Why The Week Rocks

I hate magazines and never read them. Except all the magazines that I read.

I say that only because the magazines I read would be considered (by many avid magazine readers) as weird. This includes trade mags that most of you would find terribly dull but that keep me up to speed on things in my field (Historically Speaking often touches on questions of historical method across historical disciplines, as well as forums on hot debates in those fields; Isis is the definitive review periodical for books in the history of science, one of those things that other fields of history annoyingly don’t have; and so on). But it also includes periodicals I think everyone should read–including Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, but even more importantly (IMO), Science News and The Week. Something really awesome in that last got me to blogging today, which I’ll be getting at presently; but let me digress a bit on SN first.

Science News is a must because all other media do not report science correctly. Not only do they miss 99% of the important stories in scientific and technological progress. But the 1% they do report on, they get entirely wrong, almost all the time. Compare a science story in a mainstream source, with the coverage of the same discovery in Science News, and you’ll often be so appalled you will never get your science news from anywhere else again. Plus you get all those other stories you should be hearing. Isn’t the state of scientific progress across all fields one of the most important things to keep up with? As a citizen, and as a philosopher, it’s absolutely essential. Plus, you know, all those other reasons (e.g., in case you didn’t get the memo, ascience is hella cool).

But the biggest benefit is that if you read Science News for years (or, as in my case, decades), you learn tons and tons of shit about science you never would have otherwise, from field-specific knowledge and terminology, to all kinds of “consilience” stuff, like realizing the connections between everyday materials science and basic physics, or between biology and psychology, or what it really takes for cybernetics to work, or AI, or computer models of the Big Bang, and so on (also, if I don’t understand something in it, like a word or concept, I google around until I do, and being spurred to do that weekly has been a huge benefit to my intellectual development and understanding). Plus SN reminds you that religion doesn’t ever do this. That is, produce enough real advances in human knowledge every week to fill an entire magazine consistently for going on nearly a century now (and you know it won’t cease). The more you read Science News, the more religion looks decisively lame.

But my favorite magazine of all is the weekly The Week. I tried my hand at news weeklies before, and they all suck devil dicks. (That’s slang for wicked awful. Alright, yes, I just made it up. And yes, I should have said greasy devil dicks, in homage to Brian Flemming’s infamous question to me in The God Who Wasn’t There). For a classic example of my profound annoyance at U.S. News & World Report, for example, see my thrashing of it on the subject of love science in Sense and Goodness without God III.10.3, pp. 197-202. (And, hey, that combines my point above about shitty mainstream science news reporting, too! Two birds.) But The Week is different. So different. Radically different. Unparalleled, that kind of different. Better even than Brill’s Content (for those few who ever knew what that was, which I would love to see someone bring back again, at least in concept).

What is The Week? Basically, it’s like a 40-page weekly for-profit RSS feed for worldwide print media. You get one every week (it comes to your doorstep in paper, unless you get the electronic version), and it summarizes all the big stories in newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. It’s the “and abroad” part that’s especially cool. But even the U.S. part is something, because they summarize stories by summarizing sometimes several articles across several periodicals of different political bent, and they do it in half a page or even a quarter of a page or less, plus a ton of quick story summaries of a single paragraph taken from state and municipal papers across the nation and the world. And it’s brilliantly written, when you consider what they are doing here. So you don’t have to read tens of thousands of words to get the gist of what was said across the country on diverse topics by people from diverse perspectives–and in foreign newspapers even. Curious what Nigerian newspapers are saying about the U.S. presidential debates? Or about their own internal politics? What about what Iranian newspapers are saying about the assassinations of their own nuclear scientists? Or what Chinese newspapers are saying about the shift in focus of U.S. military policy to the Pacific (in case you didn’t notice that, BTW; it’s not like U.S. media cover shit we actually want to know). Then read The Week.

The effect of avidly reading The Week is the same as Science News, only it’s history-in-the-making, and world politics and cultures, that you are learning about. All kinds of stuff about, that you would never have learned otherwise. And in the same ways, e.g., you might google something talked about in an article to learn more about it; and multiply that by thousands of items a year, and the benefit to broadening your mind is priceless. And so on. Case in point (and this is what inspired me to write this blog today): Feb. 10 issue (I’m behind a bit; tends to happen), page 14, “Best Columns: International” feature, bottom fifth of the page, “Turkey.” It summarizes an article in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet by Mustafa Akyol.

I’ll just quote it outright (with some stuff snipped for space):

Newt Gingrich professes to revere modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk…He has frequently written about Atatürk and held him up as a model statesman, to the point where the Atatürk Society of America gave Gingrich an award in 2006 in “commemoration of his contribution to publicizing Atatürk’s legacy.” But does the Republican presidential hopeful really understand that legacy? Atatürk was “the greatest and the strictest secularist” in our entire region…[creating] a state free of religious interference, even banning religious garb in the workplace. In the U.S., Gingrich considers secularism “a nightmare” and an abomination. “A country that has been, since 1963, relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have,” Gingrich says … and [he says] “anti-religious bigotry” is responsible for a decline in American morals. So how can Gingrich hold up as a hero the “militantly secular founder of a European one-party state?” The answer can only be that he favors secularism not for Christians but for Muslims, as a bulwark against what he sees as “creeping sharia.” The “obvious double standard” puts the lie to Gingrich’s claims of being an intellectual.

Ouch. But, yeah. “You are correct, sir!”

Now, I actually knew a lot already about the history of Turkey and its atheist national hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; but suppose you didn’t…you would have learned something cool here, plus you might have googled to learn more, and really learned something cool here. So think of what you might learn from other columns, week in and week out. Right above this article, for instance, is an article from Russia about the epidemic of teen suicide there and its relation to horrific flaws in the Russian healthcare system; above that, a panoply of columns from India are summarized regarding the Golden Temple flap (you may be surprised by what Indians are actually saying about that).

And case in point…I didn’t know any of this about Newt Gingrich! I mean, I knew he was a racist douchebag. But just when you thought you’d plumbed the depths of his hypocrisy… Comedian David Cross once quipped about how it pisses him off that he has to read “other countries’ fucking newspapers” to learn about shit happening in his own country. Well, touché, David. Touché.

Subscribe to The Week, people.

(And incredibly, they did not pay me to say that!)


  1. F says

    Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of The Week before, but I’ve subscribed to Science News on and off since I was a young’un. Great stuff. Is it still fairly thin (physically)?

    Similarly, I do know a bit about Atatürk, but I didn’t know about Newt’s “reverence” for him (but I do know Newt is a douchebong and a racist).

    Yeah, I used to watch and read a lot of foreign news when available in English (and even sometimes when it wasn’t, but the gist was available to me) exactly because nearly all US news sources are teh suck.

  2. says

    Is The Week an actual print magazine? Or an RSS feed?

    Also, how does Science News compare to New Scientist? I was thinking of subscribing to the latter, because I hear about it much more and the website is very nice, but I’d like to consider alternatives before I take the plunge.

    • says

      Dan: Is The Week an actual print magazine? Or an RSS feed?

      Print, of course. The RSS thing was just an analogy. But I’ve just made this clearer in the original blog. Thanks for noting the possible confusion.

      Also, how does Science News compare to New Scientist? I was thinking of subscribing to the latter, because I hear about it much more and the website is very nice, but I’d like to consider alternatives before I take the plunge.

      I have not read NS so I can’t answer that. I would love it if someone did a compare and contrast here for me. It claims to be “the most comprehensive” weekly (which can only be a veiled diss on SN), so it would be worth it to know.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    Speaking of magazines, you’re going to love the March 2012 issue of National Geographic. {sarcasm} In the Footsteps of the Apostles

    And what of the saint’s relics? Are the remains entombed in the sarcophagus in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice really his? What of the skull in Alexandria that the Coptic Church claims belongs to the saint? What of the relic, possibly a bone fragment, said to be Mark’s, given to Egypt by the Vatican in 1968, in effect as an apology for the ninth-century theft? Are any of these relics, including that tiny piece of bone in the church in Kerala attributed to Thomas, genuine?
    “It’s not important if they have the real bones or not,” Ortalli said, “because in the Middle Ages they had a very different mentality. You could have 50 fingers of a saint. It wasn’t a problem.”

  4. says

    Does the The Week have any political orientation? As far as I know publications like The Nation have a left-wing bias while publications like The Weekly Standard have a right-wing bias. If I am going to invest money and time in educating myself, I would prefer something independent or middle-of-the-road. After being a progressive for a number of years, I find myself becoming more and more moderate/centrist in my views.

    • says

      Matthew: Regarding its political bent, I’d say The Week is “British neutral,” that is, it’s actually a UK company (and the original version is still published there), and in my experience it maintains political neutrality in terms of what that would mean in the UK, which is slightly left of center by U.S. standards, only because we are so bizarrely extreme in our conservative side (many conservative publications here are a joke, as much as any Berkeley vegan flower power weekly would be; whereas most major liberal publications at least try to be professional and objective, e.g. they will actually fairly present both sides [in fact sometimes beyond reason], which is something most conservative pubs don’t do well [not that liberal pubs always do it well either]).

      For example, in The Week most stories are selected and reported completely apolitically. But when there is a major story that is reported very differently by both political wings, The Week will produce an amalgamated article that tells you the gist of what each side said (sometimes from multiple sources each; so, you’ll hear political commentary from Forbes next to the LA Times, or the gist of what Krauthammer said next to the gist of what Huffington said). And when they select editorials to feature (and summarize), I have seen those come from conservative commentators and periodicals as often as not. In fact, this is one of the reasons I love The Week. No one else does this, really.

      Of course, the effect of this is often not good for the conservative side. Even fairly represented, juxtaposing their arguments with the other side’s rarely makes them look good. But that wouldn’t be the fault of The Week. By the same token, sometimes the liberals look dumb in comparison. It’s notable that they generally just let each side speak for itself (they aim at honestly representing what they meant and that’s it). The reader then evaluates.

  5. Stan Brooks says

    Thanks Richard!!

    I’m a former subscriber of The Week, and because of this post, have renewed my subscription via my Nook tablet, which makes it far easier for me to cart it about with me to boring meetings (surreptitiously of course), medical appointments and the like. I agree, it is a gem among news magazines. And double thanks for suggesting Science News. Can’t afford the subscription fee, but will get it when I can afford it (now here’s the place where one could wish to call out to Jebus for support, ahh, but to no avail).

  6. G.Shelley says

    How does science news compare with the big three monthly science magazines (Discover, Scientific American and Popular Science)? I’ve had subscription offers from them before, but not taken it up as I felt I have enough science magazines and I barely get the time to read the ones I do get

    • says

      G.Shelley: How does science news compare with the big three monthly science magazines (Discover, Scientific American and Popular Science)?

      Those are 80% ads, they are bulky and heavy and annoying to carry around, and their articles are too long, and for that reason, too selective and too few (so they don’t actually report on what’s happening in the sciences, they just report a few things they want to report on), and they don’t just report the facts but act like Time magazine or something and try to find “the story” and spin everything to fit the framework they’ve chosen. They are also verbose (their articles could be cut to a third with zero loss of information content). All the things I hate about magazines. That’s why I like Science News: it’s exactly the opposite on every count.

  7. Dave says

    Great post. Reading widely is always a good investment. It has been for me, though I often find it difficult not just to find the time, but also the energy to read careful. Personally, I read The Economist and Nature.