Asimov Press

Making sense of biological progress.

Biotechnology will soon touch nearly every aspect of our lives.

A century ago, two young researchers extracted insulin from dogs and used the molecule to treat people with diabetes. In the 1950s, the U.S.D.A. bred screwworms, sterilized them with x-rays and airdropped them over Texas to decimate invasive screwworm populations, which killed hundreds of thousands of cattle each year. The human insulin gene was cloned into bacteria in 1978. Dolly the Sheep was cloned in 1996.

For a long time, such stories were relatively rare. Now they seem to happen every month.

Dozens of cell and gene therapies have been FDA-approved. Engineered microbes convert steel factory waste into ethanol. Some vaccines are designed on computers. And 95 percent of livestock in America are fed with genetically modified crops. Our food and medical systems are already reliant upon biotechnology. In a few decades, so too will just about everything else.

Asimov Press exists to make sense of these swift developments and the concomitant risks that emerge alongside them. We publish narrative, data-driven pieces that make sense of biotechnology and its applications, deconvolute messy ideas, and contextualize new ones. Our goal is to publish articles and books that will be read and revisited long after they were written.

Asimov Press is an editorially-independent publishing team funded by Asimov. We are:

Mission-Driven: Biotechnology is the most impactful development of the 21st century. By publishing insightful, narrative articles, we aim to explain its utility, weigh its risks, and bring a new generation of careful builders into the field.

Vigilant:
While biotechnology has the capacity to reduce suffering, it also has concomitant risks that we take extremely seriously. Asimov Press has a moral imperative to guide readers and researchers to do the right things with these emerging capabilities.

Mechanistic: Science is not magic. Even the most inspiring outcomes in biology have biophysical explanations. Our pieces are mechanistic, precise, and clear. They deeply explain how things work and why.

Fair: We are excited by the good that biotechnology can do for the world, but there are often better ways to accomplish the same goals. We are not here to evangelize. Our articles are charitable to, or steelman, alternative approaches.

Data-driven:
Our articles do not rely on hype or hyperbole. They provide quantitative evidence, demonstrate probabilistic reasoning, and are assiduously fact-checked. When factual errors are found in an article, we update them with a correction.

Builders:
Asimov Press aims to build a vibrant, intellectual community within biotechnology. Our goal is to create a thoughtful network of writers and readers, who, while interested in theory, are even more interested in how things work and what we can actually make happen.

Pitch Guide

Founded in 2023, Asimov Press is a publishing venture that aims to make sense of this era of biology. We publish four Issues of our digital magazine each year, which feature long-form articles, Q&As, photo essays, and historical notes.

We welcome pitches from writers who can make sense of biology’s impacts on climate, energy, security, agriculture, materials, and medicine. Our authors are typically researchers or policy experts with extensive knowledge in their field or journalists with a deep background in the biotechnology beat.

On occasion, we reach out to writers with specific assignments. If you’d like to be added to our database of freelance journalists, please send a message to editors@asimov.com with your name and topics of interest. We are seeking stories with the following characteristics:

Clarity:
An Asimov Press piece should be clear and accessible. Steven Pinker reminds us, “The better you know something, the less you remember about how hard it was to learn. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.” We want to avoid the curse of knowledge and publish pieces that are capable of simplifying complicated ideas while remaining rigorous and well-reasoned. Like all good writing, an Asimov Press piece shows rather than tells.

Steelmanned: Our pieces strive to be mechanistic, clearly explaining how things work at a molecular level. They do not rely on hype or hyperbole and are charitable to alternative approaches that achieve the same ends. In other words, they clearly answer the question: “Is biotechnology really the best way to solve this problem?”

Fact-checking: We fact check every article. Writers should provide references, sources, data, or charts to support claims.

Your pitch should contain enough information that the commissioning editors have a sense of where the story will go and what evidence you have to support your claims. It should clearly convey the problem, approaches to solve it, and the role played by biotechnology. A good pitch answers the questions: What will readers take away from the piece? Why is this important and timely? Why are you in a unique position to tell this story?

We want evidence-backed stories driven by a sense of urgency and wonder.
We don’t want desultory explorations of a topic, pieces that respond to discrete papers or news, or PR for your company.

Please send pitches and other questions to editors@asimov.com. Include “PITCH” in the email’s subject line, and include the full pitch within the body of the e-mail.

Article Formats

Essays
An essay should explain a new way of thinking or doing. These pieces are centered around a single thesis statement, and should thus be shorter than a Deep Dive. We strive to publish “timeless” essays that will inspire readers, and open up their eyes to a new facet of biotechnology. We’re enamored by classic essays, such as Feynman’s There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom and Hamming’s You and Your Research.  Additional modern examples, focused on biology, include: Is cultivated meat for real? and Biology is more theoretical than physics. We pay $1,500 for essays.

Deep Dives
Data-driven explorations of a story, technology, place, or person. Note that a topic is not a story. Deep dives have a specific angle or thesis. They outline the central characters, clearly describe key challenges, and articulate how biotechnology — or other means — are being used to solve them. These articles shed light on how hard-won progress can be, and in so doing, help us better appreciate how far humanity has come. We’re particularly fond of long-form articles such as: Why We Didn’t Get a Malaria Vaccine Sooner, Peak Oil Fantasy, and Salt, Sugar, Water, Zinc: How Scientists Learned to Treat the 20th Century’s Biggest Killer of Children. We pay $2,000 for deep dives.

Speculative Fiction
We seek works of fiction that imagine positive, and plausible, biological futures. We’re after pieces in which science, rather than characters or plot, is the focus and explanations of technologies are detailed and mechanistic. What might the world look like if a certain kind of biotechnology existed? What is the cost of not developing this technology? We’re excited by fiction that is evocative enough to encourage researchers to overcome a bottleneck or develop a new idea. We deeply admire stories such as Lena, Story of Your Life, and They May As Well Grow on Trees. If pitching a work of fiction, please send a full draft in your email. We pay $1,000 for short stories.

Notes & History (1,000-1,500 words)
These are brief pieces on interesting, but not well-known, aspects or events in biotechnology. This could be about the first field trials of an engineered bacteria, or about the scientists who want to use a gene drive to exterminate rats, or about that time the U.S. Department of Agriculture dumped billions of x-ray sterilized screwworms over Texas. This category is purposely broad. It’s reserved for those moments where readers think, “No way! That actually happened?”

Interviews
We seek to publish interviews with leading authorities that make sense of, or provide context for, unfolding events in biotechnology. Please pitch us with your interview idea, and we’ll work together to make it happen. We’re especially intrigued by interviews that humanize people, clearly articulate their ideas, and could help more people contribute to an open research problem. Excellent examples include Feeding the World Without Sunlight with Mike Hinge, What the Webb Space Telescope will Show Us Next with Jane Rigby, and the 80,000 Hours podcast with Kevin Esvelt.

Books and Book Chapters
We commission full length book projects, in addition to edited book chapters and essays adapted from books.

Photo Essays
Biotechnology is not only done in sterile, white-walled molecular biology laboratories. There are entire research facilities devoted to algae, for example, and mosquito-rearing factories working to eradicate malaria. What do these places look like inside? Photo essays should strive to demystify biotechnology, showcasing the equipment, people, and places on the front lines of biological solutions and security. We’re inspired by photo essays such as Seaflooding, The Anthropocene Project, and Lagos, Glimpsed from Seven Vantages.

Team

Niko McCarty is a founding editor at Asimov Press. He is also a curriculum specialist at MIT, the co-founder of a writing fellowship for scientists, and the author of Codon, a biotechnology newsletter. Niko grew up in the Chicago suburbs, lives in Cambridge, and holds various degrees from Imperial College London, Caltech, and NYU. Email: niko@asimov.com // Twitter: @NikoMcCarty

Xander Balwit is a founding editor at Asimov Press. She arrived at biotech because of an unremitting interest in animal welfare. An experienced writer and editor, Xander wants to encourage more people to articulate and understand how biotech can provide solutions to our most pressing problems. Email: xander@asimov.com // Twitter: @AlexandraBalwit

Merrick Pierson Smela is a contributing editor at Asimov Press and a graduate student at Harvard University.


Advisors


Saloni Dattani
, Researcher at Our World in Data & Co-Founder at Works in Progress
Tessa Alexanian, Ending Bioweapons Fellow at The Council on Strategic Risks
Tom Ellis, Professor of Synthetic Genome Engineering at Imperial College London
Tony Kulesa, Principal at Pillar VC & Co-Founder of Petri