The future of public health holds both challenges and opportunities. With advancements in science and technology, we have the potential to create a healthier, more resilient society for generations to come. For today’s episode, Andrew Walsh, Chief Science Officer at Health Monitoring Systems, dives into the field of public health. With his expertise in microbiology and immunology, Andrew shares his insights on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for public health. He also shares sneak peeks and valuable insights from his book, Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables for Modern Science, and its intersection with the field of public health. Join us for a fascinating discussion on the future of public health and its impact on our society!

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The Future Of Public Health With Andrew Walsh

We have Andy Walsh, who is an author and a scientist in the field of public health, microbiology, and immunology. Why don’t you give everyone a short intro to you? I want to talk about your book, which is called Faith Across The Multiverse: Parables From Modern Science.

Thanks for having me. I’m coming to you with a background in public health. I did a PhD in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. From there, I went into a public health software company. I have spent the past several years working on health monitoring and health monitoring. We try to help connect public health departments with electronic data that is increasingly being generated and available from healthcare providers, hospitals, doctor’s offices, urgent care facilities, and things of that nature.

Those are the folks on the frontline that know what is going on with the health of individuals. If you look at the health of individuals in large numbers, you can start to get a sense of the health of communities, and that is what public health is responsible for. We are trying to help them connect with that data to have a good and up-to-date picture of what is going on in their communities.

One of the things that I like about public health is I feel like someone like you can tell me, as a society, are we getting healthier or are we getting more sick? That is the question that I would pose for you to give me some information that would lend credence to your answer.

The long-term trend, if we look over the years, is we are getting healthier. Infant mortality is way down. People are surviving much longer. People are living longer, and life expectancy is up. Between the combination of vaccines and antibiotics, infectious diseases are not nearly as common an issue, especially for childhood mortality. We have addressed a number of issues in that regard. Things that used to be fatal diagnoses are now treatable, and things we don’t even think twice about infections.


FSP – DFY 4 | Public Health


That, in turn, has enabled lots of other things to be possible. There are lots of surgical interventions and cancer treatments that are possible because we have antibiotics. We have other ways of treating infections that would otherwise result from opening somebody up and exposing their inside to all the things that are on the outside or reducing their immune response because we are treating them for cancer or some other kinds of diseases. All of that has led to a significant increase in our health as a population.

In the United States, over the years, we have seen regressions in some of those measures. We have seen some changes in what they call diseases or deaths of despair, drug overdoses, suicides, and things of that nature. We have seen some increases in that. That was happening even before the pandemic, which raised a lot of concerns about mental health and our health regarding the infection.

We have also seen some increasing concerns about maternal health and maternal survival from childbirth. There are some places for concern in the recent past in this country. There are other things going on in other parts of the world with regard to outbreaks like Ebola in West Africa and other kinds of infections, air quality concerns, and pollution concerns in some parts of the world. If you take a little bit longer to look over the history of public health as an institution, there has been a substantial and dramatic increase in our health as a community.

A decrease in life and expectancy concerns me because of those diseases of despair. A lot of it has been attributed to the opioid epidemic. The opioid epidemic has now been such that we have a strict protocol in place to prevent people from getting opioids from physicians, which had driven the epidemic several years ago. People are buying street drugs and doing it as a lifestyle choice, which is indicative of some underlying level in society that we are missing that is contributing to this thing. There is this certain amount of malaise that people are feeling. They try to escape that malaise with drugs. I’m not anti-drug by any means. I have Andy Walsh, who was a public health scientist. What do you think is going on there?

It is easy to look at the issues you were describing where. We can look at how many pills are being shipped to a ZIP code or county and, relative to the number of people that live there and say, “That is an awful lot of opioids.” If all of those are being consumed in that local area, that is going to create dependency, which is going to have further issues. That is an easy cause and effect to trace. People have done that. That has resulted in federal investigations and a variety of other things.

We have seen interventions that have gone in place. From the data that I have available from emergency departments, I can see that there have been improvements in terms of a decrease in the number of opioid overdoses in the jurisdictions that we help to monitor. There has been progress there, but there are other drugs that are being used. We are seeing changes in patterns and increases in some kinds of overdoses.

It is reasonable to ask the question like, what are the social causes? What possible social causes might be involved? We have lots of concerns about the technologies. We label social media, and we think it‘s connecting us. Are they helping us to form connections? Are they contributing to the sense of disconnection? We know from psychology research and social science research that people are social creatures, and we respond to more than just text.

Social media is good at allowing us to communicate with each other via text, but that is a fairly low-dimensional form of communication compared to in-person face-to-face communication. A lot of things are being communicated between two people by their facial expressions and body language. We are tremendously good at interpreting that at an unconscious level. We are not aware that we are doing it. We are not sitting in there thinking, “This person is holding their head this way or making this microexpression with their mouth.” I know they are feeling this emotion.

Social media is very good at allowing us to communicate with each other via text, but that is a fairly low-dimensional form of communication compared to in-person face-to-face communication.

Our unconscious minds are doing that constantly and are good at it. It allows us to develop a sense of empathy for that other person to have some theory of what is going on in their mind and what emotions or thoughts they might be thinking. We are not perfect at it, but we have a strong sense of that. It is hard to get that from text on a screen.

There are reasonable hypotheses. I’m not sure how much has been proven. There are certainly some results finding connections between social media use and an increase in feelings of anxiety or depression. There are some of those observational, correlational studies. I’m not sure we have identified all the causes and causal pathways. There are a lot of reasons to have questions and hypotheses along those lines and start to try interventions to encourage people.

There is a popular expression on the internet to tell people to touch the grass, get outside, and interact with nature. We know that it has good mental health benefits to be outside and among trees, grass, or other green things. Hearing and interacting with animal sounds and nature, we know, can be good for your mental health.

We need some equivalent intervention to get out, talk to people, see people face-to-face, be part of social activities, and do something together as a community. Building something tangible and intangible as a community, some sense of belonging, or something everybody in the group feels they have contributed.

We have something now, whether it is a building, a club, or a concept. We have worked together to create something in the world that didn’t exist before we all contributed, and now we and other people outside of our group can benefit from that. That is a useful thing to be a part of, and some element of what we are lacking at the moment that is leading to this disconnected feeling.

One of the things I look at when I’m trying to formulate my own hypothesis is what works. What makes people stop taking opioids? What makes people stop abusing alcohol? The twelve-step programs work in such a manner that you are held accountable and you are part of a community. It correlates well with the rise of loneliness in this society. We are the loneliest species of man that has ever existed on the planet.

For most of the past, we have been in these groups where, whether you like it or not, you are interacting with people, but now you don’t have to because everything is automated in such a way that you could live and, work, eat and do all of the things that in the past we would have to interact with other people for. Now you can do it entirely in the comfort of your own home.

That is a tough life to live, but one of the things you highlighted is community settings. Something that I’m a big proponent of is my faith. I know that you agree with that because you wrote this book, Faith Across the Multiverse. Has there been any data that shows religious organizations’ health in comparison to other populations that might be of benefit to our audience?

I don’t have solid numbers to hand, but I know that has been researched and shown to have beneficial effects. I live here in Pennsylvania. We have a number of billboards on the Pennsylvania Turnpike from religious communities advertising different things. I’m sure I have seen one billboard. One of the things they are advertising is that being part of a religious community is beneficial to your health. There is a related concept of health benefits to being in a long-term relationship.

Those two things tend to go together. Religious communities tend to encourage long-term romantic family relationships. Being part of that community, having that connection to some larger community, and being able to contribute constructively in that sense does seem to have positive benefits in terms of mental health, the feeling of loneliness, and avoiding feelings of despair, loneliness, and anxiety.

Do you think that most people who are religious have difficulty with science and technology or have difficulty in rectifying it in their lives?

There are groups of people who have religious reasons for difficulty engaging with certain scientific topics. Whether it is a majority or not is hard to say because there are a number of folks in the sciences who have a religious faith of one kind or another. There are plenty of other folks in religious communities that have a doctrinal stance that is compatible with science. I don’t know that I would say that it is a majority. I would say that significant communities and some vocal communities have concerns about different scientific topics because of their particular religious beliefs.

I’m a Muslim. Especially during my formative years, I felt like there was this pushback for anything modern. That’s something that I had to experience in my community. It was difficult for me, as someone who is in the sciences, to reconcile that portion of my life with my religious faith. Did you feel like you had that same issue? Was it always streamlined for you?

There were similar concerns. I don’t know that it was a general concern about anything modern. There were concerns about specific scientific topics. There was a general conservatism towards anything new that because it is new and shiny doesn’t necessarily mean we need to run out and embrace it.

What do you mean by that? Can you give me some examples?

There was a sense when cell phones became more widespread, not necessarily smartphones, but cell phones in general. There was that sense of now you are always available for your work. There is never any separation between work and other aspects of your life. You need to have that ability to step away and create some boundaries. That is a valid concern. I was getting that from the religious perspective of, “This is different. We don’t know how it is going to change things. Let’s hold off a little bit.”

The same thing could apply to technology evolving, and we got smartphones and social media. It is the same question. Is this a worthwhile thing to be engaging with? How do we make sure that this technology is serving us and that we are not becoming a servant of technology? There is some valid concern there.

Part of what makes these things appealing is that they are engineered to absorb our attention. That is specifically what a lot of these apps and companies are trying to d. It is to occupy as much of our attention as they can possibly grab. We are, in some ways, the product rather than the consumer of these technologies. There is some balance to be struck there. Where those issues were initially raised for me was the question, “Is this a tool that is serving my purposes? Am I the servant to this new technology?” I got a lot of pushback from some people in my community about vaccines. I have noticed a minority of people in your social circles that would be the same. Do you feel like that is something that you experienced in your community?



Before we got that specific, I didn’t know that there was anybody in the church community I grew up in that when I started talking about wanting to go into public health and study infectious diseases, they went, “Why don’t you want to become a doctor and treat cancer?” That is understandable because lots of people have experienced the loss of a loved one with cancer or have experienced somebody who needs to be treated for cancer. That could be difficult. That was always front of their mind. Infectious diseases, especially before the past few years, always seemed a thing that happened to other people or wasn’t that big of a deal.

There was a sense of, “What is this public health thing about? Is that worthwhile activity?” Over time, we did see more concerns about vaccines. Initially, the concern was, “How are these vaccines developed and manufactured? Is it the materials that came from an abortion?” That was a big concern that was raised because some cell lines are used in laboratory settings for either testing vaccines or growing vaccines in large numbers. If you trace all the way back, where did the first cells in that cell line come from? It was from an abortion of some kind. I don’t know the full details of that, but it is a fetal cell line.

That raised a lot of questions, like, “How complicit are we in an abortion if we are taking a vaccine that has been manufactured or tested in that way?” That topic has come up again in recent years, but also a lot of other skepticism around the vaccine because it has become a political issue. The science community is selling us that we need to shut up, follow the science and take the vaccine. Do we want to let them be the ones who make our decisions for us? It has raised a lot of questions with varying degrees of connection to actual data.

I don’t think that is a wrong pushback, to be quite honest with you. When I think of science, unfettered scientific progress is not necessarily a good thing. Not all scientific endeavors hold benefits for humanity. For example, the pushback against the gain of function research for viruses is a smart move. We could do something incorrectly and affect everyone negatively. There is good evidence for pushback working.

Another thing that I think about, back in the early 2000s, is when a lot of stem cell research was coming from boarded fetuses and George W. Bush. You can say good things and bad things about his presidency, but one of the things that I thought was smart is he put a ban on that. That ban drove the scientific community to look for other ways of achieving the same outcome. That is when we developed Yamanaka factors, the ability to turn a skin cell back into a stem cell. We could use that for other purposes. The guy won the Nobel Prize.

Sometimes constraints are good things. Black and white photography, to me, is more beautiful than color photography oftentimes because of that constraint that is created in the system. That is where I feel like religion does hold a place in making sure that we don’t go down the wrong avenue. Regardless of your interests or take on abortion, it would be ideal if we didn’t have to go down that path and get stem cells from other sources.

Lo and behold, when we said, “That is not something that we are going to do.” We found a way of getting the same result without going down that path. The pushback against a faith-based stance like, “This is going to hold us back. This is going to prevent us from advancing as a species. This is regressive.” Sometimes it is not. It is steering the ship in a better direction, which is still progress, but in a different way of doing that. We are on the topic. I know you are public health scientist. What do you think about the whole Lab-Leak Theory? How do you feel about that?

Oftentimes, the pushback against a faith-based stance is that it’s going to hold us back from advancing as a species. Sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, it’s just steering the ship in a better direction.

Let’s enumerate some of the different questions that are being asked. There is one question, which is, did the virus originate from a spillover event in a wet market, from humans coming in direct contact in with animals in a non-laboratory setting? Did human contact with this virus that led to the first infections occur in a laboratory setting?

If we get into the laboratory question, there is the issue of if it did come from a laboratory, was it simply that animal samples were stored in the laboratory and someone got exposed to them? Was it that there was actual experimentation going on and engineering of a virus or research on a virus that then led to a spillover event? There are different kinds of laboratory scenarios. We are talking about the Lab-Leak hypothesis.

I have seen the papers. From a more public health and epidemiological perspective, what does the data say, tracing the origins of the outbreak to a particular wet market in Wuhan? The epicenter of the initial cases geographically is located there. We can also use the genetic data from the virus to trace back to samples from that location. That is strong evidence or a well-documented case. I don’t know that it completely eliminates all possibilities of a lab leak scenario. It does speak strongly that there is positive evidence that the virus was in that location, and people got sick in that context early on.

It is a few miles from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Theoretically, you could have someone working there go to that wet market and become the vector for the disease.

That is a possibility. That gets into the question of, “How many events were there?” The papers that came out looking at the epidemiological data suggested that there were two separate crossover events or spillover events early on, looking at the genetic data. That is what they are reporting in the paper. Something was happening in the wet market itself because there was frequent contact with animals in that setting. The chances of multiple spillover events are more likely in that scenario, whereas the chances that two different people got infected in the lab and proceeded to go to the market and infect other people seem less likely.

There have been some questions raised there. Is it 1 or 2 events? Is there a common virus in the past that we can trace further back? There is also the uncertainty of, “We don’t know everything that happened in the lab.” There are different questions about how they released their notebooks and all the data. We may never know to complete certainty what happened. There is clear positive evidence of a connection with the market. The lab leak scenario still relies largely on. We can’t rule it out for sure. There is less positive evidence that something came from here or there. There were samples here that are connected to what happened.

It is an interesting time to be in microbiology and immunology. The fact of the matter is that this was a world-shaking event. That was applicable to your field. The vaccine rollout was amazing. A lot of people were hesitant about it. Do you feel we are going to be using mRNA for everything now? Is this the technological standard of the land?

There is a lot of potential there for expanding to other kinds of vaccines and possibly other applications. What is exciting about mRNA technology is it provides a common platform across many kinds of pathogens, both for designing and manufacturing a vaccine. The same industrial process can be used to make a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus. You could plug in mRNA for any other virus and bacteria and use the same pathway.

Whereas before, what we tended to have to do is you have to isolate the virus or bacteria, whatever it is that you are trying to make a vaccine against, and find some way to grow it in a laboratory setting. You can test different vaccine candidates and find an appropriate vaccine candidate. Do we need to use a live attenuated version of the pathogen? Do we need to use a part of the pathogen? What are the right pieces to use to create the vaccine candidate?

You have to find some way to make it at scale. That has been an ad hoc process for each different pathogen. The manufacturer of the flu vaccine still depends heavily on chicken eggs because it grows well in chicken eggs. That creates a dependency on the resource that is variably available because of avian influenza has that issue. There are also issues with growing the virus in the eggs. It becomes adapted to the eggs and may be less similar to the virus that is going around in people as a result. There have been years where the flu vaccine doesn’t match the circulating flu virus as well as it could because the vaccine virus has adapted to growing in chicken eggs.

With this mRNA technology, we eliminate all that. We can take the sequence data from the pathogen. We know what the vaccine should look like. It should look like an mRNA molecule with this portion of the pathogen genome. There is still some experimentation we need to go on to say, “Do we need the whole genome? Which part of the genome do we need to look at?” With COVID-19, we were fortunate we had previous experience trying to develop a vaccine against the other SARS virus. We had a concept of, “It is probably the spike protein.” More specifically, we would need to focus on this portion of the spike protein from that previous empirical research of trying different pieces of the virus.

That helped to speed up the process. In that specific case, that might not hold for every pathogen in the future. It might take a little bit longer to do some of that trial and error work, but still, we eliminate a lot of the questions of, “How do we even grow the single laboratory?” There are some viruses that we can’t even grow in the laboratory to test vaccine candidates. It is exciting, in that regard, to accelerate or completely eliminate some of the trial-and-error steps that have previously been part of vaccine development.

That is a hopeful thing about the future. What I would often worry about is, God forbid, if we got into some conflict like World War III. I feel like bioweapons are this low-hanging fruit or even terrorism. That is something that we learned about in medical school. It is easy to make a virus more violent and more effective. You could do it with animal models. You continue to make it more violent and release that on the population. That always concerned me because, throughout history, we have had such significant plagues and pandemics that have done a number on us as a species. Now we have this fast, scalable backstop and defense against a whole host of viruses. For me, that is a hopeful thing.



I would love to find a way to increase our immune system. When my kid gets sick, and it causes me to have something, I would love to be able to make my immune system more powerful. I don’t want it to be too powerful because you get inflammatory diseases. It is this soft balance. I feel like it is a nice adjunct to the immune system.

We have this virus floating around. Our immune system is not able to able to cover it. Let’s give our immune system a little bit of extra support for this one particular virus. That is something that I feel is a great technology that was created. It gets a lot of bad press because of a whole host of different reasons. It is something that I have personally taken. I’m sure many of our readers have probably taken it. It is something that is out there whether we like it or not.

One of the concerns is we have made such a big deal about how new it is, and it is this great new development we have. One thing to keep in mind is that, in a sense, we have had mRNA vaccines for decades. They came packaged with other things. For example, the polio vaccine and live attenuated vaccine could be considered an mRNA vaccine because we are delivering RNA as part of the vaccine inside the polio virus. What we are giving you is an entire poliovirus with all of the proteins, other components, and the RNA of the genome of the virus.

In a sense, this isn’t an entirely new concept to inject mRNA or RNA into somebody as a vaccine. We have delivered it in a different way, with more pieces that had the potential to create other issues. This allows us to strip away some of those other pieces and focus on what is most necessary and minimally sufficient to get in the targeted immune response we want.

Technology now is giving you a lot of hope for the future, specifically in your field.


FSP – DFY 4 | Public Health


The area I work on is connecting health data to public health practitioners and public health departments. There is a lot of potential there. In the past couple of years, we have seen the value of having an up-to-the-minute understanding of what is happening in our community. Being able to go to the New York Times website, the Johns Hopkins website, or your local health department’s website and say, “What are the case counts going? What do they look like now?” Using that to inform decisions on what activities I should engage in. Should I wear a mask when I do that? We have seen that there is a benefit to having that situational awareness.

What we are hoping to do is to keep pushing that forward and make data available on a number of topics to can make informed decisions about a variety of health-related issues. Not all of them are going to necessarily be up-to-the-hour or up-to-the-minute decisions. It may not be that you need quite that level of detail, but there is value in having access to that information, whether it is for the flu season or there is a lot of rotavirus going around now that is of concern, or it is more environmental issues.

We had a trained derailment here in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio that created a lot of concerns about environmental exposures. We are being able to monitor those things. We are giving people awareness, transparency, and visibility to what is going on in my community in a way that preserves the privacy of the individual people.

We are not exposing individuals or identifying anybody and saying, “This specific person has this specific condition.” We are looking at the population level. What is the number of people? It is like what we have been doing with COVID case counts. That is all we are talking about. Respecting people’s privacy for their own personal health information, but giving people a sense of, “What does the health in my community look like in a variety of dimensions?”

We are on the cusp of the analysis of all of the big data that we are getting. If the last several years, we are the creation this data, transitioning to an electronic medical record using search engines on a regular basis, and everybody getting plugged into the internet, now we have all of this data, and no human being is able to look at all of it. We have artificial intelligence and algorithms that allow us to get trends out of it, which I don’t think we have touched on. We are still in the infancy stages of that.

Big data has been a big topic for a number of years. Where we have seen successes with big data so far are things where there is a lot more control over how the data is generated. When some of these companies talk about big data, they are talking about the clicks they are getting from your web browser, from the apps you are using on your smartphone or the location data from your smartphone.

That is, in relative terms, clean data. There are issues with that. If we talk to engineers who have to deal with that data, they would have a litany of stories of weird things that go on that they have to deal with. The data being generated by software that the folks have a lot of control over in terms of what the software is doing and what the instruments making the measurements are doing.

In the healthcare and public health setting, what is generating the data are these noisy processes that are an overlap of a number of different health issues. The number of people that come into the emergency department with a cough is a product of any number of different pathogens that might be going around at a given time. That is the product of air quality, people’s level of asthma, and those kinds of preexisting conditions that make people more susceptible to respiratory issues.

There are all those health issues that are a factor. There are also behavioral issues. For example, we can see in our data that more people come to the hospital with a cough on a Monday than on a Sunday. That is not because people are getting sick on the day of the week matters when you get sick. It matters when you decide to go to the hospital to get treatment. There are all these human behavioral considerations.

All of that is going into this one number I have, the number of people who have a cough at the emergency department on this day. There is a lot of data there, but the signals in that data are much harder to pull out or overlap with each other with a lot of other noise. We are still trying to figure out what are the best ways to make use of data that is that complicated, noisy, and has that many different signals in it that overlap with each other.

We are still trying to figure out the best ways to make use of data that is complicated, noisy, and has many different signals that overlap with each other.

I would be remiss if I did not talk about science fiction because I have noticed a Danger Room background which is something I have wanted to talk about since the start of our conversation. What big science fiction influences can you say made a difference in you growing up? What are you reading now?

I read a lot of X-Men comics growing up. That was a big influence. You might infer from the Danger Room background. Neal Stephenson was a big author in my teenage and college-age years. He is somebody that I appreciate. One of his first big books was Snow Crash. It was an early consideration of computer technology, the internet, and the future of those things. Cryptonomicon was the first book I read that hooked me. That was about codebreaking in World War II. It is a historical fiction story. Folks like Alan Turing and Church, who are real-life figures, are characters in the novel as well as his made-up characters.

What I appreciate about him and Andy Weir is the way that they incorporate science into the stories as a fulcrum of the problem-solving in the story depends on understanding actual science. You get a flavor of that actual science in the book itself. It develops into the story. In terms of comic books, Ryan North and his Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel.

What’s great about writers like Andy Weir is how they incorporate real science into the stories as a fulcrum of the problem-solving.

It is this story you would never think of. It is this goofy character that didn’t have a following. This girl has the powers of a squirrel. Ryan North took that character, sent her to college, and became a Computer Science undergrad. She works all this computer science theory and database theory into the story in a way that is entertaining, informative, charming, and endearing. The thing that excites me is when there is real science that is presented in a way that is accessible and entertaining. It is informative. You can learn something from it, even if you don’t even realize it in the context of a fun and exciting story about people using their superpowers to save the world.

Were you much more of a Marvel person than a DC person?

Before I started reading comics, I was watching the Super Friends cartoon and Adam West’s reruns of the Adam West Batman Show. I had Superman and Batman action figures. When I got into reading comics, it was the X-Men comics that hooked me. It was that science fiction aspect of them. They are not guys in goofy costumes punching everything to save the world. They are engaging in more scientific dilemmas. There was an infectious disease storyline in the ‘90s, the Legacy Virus. As a budding public health infectious disease specialist, that was interesting to me.

What I liked about the Xmen was their social commentary. Charles Xavier is the prototype for Martin Luther King. Magneto is the prototype for Malcolm X. You had these underpinnings of racial injustice because of the mutants versus the humans, which I thought was powerful, but now, they are doing a lot of cool stuff.

Every several years, they have this reset on society. They re-imagine society. These mutants are in a better or more equitable civilization now. They have this floating island called Krakoa that they turned into a Eutopia. What I think is interesting is they are re-imagining. They take the science we are experiencing now to the infinity level. They think, “If all resources were infinite and we had all of these different things that we could do, what could we do as a species?” The writers are having a good time with that. Have you read any of that run at all?

I’m well into the Krakoa era. I have been excited about Sinister. I’m a huge fan of what Kieron Gillen has done with Mr. Sinister. He wrote him a little bit a few years ago when he was on Uncanny X-Men. He is writing a crossover based around Mr. Sinister. The fact that the X-men are mutants. They talk a lot about evolution and the next stage of evolution, but the actual evolutionary biology in X-Men comics has always been a little bit iffy when they have touched on it. Kieron Gillen took that concept and brought it more to the fore.

He imagined Mr. Sinister as a genetic algorithm thing. He made different versions of himself and tried to predict what the X-Men would do. He developed a training data set of all the things the X-Men had done in the past. He made iterations of himself that got better at learning what the X-Men had done in the past without having access to that information. He was like, “I can predict what the X-Men are going to do in the future because I perfectly predicted what the X-Men have done in the past.”

That is what we do in a machine-learning world like ChatGPT. What ChatGPT is doing is reading all the words that anybody has ever written before. He predicts the next word in the sequence and what comes next. That is a basic machine-learning task. Mr. Sinister did that in an evolutionary way. It failed because it has to be. He is the villain.

It has brought some interesting science concepts, particularly around evolution and machine learning, into the comics. I have enjoyed those stories. That broader science fiction aspect of if we can address certain questions of health, longevity, and access to food eliminates some of these questions of survival and gets into it an era of flourishing. What happens next? How we engineer a society that can function under those parameters is a cool question.


FSP – DFY 4 | Public Health


What are your top three comic book runs of all time when you think of, like, “This blew my mind?” That would be something that I would be interested to hear from you.

Number one is an easy one. That is Peter David’s second run on XFactor, the XFactor Investigations run. That hit me at the right time. Multiple Man was somebody that I liked from my teenage years. The aspect of Multiple Man where he was like, “I’m always trying to go in ten different directions at once, and I don’t know how to decide because I could see all the different options, the pluses, and the minus of everything.” That spoke to me.

The Ryan North’s Squirrel Girl I talked about has to be up there. It is charming, fun, and light, but it also has some good ideas in it, both about science and about how to be nice to each other and get along as human beings. The third one is Simon Spurrier’s X-Men Legacy with David Haller. I have a little bit of a self-parody sometimes in that regard, but those are the stories that I connect with.

I’m going to come to mind, but what about graphic novels? Is that a separate category for you?

I know there are the things like Watchmen or some of those classics when comics grew up in the ‘90s. The style and aesthetics of that storytelling didn’t grab me in the same way they did for other people at the time. I don’t know if I was the wrong age to read those books. That era of the late ‘90s comics is for grownups now. I recognize the quality of it. I have read some of those things, and I can appreciate them, but they didn’t click for me in quite the same way, like, “ This is a life-changing story.”

When I think of science fiction that gives me a lot of hope for the future, I think of Star Trek and some novels that I read, even like Ender’s Game or The Hitchhiker’s Guy to the Galaxy, these more novel-based or live-action-based stuff. What gets me about comic books is the ability to make social commentary without using specific examples. I loved Tom King’s run on Mr. Miracle. Have you read that?

I did read that.

I had a daughter. I like that whole thing of him becoming a dad. The part was great, and the whole concept of Dark Side is. That was a novel concept to me. Anything that comes out is novel, especially when you read comic books for decades. The novel is interesting because these are the same characters. It is like you are putting your own spin on it. That was a good one for me. I would say that is number three. I like Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman runs like The Long Halloween.

My number one, and there is a lot of fan hate on it, is Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis. Anything that they touched, like their Avengers and X-Men with the Ultimate series. For me, the Ultimate was the most over-budgeted action film that can never be made. The current Marvel continuity takes a lot of information from that. The Ultimate was something I still go back to and look at because it is a fun take on things. It is not a lot of social commentaries other than the stuff that is out there already, but it is an interesting take on it. Everything is dialed up to the max, but the other ones are good if you ever have a chance to read them.

That Ultimate series was a huge game-changer for a lot of things. There is some great art in that book and the writing. I can understand the appeal of that. If you found the parenthood stuff in Tom King’s Mr. Miracle, it is interesting, and his Vision series.

I have read that one. It is sad. At least at the end of Mr. Miracle, it is a happy ending, but Vision, having a family, and having it destroyed got me. It was good. Tom King is a genius. I won’t disagree with that. It was nice to talk to you. It is not often that I get to indulge my comic book fandom. It was nice talking to you about what we can expect from the future. For those of you guys who are reading this regularly, we are going to be having some more interesting guests and topics about the future. Join us next time for The Futurist Society. Have a good one, everybody.


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About Andrew Walsh

FSP – DFY 5 | Public HealthAndy Walsh is the Chief Science Officer at Health Monitoring, a public health software company. Their tools for analyzing prediagnostic healthcare data are used by public health professionals to stay on top of trends in emerging and endemic health conditions from the flu to substance use disorders. He earned a PhD in molecular microbiology and immunology from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University by trapping mosquitoes and building statistical models. He is the author of “Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables From Modern Science” and a science writer, regularly contributing to InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars blog. He is also the creator of the Quandary Den, a dungeon-crawler simulation driven by evolution for use in research and teaching.


By: The Futurist Society