Asterisk is a new quarterly magazine/journal of ideas from in and around Effective Altruism. Our goal is to provide clear, engaging, and deeply researched writing about complicated questions. This might look like a superforecaster giving a detailed explanation of the reasoning they use to make a prediction, a researcher discussing a problem in their work, or deep-dive into something the author noticed didn’t quite make sense. While everything we publish should be useful (or at least interesting) to committed EAs, our audience is the wider penumbra of people who care about improving the world but aren’t necessarily routine readers of, say, the EA forum.
In a nutshell: we’re for Bayes’ theorem, acknowledging our uncertainty, weird hypotheticals, and well constructed sentences. We’re against easy answers, lazy metaphors, and the end of life as we know it.
While we expect the bulk of our pieces will be about typical EA cause areas (we think they’re important for a reason!), we’re a lot less interested in covering specific topics than in showcasing an “EA-ish” way of thinking about the world. We want to show off what this community does best: finding new ideas, taking them seriously, and investigating them rigorously – all while doing our best to reason under uncertainty.
We’re especially excited about pieces that help readers improve their epistemics and build better models of the world (the kinds of questions you’d see in the world-modeling tag on Less Wrong would all be within scope for us). We’d like to see smart writing about global catastrophic risks aimed at a wider audience, EA methods applied to topics we’ve never thought about, and historical case studies that help us understand the present. Here are a few representative examples of the kinds of questions we’d like to see people tackle:
How can we predict the next pandemic? Are there plausible candidate pathogens outside the usual suspects (flu, pox or coronavirus)?
What economic impacts of AI do we expect to see in the next five years? The next ten? Which industries will be impacted first?
How was Oral Rehydration Therapy developed and rolled out? Why did it take until the 1960s when the underlying mechanism is so simple?
The pessimists are probably right about lab grown meat for human consumption. Is there a niche for it anyway?
Does the typical American cow lead a life worth living?
We’re approaching the 10 year anniversary of the replication crisis: what’s changed, what hasn’t?
Net neutrality was repealed in 2018. At the time, everyone was convinced this would be the end of internet freedom. What’s actually happened since, and why did so many people get it wrong?
What lessons should the biosafety community draw from the Soviet & US cold war bio-warfare programs?
Technology drives agricultural productivity in the US – what are the barriers to bringing that to the developing world?
Effective PPE exists. What would it take to make it wearable and widely available?
What do we know about the evolution of human intelligence, and what, if anything can it tell us about the development of artificial intelligence?
How contingent is scientific progress? Is differential technological development possible, and if so, how can it be steered?
Right now, we’re not interested in pure philosophy, movement evangelism, or meta-EA and other inside baseball. Reports on the health of the community or various internal organizations can be interesting, but they don’t have the kind of broad appeal we’re looking for.
If you’re interested in writing for us, please send a short paragraph explaining your idea (along with a writing sample, if you have one) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to writers, we’re looking for:
Managing Editor: our first full-time hire. To learn more about the role or to apply, check out the job posting on CEA’s website.
Copy Editors and Fact Checkers: These are part-time roles, between ten and thirty hours per month depending on availability. Professional copy-editing experience would be nice, but by no means necessary. Fact-checkers with domain expertise in topics we’re likely to cover are especially valuable.
Web/UX developer: We’re looking for a developer with design and UX experience who can work with our design team to help build the site. We anticipate this role taking three or four months of part-time work, plus further availability on a consulting basis to help troubleshoot problems and implement new features.
Asterisk is fiscally sponsored by the Centre for Effective Altruism and our salary and benefits are managed by CEA, but we are an independent organization and retain full editorial oversight.
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Disappointed it’s not dedicated to asteroid risk.
And it never will be with that attitude! Sounds like you should write a piece on asteroid risk for it!
We’re taking pitches!
Same here to say this
Cool project! Could I ask why it’s called Asterisk?
I liked that it brings up associations with risk, stars/space/a bigger, stranger future, and a healthy dose of pedantry. Part of the “EA mindset” I’m trying to illustrate is the urge to investigate claims in more depth. We like footnotes – hence, Asterisk.
Hoverable footnotes I hope :)
The name seems potentially quite bad. To me, the connotation is that everything in it should be taken with an asterisk. E.g. its meaning as described here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asterisk#Competitive_sports_and_games
Interesting, I wasn’t familiar with this connotation (even if I watch quite a few sports).
To me the name Asterisk is decent, but yeah it might not be a good one if it would be confused with other search results or journals/magazines, like asteriskjournal.org as noted by Azure here
I think they do want to allow speculative, less ‘we know for sure’ claims that are “epistemically signposted” and reasoning transparent. So to some extent that connotation for the asterisk is not so far off.
But I agree that I have heard of “that home run record comes with an asterisk”. But somewhat doubtful this will come to mind in this context.
Very interesting and welcome. This is distinct but has some overlap with the Unjournal .
We should coordinate; some work not relevant for one might be passed to the other, unjournal work might be rewritten for asterisk, and we will face some overlapping implementation issues. Please reach out.
Thank you for commenting this! I have not previously heard of Unjournal, but believe it’s very likely that I will try to use this for feedback (decided after taking a ~5 min look at the link).
This is exciting! If you’ve got this far in your planning yet, I’d love to hear more about how the journal will be promoted and how you plan for readers to find you? Do you have any examples of “user stories”—stories about the kind of reader you’d hope to attract, how they’d find the journal, and what it might lead them to do subsequently?
Where are you expecting to find your audience? (I feel surprisingly ignorant on how journal projects like this bootstrap their way into wider readership)
Could you talk a little about how selections will be chosen? Will there be a peer review process?
Perhaps I should have been clearer in my initial post – Asterisk is a popular magazine, not a scientific journal. I’ll be selecting pieces, with consultation from coworkers and subject matter experts in situations where that’s appropriate.
Very cool to see! I would, however, be quite cautious of infohazards when calling for some areas of biosecurity research and rather consult with experts before publishing such papers.
E.g., “Are there plausible candidate pathogens outside the usual suspects (flu, pox or coronavirus)?” is an exploration of a topic that most EA biosecurity researchers would not like to see circulated widely.
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and I’ve consulted several people working in biosecurity at different organizations. I (edit: currently) think it’s quite plausible to thread the needle of discussing what natural pandemics it’s important to prepare for without giving actionable ideas to bad actors, but I agree it’s something that would have to be treated with caution.
Excellent! I am really glad to see this.
Congratulations Clara! I think this is a really valuable project and am excited to see it come to fruition.
Just a suggestion, but maybe throw a simple landing page up on asteriskmag.com
I recommend Caard as a service for this (happy customer)
Is there a potential naming collision with https://www.asteriskjournal.org ? Are you going with ‘asteriskmag’ as the domain name perhaps?
Yes, asteriskmag is the domain name. I’m not too worried about the name collision – Asterisk Journal is an undergrad arts magazine at Yale (and I went to Yale and never heard of it before I started looking up names for this project).
I just got my physical copy of the inaugural issue and I’m very happy with it! I love the cool-yet-professional design, color schemes, and infographics. I’ve ordered a copy for my parents and a copy for my parents-in-law, with offers to get them subscriptions if they like the first issue, and I’m feeling enthusiastic about this as a way to introduce people to EA-adjacent ideas and worldviews. I personally was nerdsniped into EA, drawn in by the fascinating problems and the efforts to think deeply and clearly about them. That’s the experience I’ve wanted for other people too, but if they weren’t drawn in by GiveWell spreadsheets or some pointers to a sprawling blogosphere, I wasn’t sure what to offer them. I think Asterisk will be a great fit for people like my parents: smart and curious, subscribers to multiple paper newspapers, not super technical or super online. Thanks Asterisk team :)
First issue post.
This is a FABULOUS name! Kudos!
Is there a link to your website, because I didn’t see it in this post.
We’re still working on the design/identity development process, but watch this space.
Nice, sounds like a cool project!
I love the idea , sign me up! Are you planning to also publish this in a printed form? I would be interested in ordering this as a haptic copy as well—if just for the feel of it.
Yes, the magazine will be both print and online.
Issue to look out for: some features of an online presentation are hard to display in print (folding boxes, links, interactives). Probably not a big obstacle, but maybe worth keeping in mind.