Science-focused digital magazines you should know about

Friday Brainstorm S2 E11 🧠

Hello - happy Friday!

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. I’ve taken a pause on sending out this newsletter because I wasn’t enjoying it as much and I felt like the quality was slipping.

I started this newsletter because I wanted to think out loud about what I’m learning and share it with people that want to follow along. I’m going to slowly ease back into publishing more consistently.

Today, I wanted to share some of the best science-focused digital magazines I follow. Naturally, I spend a lot of time reading content to write this newsletter and I’d like to think that I’ve stumbled on a few gems along the way.

Most people get their fill from the occasional feature in popular publications like The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Atlantic. If you’re interested in the intersection of tech and science, you’ve probably come across Slate, Verge, or Wired.

These are usually great, but it’s not unusual that scientific findings are misinterpreted or the implications are grossly exaggerated. It’s rare to find well-researched and thought-provoking science articles that are also engaging and beautifully written.

Here are the best science publications I follow plus a recent article I loved from them.


NEO.LIFE

“We ask the big questions about how we’re engineering our own evolution. How biology and technology are coming together to help us all live healthier, happier, and longer lives.”

NEO.LIFE covers the latest research and developments in neuroscience, genetics, longevity, and the microbiome. They have two main formats:

  • essays – traditional, full-length feature stories written by

  • dispatches – short summaries of research papers from the frontiers of science

Recent articleJoel Garreau argues that new technologies with the potential to transform us physically and cognitively demand new rituals – akin to baptisms, marriages, and funerals – to embrace these critical moments in a person’s life.

Think about how we’ve handled our first primitive enhancements – Botox injections, Viagra prescriptions, even pacemaker implants. These are all met with a touch of embarrassment even though the number of procedures grows every year. Rather than being sheepish about the lines we are crossing when we augment ourselves, we should start marking these rites of passage as an important part of the future of humanity.

We don’t think twice about giving a child their first smartphone, which is maybe why so many develop unhealthy relationships with their devices. Imagine if we had a ritual to mark this critical moment, to show the young person that technology is wonderful but it also necessitates restraint and intentional use.

In the future, people might more regularly use cognitive implants to augment their natural abilities. Garreau thinks we might start formally marking these occasions, inviting those we know from all walks of life to these ceremonies. Maybe that would help knit together the different kinds of human natures to come. Read more.

Check out the NEO.LIFE for more ideas on the frontier of science.


Aeon & Psyche

“A sanctuary for serious thinking. We ask the big questions and find the freshest, most original answers, provided by leading thinkers on science, philosophy, society and the arts.”

Aeon publishes both long-form explorations of deep issues and short documentaries. Psyche is the sister magazine, started in May 2020, with a focus on psychology and philosophy. There, you can find shorter articles and in-depth, expert-written guides.

Recent article – Pia Callesen, a therapist and metacognitive specialist, wrote a guide about breaking free from excessive worrying and unwanted ruminations.

Common strategies to control anxiety usually backfire and lead to further worries, creating a cycle of overthinking. In fact, many people view overthinking as an innate personality trait, but Callesen argues that it’s a pattern or habit that we fall into, meaning that we can learn to change it.

The critical realization is that everyone can learn to be in control of their thoughts, rather than letting overthinking be something that happens to us.

  • To develop the skill of letting go of unwanted thoughts, Callesen suggests the following exercise – tune into 3 or more environmental sounds and cycle through them, giving your full attention to each one for 10 seconds. The aim is to become familiar with shifting your attention and eventually applying it to your thoughts.

  • The unpleasant symptoms that come from overthinking are influenced by the time you spend engaging with these thoughts. She recommends attempting to postpone unwanted thoughts until a specific time of day where you can freely worry and ruminate. This is to prevent repressing your thoughts completely.

The prospect letting go of these strategies might be scary to those that have lifelong habits of overthinking, because it gives people a sense of control and safety. To challenge these beliefs, Callesen suggests asking yourself – have these patterns of thought ever led to better decisions, less worrying and more control? Read more.

Check out Aeon and Psyche for thought-provoking science pieces.


Nautilus

“We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Combining the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers.”

Each month, the editors at Nautilus choose a single topic and every Thursday they publish a new chapter on that topic. The content spans essays, investigative reports, videos, graphic stories, games, and fiction.

Recent article – Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a world-class scientist with a talent for engaging writing, was a recent contributor. We delved into her unintuitive research on how emotions are made in the last issue of this newsletter.

In the article, Dr. Barrett discussed a couple of outdated scientific myths that regularly make their way into news stories. The most common myth is thinking of the brain as having three distinct layers — one for surviving, one for feeling, and one for thinking:

  • The deepest layer, or lizard brain, which we allegedly inherited from ancient reptiles, is said to house our survival instincts.

  • The middle layer, dubbed the limbic system, supposedly contains ancient parts for emotion that we inherited from prehistoric mammals.

  • The outermost layer, part of the cerebral cortex, is said to be uniquely human and the source of rational thought; it’s known as the neocortex (“new cortex”).

It’s easy to see why this account is so popular — everyone has felt the inner tug-of-war between desire and reason. It also paints the story of how humans, with our unique capacity for rationality, triumphed over our animal nature and now rule the planet.

The truth is that natural selection did not aim itself at us; we’re not superior to other animals. Evolution does not add layers to brain anatomy like geological layers of sedimentary rock; each species has brains that are uniquely and effectively adapted to their environment. Our neocortex is not more evolved, it’s just different. Read more.

Check out Nautilus for more unique perspectives on science.


Bonus Publications 🎁

Massive Science delivers bleeding-edge scientific research and expertise. The content is written by a growing community of over 2,000 scientists, with formats ranging from:

Futurity is a nonprofit site supported by university partners in an effort to share research news directly with the public. It features the latest discoveries at top research universities, spanning various content formats including videos, interviews, and audio.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of Friday Brainstorm! What got you thinking? Anything to add? Let me know by replying to this email.

—Shamay