Before There Was Internet Paranoia, There Was Lyndon LaRouche

News spread on Tuesday that Lyndon LaRouche, the dogged global conspiracy theorist and fringe United States presidential candidate, died at age 96. To those familiar with LaRouche’s theories, which for a New Yorker like me means anyone who rode the subway or met friends at a crossroads like Union Square or Columbus Circle, he was InfoWars or 4Chan before the internet was even a thing.

Like those digital instigators, LaRouche promoted an alternate political reality to his followers that deftly incorporated the latest news within a broader conspiratorial framework. In LaRouche’s case, he postulated a roster of villains that over the decades included Jewish bankers, the Rockefellers, the Bushes, and Queen Elizabeth II, all of whom supposedly promoted drugs and sickness to ensure world domination. He spread these ideas primarily through sheer will and by recruiting young followers who would stand in front of folding tables handing out fliers with chaotic designs and outlandish claims.

The current crop of conspiratorial thinkers have a much easier time of it, whether to assert that child actors faked the Newtown school shooting or that vaccines cause autism. As distinctions between sources of information [...]  read more

Journalism Isn’t Dying. It’s Returning to Its Roots

The past few weeks have brought bad news to the hardworking scribes of the news business. Three leading digital outlets—BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and Vice—announced layoffs that left many accomplished journalists unemployed. The fingers of blame quickly pointed to the great bogeymen of our media age—Facebook and Google—and warned about a threat to democracy. After all, if the most savvy and avant-garde of the new digital journalists can’t make a living, what hope is there for old-school newspapers? To many, the health of our democracy is inextricably tied to the health of our journalism: If the latter begins to die, the former must immediately follow.

Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED. Previously he worked on Facebook’s early monetization team, where he headed its targeting efforts. His 2016 memoir, Chaos Monkeys, was a New York Times best seller and NPR Best Book of the Year.

That’s a curious sentiment, because [...]  read more

It’s Time to Rethink Who’s Best Suited for Space Travel

In 1961, a college student named David Myers traveled from Washington, DC, to the US Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Florida to take part in a new experiment. “I had a very limited understanding of what I was getting myself into,” Myers told me recently over email. “So I was extremely curious and mildly excited that first day.”

Myers was one of 11 men specifically recruited by Dr. Ashton Graybiel to help test the feasibility of human spaceflight, at a time when nobody knew whether the human body could withstand a trip beyond our atmosphere. For nearly a decade, the US Navy put 11 eleven men through countless tests. Four of the men spent 12 straight days inside a 20-foot room that rotated constantly. In another experiment, they were sent out to notoriously rough seas off the coast of Nova Scotia. On the boat, the men played cards while the researchers were so overcome with seasickness that they had to cancel the test and go home. Others were sent up in the so-called “Vomit Comet,” an aircraft designed to simulate zero gravity. That’s the test Myers is still most fond of. “This free floating [...]  read more

The Invisible Reality of Brand-New Motherhood on Instagram

In mid-August, days before I gave birth to my first child, I was spending hours staring longingly into my closet. During the course of my pregnancy, I’d gained 50 pounds, fifteen more than the medically recommended amount, and for weeks, I had been wearing the same white dress and white Birkenstocks nearly every day. Pregnancy, but make it fashion! The three pricey maternity outfits I’d purchased from a chic shop downtown that promised their clothes could be “worn for every stage” of pregnancy had stopped fitting by the beginning of my seventh month. I couldn’t wait to be out of this prison: my home, my body, my bed, this one outfit.

My rational mind told me the weight wouldn’t just evaporate immediately upon giving birth, but still, my fingers reached out for the sexy summer dresses in my wardrobe. I fantasized about posting dreamy candids on Instagram of me breastfeeding on my couch wearing stylish 70s high-waisted jeans [...]  read more

Chicago’s New 311 System Is a Huge Win for Public Works

Late last month, just around the part of the holidays when everyone stops tracking the day of the week, Chicago launched its new 311 service, branding the effort “CHI 311.” The city’s existing call center dates back to 1999, when it was introduced to field everyday queries from Chicagoans and free up 911 for genuine emergencies.

The system had grown hopelessly out of date since then—it still relied on telephone calls and a series of paper-based internal processes. In these days of increasingly real-time tracking and highly visible responses, is wasn’t helping the city better serve its citizens. Now Chicago’s new 311 service has been thoroughly overhauled, including who runs it. In a city with a long history of private-public partnerships, the new 311 is not controlled by a private company.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel aggressively pushed to privatize 311 in 2015, telling journalists it would save the city “about a million dollars a year” to run the system using contractors. Hiring an outside operator would save the city from shouldering the cost of sorely needed improvements to a 20-year-old system, he suggested.

City officials weren’t thrilled at the idea. A famously unpleasant privatization effort was still in people’s minds. About 10 years ago, Chicago made an 80-year deal to pass control [...]  read more

How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Shapes a New Political Reality

I’ll just say it: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a social media marketing genius, and very likely a harbinger of a new American political reality.

A summary for those living in a Twitter cave: Last week, a video emerged of a college-age AOC doing a dance routine, mockingly tweeted by what appeared to be a QAnon conspiracy account (since deleted), and later retweeted by Gateway Pundit and memed by The Daily Caller. There was an immediate counter-reaction on the left to the supposed (though possibly overstated) reaction on the right, which sparked a counter-counter-reaction. It was a spectacle all the way down.

Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED. Previously he worked on Facebook’s early monetization team, where he headed its targeting efforts. His 2016 memoir, Chaos Monkeys, was a New York Times best seller and NPR Best Book of the Year.

Amid the media swirl, AOC dropped a very concrete policy proposal on Anderson Cooper:  [...]  read more

The Quest to Topple Science-Stymying Academic Paywalls

Science is built, enhanced, and developed through the open and structured sharing of knowledge. Yet some publishers charge so much for subscriptions to their academic journals that even the libraries of the world’s wealthiest universities such as Harvard are no longer able to afford the prices. Those publishers’ profit margins rival those of the most profitable companies in the world, even though research is largely underwritten by governments, and the publishers don’t pay authors and researchers or the peer reviewers who evaluate those works. How is such an absurd structure able to sustain itself—and how might we change it?

When the World Wide Web emerged in the ’90s, people began predicting a new, more robust era of scholarship based on access to knowledge for all. The internet, which started as a research network, now had an easy-to-use interface and a protocol to connect all of published knowledge, making each citation just a click away … in theory.

Instead, [...]  read more

Children Are Using Emoji for Digital-Age Language Learning

A couple of months ago, NPR reporter Lulu Miller tweeted a question. She knew a 5-year-old who was texting exclusively in emoji, and wondered if were there any studies about kids, too young to read, who used emoji to communicate. People wouldn’t stop tagging me in the thread, but we couldn’t find any existing studies, so I decided to run a survey and make a small corpus of my own.

I wanted to find out not only whether kids were texting emoji but which emoji, and why? How do they organize emoji into sequences and ideas, and how do these early ramblings shift as kids learn to read? So I asked parents and other people with young children in their life to copy-paste in a few examples of their kids’ electronic communication, with names and other identifying details removed. The results are charming and linguistically interesting.

Gretchen McCulloch is WIRED’s Resident Linguist. She’s the cocreator of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics, and her book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language is coming out in July 2019 from Penguin.

When kids use emoji it may seem random—a bunch of silly pictures on a screen. But kids start out learning spoken and signed languages in a similar way: by babbling  [...]  read more

The Most-Read WIRED Ideas Stories of 2018

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To Get Antibiotics Off Your Plate, Vote With Your Wallet

Each year, in the weeks before the New Year, the Food and Drug Administration drops a set of statistics with a wonky title and profound relevance to public health. The “Summary Report On Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals” contains data that pharma companies have given to the FDA on how many antibiotics are sold in the United States to be given to farm animals.

This year’s report was highly anticipated, because it would show the numbers from 2017—the first year to reflect tough restrictions put in place in the last days of the Obama Administration.

The anticipation was justified. The report, which was released Tuesday, shows that sales of antibiotics for use in farm animals dropped significantly in just one year. That drop reduces the possibility that antibiotic use on farms will create resistant bacteria that cause untreatable infections in humans. It is excellent news.

Maryn McKenna (@marynmck) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, and the author of Big Chicken.

But as positive as the numbers are, the news isn’t perfect. The FDA report shows that millions of pounds of antibiotics are still being used in livestock in the United States. So the report that’s a test of strict new regulations also turns out to be a testimony to the limits of regulation. [...]  read more