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A biotechnology blog with a probabilistic and effective bent

Artwork by Dalbert

Today, Niko McCarty and I are launching Asimov Press, a digital magazine dedicated to biotechnology. It will publish lucid writing that leads people to explore the ways that biotechnology can effectively be used to do good. 

Please go here to read the full announcement and subscribe.

Asimov Press is a new publishing venture modeled on Stripe Press, that will produce a newsletter, magazine, and books that feature writing about biological progress. Our primary focus will be on biotechnology, but we will also publish pieces on metascience and adjacent themes. Newsletters and magazines will be free to read. Our mission is to spread ideas that elucidate the promise of biology, take its concomitant risks seriously, and direct talent toward solving pressing problems.

Our published work has three features that I want to highlight here: Pieces will steel-man alternative approaches, focus on high-impact but often underrated facets of biotechnology, and strive for mechanistic and probabilistic reasoning.

Steelman: Biotechnology is not a panacea. Simple solutions are often the best solutions; no engineering required. When Ignaz Semmelweis suggested that doctors at an Austrian Hospital wash their hands between performing autopsies and delivering babies, the maternal mortality rate fell from around 25 percent to 1 percent. In another example, a public health campaign to iodize salt in Switzerland helped bring down the rate of deaf-mute births fivefold in just 8 years. Rather than demand answers from biotechnology, we can often make a positive difference in the world by investing in better public health, improving infrastructure and education, or scaling up existing inventions that have already proven effective.

Even so, simplicity can feel unsatisfactory or even provocative. Semmelweis, considered arrogant by senior doctors, was ostracized and eventually dismissed from his post. An early pioneer in germ theory, he died in a Viennese insane asylum, after being severely beaten by guards. In Switzerland, although evidence for the efficacy of iodized salt was robust, some eminent scientists spoke out against the interventions—advocating for elaborate alternative treatments. We’ll do our best to avoid publishing work that we wish were true, and instead aim to provide balanced, honest, and rigorous coverage of biotechnology.

High-impact solutions: Progress often makes its greatest strides in areas that are not widely covered by the media. We will de-emphasize medical topics and focus instead on areas such as animal welfare and climate resiliency, where biotechnology has proven astonishingly effective yet remains underexplored. We want people to focus on what is most urgent and tractable, and not necessarily on what is most glamorous. 

Laundry is one example. Engineered enzymes that remove stains in cold water reduced the energy required to do laundry by about 90 percent. Laundry may not be as immediately headline-grabbing as new cancer therapies, but it provides a concrete and ingenious solution to a demonstrable need. 

Mechanisms: Biotechnology shouldn’t be a mystery. Although its mechanisms are often infinitesimal, biology is material rather than magic. Cells are made from collections of atoms that we can manipulate, visualize, and control. Every engineering application has a mechanistic and tangible explanation. Often, these explanations are astonishingly beautiful. We encourage our writers to delve deeper and elucidate complex concepts in clear, illustrative prose.

Asimov Press will publish one feature article every two weeks, with additional newsletters and shorter essays scattered in between. Articles will be bundled into a magazine every three months, and each magazine will have a themed section with additional pieces that have not been published before. 

Learn more about our article types and how to write for us by perusing the Pitch Guide. Deep Dives explain how hard-won progress can be, and in so doing, help us better appreciate how far humanity has come. We’re particularly fond of Why We Didn’t Get a Malaria Vaccine Sooner. Essays explain surprising viewpoints or make compelling arguments about biotechnology; examples include I Should Have Loved BiologyPandemic Prevention as Fire-fighting, and Is cultivated meat for real?  We’re also commissioning speculative fiction that imagines positive, but plausible, biological futures, in addition to photo essays that visually demystify places involved in biotechnology. Book projects will launch in 2024.

Asimov Press is an editorially-independent initiative funded by Asimov but does not publish pieces about the company or its commercial interests. Our team consists of two founding editors: Niko McCarty and Xander Balwit. We’re grateful to have excellent advisors aiding us on this journey, including Saloni Dattani (Our World in Data, Works in Progress), Tessa Alexanian (The Council on Strategic Risks), Tom Ellis (Imperial College London), and Tony Kulesa (Pillar VC). Learn more at press.asimov.com





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I'm noticing a trend in "literary" online magazines in EA and adjacent movements, like Works in Progress and Asterisk. Were you inspired by these other magazines/websites? :3

Indeed so! We admire the depth and scope of their writing, not to mention their beautiful visuals. In our extended announcement on our website, we credit them as a serious source of inspiration. Saloni Dattani of Works in Progress is also an advisor for Asimov Press.  

So exciting!

Thank you so much!

Not sure if relevant, but one topic I am curious about but have not seen much writing about is how biotechnology can be used for a circular economy? For example, imagine that we can grow brain matter to create biological computers. Or grow trees into the shape of houses? Then, when these are no longer needed you just toss them at the side of the road and they decompose just like any other organic matter. No waste, no toxins, just immediately plugging into the circular economy of existing biology. Not sure if this is very EA though, but it is something, as an environmentalist, that gives me hope about biotech. I can see a future with no more landfills, no more toxic waste. Just everything being bio and part of the existing, fine tuned cycles of water, carbon, nitrogen etc.

I haven't seen much writing on this either, but we are certainly after some. "Living" or "self-healing" materials are big in biotech, and it just becomes a matter of seeing what is actually possible and can be done at scale. But yes, things such as living-roof materials, cables made from bacteria, and self-healing concrete are being explored. 


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