles are easily accessible for the layperson, on subjects that often involve the quirks surrounding our physical bodies and our humanity. Her style is light, humorous, informative, and relevant. They’re always on the Indie Next and NYT bestseller lists. Will her works stand the test of time?

Join us on December 2, at 4:00 pm, on BookPeople’s third floor for what’s sure to be a lively discussion about that question, as well as ones about your “ick factor,” your favorite smell, and more. Here is an article Roach wrote for Smithsonian magazine about the science behind hot peppers: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/the-gut-wrenching-science-behind-the-worlds-hottest-peppers-73108111/.

Gulp, and the other upcoming titles will be available to purchase at BookPeople for a 10% discount.

ATX Sci Read is the brainchild of Austin Texas Science Writers, a local non-profit devoted to science communication. You can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook for updates about our upcoming book-club reads.

In January, we’ll discuss the The Tangled Tree by David Quammen.


Austin Texas Science Writers (ATXSciWri) is officially formed!

Austin Texas Science Writers (ATXSciWri) is officially formed!

On December 14, 2017, Austin Texas Science Writers became officially recognized by the Secretary of State of Texas as a nonprofit corporation.

Our official purpose as stated in our bylaws are as follows:

• To promote accurate, accessible and ethical science writing in Central Texas;
• To foster the understanding of science and technology and their relevance to society;
• To advance the skills of area science writers and aspiring science writers; and
• To provide both expert-driven and grassroots exchanges of ideas on science communication.

The initial board of directors consists of Laurie Duncan, Julie Grisham, Liz Kruesi, Emily Moskal, and Stavana Strutz.

Austin Texas Science Writers is a membership-based organization that actively supports the field of science writing and the public’s understanding of science, particularly in Texas.