FC94: Information Wants To Be Free

Plus, ground penetrating radar, Blade Runner greenhouses, lab-grown breastmilk, good news on clean energy in Turkey, foster care in the US and blue whale populations off South Georgia.

You might have noticed that a lot of people are suddenly asking you for money on the internet. There’s a reason for that.

The latest round of the media wars is nearing its end, and the subscription model has emerged as a pretty clear winner. On balance, that’s probably a good thing. The advertising model is well past its sell by date, and looks really ugly when supercharged by social media. Subscriptions are better: there’s more good quality content out there than ever before, and creators get paid properly for their work. The downside is that as a consumer it’s a lot more expensive. You’re already paying for multiple streaming services and perhaps one or two newspapers, and now all your favourite email newsletters are suddenly holding their palms out too.

That’s not how we roll. This thing is free and will stay that way for as long as we can keep it going. If newsletters had patron saints, ours would be Aaron Swartz and if you’ve never heard that name, this is a good place to start. His spirit is a felt presence for us in every edition. We’re a bit old school like that. We come from a time when the internet was still a superhighway, where information was shared freely and where the collective goal was to move humanity forward. That version of the internet is still out there even if it’s buried beneath the noise, and we consider ourselves very much a part of that tradition.

That said, this newsletter is certainly not free to produce. Each edition takes us anywhere between 11-12 hours of research and around 6-7 hours to put together. If there’s an op-ed or blog piece to throw in to the mix, it’s often way longer. We’re also curating and choosing the content off the back of many years of experience. It’s a bit like that story of the old mechanic, who was brought in to fix a machine at a factory after multiple experts had failed. After inspecting it for a minute or two, she pulled out a hammer and gently tapped on the engine, which immediately sprung back into life. A week later the owners of the business received an invoice for $10,000. Flabbergasted, they wrote to her asking for an itemised bill, and received this reply:

Tapping with a hammer: $2
Knowing where to tap: $9,998


If you’re a regular reader, then we hope you’ll agree that we know where to tap. We get a lot of pleasure from the process, and are always learning. The thing that makes us happiest is when our subscribers write back or join the discussion in the comment section. Fortunately, we’ve figured out a way to make a living on the side too. Future Crunch isn’t just a newsletter, it’s a speaking and consulting business, and that’s what pays our bills. We certainly don’t begrudge anyone who’s making a living through subscriptions. On the contrary, we far prefer to live in that kind of world (check out this interview with Robert Cottrell, editor of The Browser, and Chris Best, CEO of Substack, for why we think that). However, that’s not the way we’ve chosen to do it.

Instead, we’ve chosen to donate our time and experience and in return ask our readers to donate a little bit of money - and then we give it away! There are people out there that can do a lot with a little, and we figure, why not use this community of readers to get some cash to them instead? In the words of our patron saint, “let’s stop passing the buck by saying our job is just to get the data out there. Let’s decide that our job is to fight for good in the world.” For the last two years, we’ve been putting that principle into action. We provide a channel for our readers to pay a small, voluntary subscription fee, and we send ALL of it to small charities where it has an outsized impact.

Our approach is simple. It has to be a charity that’s using science and technology to do good. We give them a decent chunk of change to spend on anything they want, as long as it’s not salaries. Again, we don’t begrudge people getting paid for good work, but that’s our criteria. Wages vary widely across countries; technology and equipment less so, which is why we prefer to channel our funds in that direction. We also want to make it painless. No paperwork, no application videos or jumping through hoops for something they might not get. Instead, they get an email out the blue saying “awesome work, here’s some money, go wild.” We think we know where to tap, and trust the people we partner with to do good things with what’s been donated. So far, we’ve had 100% hit rate.

So why don’t you join us? Honestly, we try make this newsletter good enough that you’d pay for it even if the money wasn’t going to charity. Think of all the other things you subscribe to. Does anyone give you the range and breadth of news and content we do? How many of them give you that AND then give it all away? Don’t you think that’s worth supporting?

If you like something, pay for it. Come and join the party and stump up a few dollars per edition to help us make the circle wider. We’ve got a few ways for you to subscribe. You can become a Patron, which means you’ll pay a set amount for every edition, and we’ll throw some swag in too. Or you can become a subscriber here on Substack, and pay a one-off fee for the entire year. We take whatever we get via both those channels, and then give it all away.

Become a Patron

Become a Substack subscriber

If you’re not feeling either of those, and your card is maxed out on all your other subscriptions, and you can’t afford to be paying for yet another publication, well that’s okay too. You’ll still get the same content as everyone else. Information wants to be free, and this newsletter does too.

Turkey's renewable energy capacity has increased by 11% every year for the past decade. Clean energy now provides 49% of electricity. Daily Sabah

Following years of pressure from activists, Canadian company Teck Resources is pulling out of planned operations in the oil sands. NYT

Following years of pressure from activists, Norwegian company Equinor is pulling out of planned exploration in the Great Australian Bight. SBS

India says it will stop importing thermal coal in the next four years (no doubt Adani will never bow to years of pressure from activists). Economic Times

Foster care adoptions in the US have reached an all time high. 63,000 kids were adopted in 2018, up by nearly a quarter since 2014. Pew

A landmark ruling by India’s Supreme Court means that women will now be granted the same rights as men in all the country’s armed forces. CNN

Colombia says it will allow hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants to legalise their presence in the country through work permits. Reuters

Between 1990 and 2017, the age-adjusted global death rate for cancer fell by 15%, mostly as a result of the worldwide decline in smoking. OWiD

Singapore has announced a ban on internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040, the first Southeast Asian country to do so. Next Web

China has implemented a complete and permanent ban on the eating, hunting, trading and transportation of all wild animals. SCMP

Blue whale populations are bouncing back. Observers have recorded ‘unprecedented’ numbers in the waters around South Georgia. Independent

There’s a ‘ghost lineage’ in our gene pool that diverged from humans a million years ago, but was still breeding with us 124,000 years ago. Discover

Graphene always seems to be just over the horizon. That might be about to change, thanks to a lithium-graphene battery. Digital Trends

Physicists in New Zealand have cooled three atoms to within a millionth of a degree of absolute zero, observing some extraordinary interactions. Phys.org

MIT is trialling ground-penetrating radar that scans 3m below the surface, allowing autonomous vehicles to drive in all conditions. Extreme Tech

Artificial intelligence has identified a new drug from over 107 million molecules that kills most species of drug-resistant bacteria, and another to treat OCD, speeding up entry into human trials by a factor of five.

Two women have successfully produced the key elements of breastmilk in a lab, directly from human mammary cells. New Harvest

Scientists in Germany have turned human organs transparent giving them a new way to see the cellular architecture of our bodies. STAT

We’ve read a LOT about the future of democracy. This idea, from Hélène Landemore, might be the first time we’ve been convinced. New Yorker

Film nerd heaven. Apparently The Mandalorian ditched greenscreen, and used a massive, dynamic, photo-real 360° LED video wall instead. ASC

Excellent advice, especially for parents. You don't do certain things because you're a type of person. You're that type of person because of the things you do (h/t to the indispensable McKinley Valentine).

A decorated military veteran was accepted to Yale at 52, and attended lectures with a bunch of snowflakes. Everyone was surprised. Medium

Remember Dolly the Sheep? The science has come a long way since then. So how come nobody has cloned a human yet? A true mystery, from STAT

Shocked but pleased to see such a prominent columnist change their mind. David Brooks thinks the nuclear family might have been a mistake. Atlantic

Photographer Tom Hegen has been filming Dutch greenhouses from the air, and it looks like Blade Runner. Mindblowing.

Tane recently spoke at an event for Gartner on the topic of adaptability, and a Hippocratic Oath for data science. It got a pretty decent write-up by a journalist who was there. “Raw data is an oxymoron and a terrible idea. Instead, it should be cooked and consumed with care.” CDO Trends

While on the subject of adaptability… we’re gearing up for a pretty insane run of speaking engagements over the next few weeks, so there’s a chance our next edition might be delayed. If you’re missing us, don’t forget you can always head over to social media for more. Links are below.

That’s it for this edition, thanks for letting us hold out our palms for a bit. We try not to do it too often, and let the content speak for itself. Once again - this newsletter is FREE. We’re not disappearing behind a paywall or creating tiered memberships anytime soon, and we hope you continue to enjoy what we’re doing here. If it’s of value, perhaps you’d consider becoming a paid subscriber. If not, well, you could always share it instead :)

Much love,

Gus, Tane and the rest of the Future Crunch team


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