Note to the Reader

Editorial

This is the first issue of Asterisk, a magazine about the world and what it takes to make sense of it.

We can see our lives getting stranger and harder to predict by the minute, and we’re worried that public discourse is failing to rise to the challenge. We’re curious about emerging technologies and the people who use them. We think that artificial intelligence is going to change everything — so we’re obsessed with AI, and we’re obsessed with everything else. We think that we — not our grandchildren — might move to Mars or upload ourselves to the cloud. We’re not sure we’re going to live to retirement. We are open to the possibilities of a future that sounds like science fiction without losing sight of the messy details that make up reality.

In the end, we don’t know what’s going to happen next — and we don’t think anyone else does either. Our biggest questions don’t lend themselves to certainty. Unfortunately, our current media has a deep allergy to being confused in public — which means that the things we need to understand the most are the ones where conversation is shallow, inadequate or simply absent. We don’t like being wrong — but, more than that, we don’t like being ignorant, so we’re going to muddle through the thorniest, most important open problems we can find.

Our writers think critically, probabilistically — and, always, out loud. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw too many examples of journalists and public health officials oversimplifying nuanced issues based on how they wanted the public to act — noble lies that for the most part didn’t work. Early in the outbreak, some officials claimed that masks were ineffective in order to save masks for health care workers — but the result was long-standing distrust of masks. When the FDA warned people not to take ivermectin, they called it horse paste rather than saying “the studies showing that it works are small, low-quality and sometimes fraudulent.” For a while, data wasn’t even collected about post-vaccine infections because of worries that people wouldn’t get vaccinated if they knew the vaccines’ protection was imperfect.

At Asterisk, we trust our readers. We are honest about what we know and what we don’t. We are transparent in our reasoning — you will never be confused about why one of our writers comes to a conclusion. We will be specific enough to sometimes make mistakes, and we’ll admit them when they happen. An Asterisk article won’t tell you what to think. Instead, it will leave you with a stronger, more complete understanding of the world — because we believe that helping people understand the world leaves them better equipped to change it.

There has never been a time when clear thinking mattered more. We’re on the brink of massive technological changes that there’s no going back from. We’re scared. We’re excited. The next century is going to be impossibly cool or unimaginably catastrophic. Either way, we think that there aren’t enough people trying to think about what it’s going to look like, and we can’t afford to let it catch us off guard.

— The Editors

Published November 2022