Brain Reel #26

Irresponsible VCs, TikTok faves, successful people are rejected more

Hey you lot,

I’m writing this from my bed, at 3pm on a Thursday, on day 14 of this stupid January lurgy that everyone seems to have. But I just read this incredibly moving, angering, beautiful, tragic piece of writing and basically it gave me a bit of a kick up the backside and a light dose of: ‘Gemma you’ve really got it quite good’.

(If you need some motivation to get off your arse and write, as frankly it’s really the only positive action you can take from this piece, give it a read.)

On with the reel!

(P.S If you read this before 10pm, I’m going to be live on BBC Radio 3 tonight on Free Thinking, chatting ‘Psychohistory: Isaac Asimov and guiding the future’…full details of the episode here (I’m assuming if you read this after, the recording will also be at this link))


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

So Felix Capital have raised a new $300m fund to keep investing in so-called ‘digital lifestyle’ startups. They’ve invested in companies such as Peloton, Farfetch and Deliveroo.

Oh, and Goop*.

I think we need to have some serious conversations about what it means to be a responsible VC in 2020. There’s plenty out there about impact investing at the pension fund scale, and lots of commentary around those who have oil stocks, but I rarely see anything that really picks apart how early(ish) stage investors spread their monies.

Whenever I’ve challenged - or even simply asked - a VC about investing in companies which are irresponsible, problematic, or even just pointless, they tell me that the only way for the VC model to work is to cynically invest in companies sure to succeed (which most likely aren’t those which make the world better), to then fund risks on the ones which might not have as good a chance (but which are societally more beneficial). So basically, invest in Goop as their bad behaviour does result in profit, and then use that to fund something better on the side.

So I’m left with a few questions:

  1. Is it a lack of skill on the VC side? Are they unable to invest more intelligently / help the better companies find ways of making money to save lazily investing in others?

  2. Is the model of VC fundamentally ill-fit-for-purpose, if we’re looking for a funding mechanism there to make the world a better place?

  3. Are the consumers / the market (/ we) to blame? These companies shouldn’t work but they do - and it’s because people buy their shit.

More thinking required on my end - would love your thoughts to help navigate? Hit reply if you also have some ponderings here.

*I’m not going to go into why this is a problem here, as there’s plenty out there already about their open and active flogging of pseudoscientific products, and problematic exploitation of the fear, vulnerability and self-loathing that celebrity and popular culture inject.


📖 Book Reel 📖

After last week’s rambles about me feeling a bit like I was treading water, since then THINGS have happened!

Such as:

  • Another big mail out to journalists asking if they want review copies (are you a journalist reading this who did not get this email? You know what to do…)

  • Smoke & Mirrors is now on Goodreads! Yay! Can’t wait for my beloved (yes I know the UX is bad) books website to become a place I obsessively check the reviews of my own book on instead of browsing and compiling lists of my own reads! (If you’re on there and still need to do your good deed for today, go take a wee look and click the ‘Want to Read’ button so that when I check it tomorrow it has some stats I can marvel at!)

  • Got confirmed as a guest for a pretty big podcast airing April 30th and I’m already quite nervous?

  • Got confirmed as a BOOK CLUB BOOK whaaaaaaaat

  • Getting 3 new blurbs in from three lovely people who wrote lovely words about Smoke & Mirrors

  • Neil Gaiman liked one of my tweets

Essentially, I guess I was right when I said the treading feeling would be over within the week…

I have a feeling this isn’t going to slow any time soon, so I’m going to stock up on vegetables, get rid of this stupid lurgy so I can get back to the gym, and brace myself for the wave of both craziness as well as possibly disappointing lack-of-things to come.

2020 let’s do this.

Pre-order links for ‘SMOKE & MIRRORS: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’, released April 23rd 2020: Amazon / Foyles / Waterstones / Blackwells / Wordery / Book Depository

Or if you prefer a big fancy button:

Pre-order and feel great about life!


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

I got turned down for a grant I’d applied for today. It reminded me of this article I wrote a while back about how successful people get rejected more. Sharing here as I find myself going back and reading my own words every now and again - when those feelings of failure and imposter syndrome and ‘not good enough’ rise to the top.

Maybe the ghost of Gemma-past will give you a wee boost too?

Successful People Get Rejected More


📌 Tip Reel 📌

What I’m reading right now (I put my reviews on my Instagram and Goodreads, if you fancy it):

  • Nein!: Standing up to Hitler (Paddy Ashdown tells, for the first time, the story of those at the very top of Hitler’s Germany who tried first to prevent the Second World War and then to deny Hitler victory.)

If you’re not already following the Washington Post on TikTok, you’re missing out. I’ve watched their latest one on Watergate, with the long-time book critic Ron Charles, maybe about 23 times already today. (If you cba with TikTok, follow the account’s mastermind Dave Jorgenson on Twitter - he posts most of them there too). (I also *love* @ghosthoney on TikTok too - this one in particular).

I wrote about The Syllabus in a previous edition - they’re now doing curated podcast feeds, get involved.

It seems I really enjoy YouTube video essays about films (Lindsay Ellis is a particular favourite), and recently I discovered Taylor Williams through his brilliant video on the ‘confusing lore of CATS or (the morality of Jellicles and non-Jellicles)’. Go watch.


➡️ Next Reel ➡️

  • 27 Jan: London, UK - Echo Chamber Club meetup ‘Believing the Truth’ (attendee)

  • 29 Jan: London, UK - Google’s Future of Insurance breakfast (moderator)

  • 1-5 Mar: Bratislava, Slovakia - Writing retreat with writer pal Phil!

  • 12-13 Mar: Paris, France - Hello Tomorrow (host / moderator)

  • 21-25 Mar: Borneo - Biodiversity mission (press)

  • 26 Mar: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Thought For Food (host / moderator)


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is co-host of the Science: Disrupt podcast, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Brain Reel #25

How to trust science, QUIVERING, long-term decisions in London

Happy New Year pals!

Normally by this point in January, I’m all set with my goals and to-dos and monthly plans and so on, but I’m still feeling very untethered. Not in a lost way, mind you, just a sort of floaty ‘what’s happening..?!’ kind of way.

So shout out to all you lot who are feeling guilty about not having done your 2020 plans or generally untethered despite the back-to-work structure - let’s keep floating for another few days, eh?

Here we go - first Brain Reel of 2020…


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

Last week, Nobel Prize winning chemist Professor Frances Arnold took to Twitter to post a brilliantly honest tweet:

Essentially, this means that she and the team behind a May 2019 paper she was involved in decided to retract the work - remove it from the journal it was published in - as there was data missing from a lab notebook and the work was not reproducible (able to be done again and tested by other scientists to confirm the results).

Scientists hardly ever publicly correct work, or admit to failure like this. This should be celebrated. Retractions of papers is normal considering science is built to be self-correcting - when someone notices something wrong, they report and, if the scientists and journal are honest individuals, the paper is retracted. It can be heart-breaking for scientists when this happens - as papers are currency in academia, and papers can take years to come into fruition - but science relies on this kind of behaviour to stay strong and trustworthy.

As Serena Nik-Zainal eloquently pointed out, BBC news covered this, and although the article itself in full is relatively fair, there are a few issues:

It got me thinking about what the best way is to talk about problematic areas of science. Society generally hears either the ‘whizz-bang isn’t science great’ stories of discoveries or rocket launches or whatever else, OR the stories of serious malpractice happening in problematic pharma companies. We rarely hear stories in between.

Science is not flawless. Science is not perfect. Actually, the point of science is to keep proving those before you ‘wrong’, in some sense, by building on knowledge and refining what we know. Science is not there to be this all-knowing deity…it’s there to question and test and explore and self-correct.

As a writer covering not the discoveries nor the ‘whizz-bang’ but more the ‘inside academia’ stories and the little-known companies spinning out of labs, I’m regularly faced with a bit of a dilemma. Do I tell these more complex stories which expose science for what it really is - fallible, complex, not without controversy - and do my best to not have it reduce trust in science overall for those who are faced with that ‘wait science is like WHAT?!’ surprise? Or do I not tell the story out of fear of not doing it well enough, in case I fuel bad actors (anti-vaccine campaigners, climate deniers and so on) who relish stories about how science is fallible, and amplify them for their own means?

I applaud Professor Arnold for being one of the good’uns, and putting science, knowledge and decency above personal career gains. We need more like her, to normalise science for the masses, and keep science honest, fair, and truly self-correcting.

It’s the only way to build trust - real, reflective-of-the-actual-goings-on trust - in the wonderful world of science.


📖 Book Reel 📖

So 2020 is book publishing year and GUYS I’M SO EXCITEDNERVOUSEXCITED!

This bit in between finishing the writing and editing and proofreading, and the book actually hitting bookshelves, is weird. I’m feeling very in-limbo, as there’s actually little I can do right now, as the finalfinalfinal proof is still at the type-setters (we went from it being all done and shiny and not too much changed from the original manuscript, to suddenly and quickly reordering three of the chapters right before Christmas 🙈) and so I can’t send it out to any journalists or people for reviews or podcast or TV bookers or whatever. I feel like I’m in a sort of perpetual planning-not-doing phase, when I was expecting by this point to be ALL HANDS ON DECK.

I’m also waiting for some endorsements to come in from a few people I sent it to before Christmas and LET ME TELL YOU PEOPLE, awaiting blurbs is not remotely a desirable position to be in. It consists of you obsessively checking your email / their social media to see if they’ve finished your book yet or are tweeting about other things that are not your book (and hence aren’t reading your godamn book! HOW DARE THEY? *ahem*)

That doesn’t mean this time is not busy for me - I’m now working on building up pennies so I can take time off over the launch and weeks following it, and of course there’s always something to be done (finding emails of folk to pitch extracts, spotting events I could present the book at, working out what the launch drinks looks like, emailing my poor publicist every 5 minutes with ‘Oh and what about THIS?!’ rambles) - but I guess I wanted to share that sort of treading water feeling I’m feeling right now.

(You guys asked about what writing a book is like! This bit is like this!)

A friend sent me this wonderful piece of writing by Caroline O’Donoghue called ‘A Prayer for Debut Authors’ (also a newsletter!) and it helped A LOT - with this bit perfectly encapsulating what I’m feeling right now:

“I have a certain amount of dread about 2020. My second adult novel, Scenes of a Graphic Nature, comes out in June, which means the first six months will be spent quivering like a whippet over who likes it, whether they like it enough, and for what reasons.”

So, yeah, I guess right now I’m quivering. Or treading water. Or both. But in amongst that is a fair amount of excitement and a big feeling of ‘raring to go’.

And so I’m holding onto that for, let’s be honest, probably only another week before I’m run off my feet once more.

Pre-order links for ‘SMOKE & MIRRORS: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’, released April 23rd 2020: Amazon / Foyles / Waterstones / Blackwells / Wordery / Book Depository

Or if you prefer a big fancy button:

Pre-order and feel great about life!


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

Lawrence and I are moving flat at the start of February and I can’t quite contain my excitement.

We’re doing the opposite of what a lot of people our age (28) seem to be doing right now - we’re moving further into London, away from the young-family-friendly areas, to be closer to the action.

I’ve never really felt like I’ve properly been living in London, and I think that’s most likely because I’ve either been living in a flat that feels like a post-uni flat (curtains falling off, nothing allowed to be put on the walls in case they mark, and all), a flat-share which has always felt like a temporary decision, or one that’s owned by an older mate.

Come to think of it, ever since I moved away from home at 18 to go to university, everywhere I’ve lived has felt temporary. At uni, each place was only for the 9-month term time; in summers, it was just for the summer; in London, it’s always been ‘when I have the money, I’ll get a proper place to live’.

And so it’s extremely exciting to - yes - squirrel away an even bigger portion of our income to have a 2-bed flat in the centre where I can realistically ask my friends to come round for dinner now I’ll have room for a dining table. It’s extremely exciting to - yes - forfeit saving to buy a house to feel like we’re living a city life for real, with our own wee space in the middle of it, with our things and our dreams and our careers. It’s extremely exciting to - yes - pay off someone else’s mortgage to commit to building a home with someone you love (because it’s unfurnished and you’re actually allowed to hang pictures on the wall this time) in the city you call home.

We’re moving flat next month, but it’s more than switching where we pay our rent, borrow square footage and park our belongings. I feel like I’m actually going to be living in London with my partner in crime, as real-life adults of sorts. And regardless of how long we stay there, it’s so nice to feel like I’m making longer-term plans.


📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing, amongst the freelance / travel / London / gym photos - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • [About 60% of the way through and not yet really at the point of understanding what the fuss is about…will persevere…] A Death in the Family (Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about his life with painful honesty. He writes about his childhood and teenage years, his infatuation with rock music, his relationship with his loving yet almost invisible mother and his distant and unpredictable father, and his bewilderment and grief on his father’s death.)

  • [Bloody LOVING this; reading in preparation for ‘Underland’] The Old Ways (Following the tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast ancient network of routes criss-crossing the British Isles and beyond, Robert Macfarlane discovers a lost world - a landscape of the feet and the mind, of pilgrimage and ritual, of stories and ghosts; above all of the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations.)

Awesome Netflix documentaries I’ve watched recently:

  • Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold - beautiful, intimate documentary of Didion’s life and the stories she wrote, as told by her nephew. Sublime.

  • Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator - one of those documentaries that are both unbelievable and thus captivating, whilst also being completely predictable and thus problematic at the same time (in a good way re the documentary; in a bad way re ‘the way the world is’).


➡️ Next Reel ➡️

  • 27 Jan: London, UK - Echo Chamber Club meetup ‘Believing the Truth’ (attendee)

  • 29 Jan: London, UK - Google’s Future of Insurance breakfast (moderator)

  • 1-5 Mar: Bratislava, Slovakia - Writing retreat with writer pal Phil!

  • 12-13 Mar: Paris, France - Hello Tomorrow (host / moderator)

  • [UNDECIDED] 14-19 Mar: Austin, Texas - SXSW (judge, possibly speaker) (I have a spare ticket (maybe 2) to this btw let me know if you fancy it / someone you know is keen…)

  • 21-25 Mar: Borneo - Biodiversity mission (press)

  • 26 Mar: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Thought For Food (host / moderator)


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Brain Reel #24

The wonderful world of insect farming, support authors with pre-orders, action on class

Hey you lot,

How’s everyone’s December going? This weekend I’ve been at my boyfriend’s dad’s place for the first of 3 family Christmas’ and it’s been lovely. I was given books and gin and honestly what else could I possibly ask for?

On with the reel, eh?


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I’ve been thinking about insect farming recently. I interviewed the lovely Antoine Hubert, CEO of French insect farming startup Ynsect, on-stage at Slush last month (you can watch back here) and we had a fab conversation about what the past, present and future of the industry looks like.

Past: insects were outlawed from being used for anything that might end up in human food in the EU. They could only be used in pet food. The tech wasn’t in a place that automated farming could be done cheaply at scale.

Present: some people talk about insects as a high-protein post-gym snack. Nice, but not the real opportunity in the space. Exciting space is in using insects as feed for the fish and meat we eat (as opposed to the unsustainable current forms of feed such as fishmeal), and maybe even using it as a high-protein powdered flour ingredient at the base of baked good such as cookies or bread or whatever. EU regulation currently (as of 2016) only allows for it to be used in fish feed. The tech is there to do it now.

Future: it’s looking like regulation for the other feeds (poultry, pork, beef etc) as well as human meal ingredients could be incoming (for the UK, who knows re Brexit mind you…) and it looks like a $1 trillion market could open right up. A whole new industry of suppliers, processors, farmers and so on is already kicking off, but looks to grow.

Awesome news for food security, for the planet and for human health.

In short, insect farming is fascinating, and it’s one of my favourite industries to follow right now.

(Bonus: of course, there’s a whole section in the food chapter (chapter 1!) all about insects in my upcoming book!)


📖 Book Reel 📖

So SMOKE & MIRRORS is now fully live on Amazon - with the finalised cover and blurb and all sorts! I also recently received an early proof version of the book, all printed out in the paperback format, and safe to say I was pretty teary… It’s all feeling very real indeed my friends!

Here it is:

I wanted to do a wee section here on pre-orders, as A) I’ve had a few people ask what ‘the point’ is in them beyond simply ‘booking in’ a copy early in case you forget, and B) I’ve had some other people asking how they can support me and this book of mine - so I wanted to share some book industry knowledge which, for an avid reader like me, has really changed how I think about buying books.

First piece of knowledge: publishers make decisions about 6 weeks before your book comes out what the ‘print run’ is going to be. This means how many books they will literally print out for the first ‘round’ of sales. Authors are told not to get too hung up on what the print run number is, but below 1,000 is quite disheartening, as it signals a lack of confidence from the publisher in the book’s ability to sell. It also influences how much of an effort a publisher puts into marketing your book - low print run, small amount of ‘free’ publicity; large print run, large push on ‘free’ publicity plus actual marketing budget. And publishers make decisions on how large the print runs will be based on early interest from press, book shops, Amazon projections…and these are all influenced by pre-orders.

Second piece of knowledge: book charts run on a weekly basis. So The Times bestseller list, for example, runs across a 7-day period. Number 1 on the list is the book that sold the most that week. Not in total, just that week. Like music charts. Pre-orders all ‘count’ on the day your book releases - not the days or weeks the orders were placed. So if you get 500 pre-orders, all 500 count on week one of sales…which of course massively increases your chances of making it onto the charts. Which the book industry really do pay attention to. A book on the charts - even at number 10 - has a far higher chance of being put on bookshop tables at the front of the shop, or reviewed in the newspapers, or put up for awards.

Adding these two pieces of knowledge together: pre-orders are super important for the future success of a book, and reduce a lot of the upfront stress for authors before their books hit the shelves.

Of course, I’d really love people to pre-order my book if they intend on buying it anyway, for all of the reasons above, but learning all this in the process of going through the book publishing process has really made me shift the way I buy books. If someone has a book coming out which I want to read, or if I really respect the writer, I now understand the importance of pre-ordering, or buying in the first week. If I don’t discover a book until later in its publishing life, fine, but if I have the chance to support in that extra wee way, I try my best to get involved.

(Plus, what a glorious little surprise to receive a few months later!)

And so yes this is, of course, a self-serving little section of my newsletter, but I’ve had people asking how best they can support or help or promote this book of mine, and the honest answer is simply to pre-order it. If you fancy tweeting or instagramming or facebooking about it after, even better! The numbers are what the book industry are looking at, and I have a big task ahead of me in getting my book out there and read by people!

Click here to pre-order

Some pre-orders from some other awesome writers I’ve already got booked in (let me know if you have a book coming out and I’ll get involved too!):

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

I’ve been thinking about class of late. Actually I think about class, and privilege, quite a lot. Sometimes it’s more from an ‘academic-I-wonder-why-that-is’ perspective, but most of the time it comes more from a place of frustration.

Three recent tweets to illustrate thoughts:

A big part of my recent thinking comes from an internal frustration around privilege particularly amongst peers and the industries I work in (publishing, journalism, science and tech all have *huge* class issues), so it can be very front of mind day-to-day.

All of this is to say I’m keen to *do* something about this next year. I don’t yet know what that looks like - maybe it’s finding more opportunities to spend time in communities like the one I grew up in, or maybe it’s getting more involved in the amazing schemes which already exist in the space (I’ve backed this amazing PressPad crowdfunder and am so hoping they make it to 100%), or maybe it’s starting something in the ‘big idea nonfiction’ book space in terms of encouraging more awesome people to get writing their own big ideas. After the election, I guess it’s a feeling of trying to find something that makes most sense for my own skills, voice and interests.

And I’m psyched about getting started.


📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • A Death in the Family (Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about his life with painful honesty. He writes about his childhood and teenage years, his infatuation with rock music, his relationship with his loving yet almost invisible mother and his distant and unpredictable father, and his bewilderment and grief on his father’s death.)

  • Wonderland (From the greatest names in fantasy and horror comes an anthology of stories inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Within these pages you'll find myriad approaches to Alice, from horror to historical, taking us from the nightmarish reaches of the imagination to tales that will shock, surprise and tug on the heart-strings. So, it's time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or… But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you're already there, can't you see?)

I cannot recommend Laura Cumming’s ‘On Chapel Sands’ highly enough - my book of 2019. Buy it, read it, love it.

The co-founder of Wired magazine and the former executive editor of MIT Tech Review recently started NEO.LIFE (all about the future of life - biotech and beyond), which is launching a book on Kickstarter filled with hopeful visions of the future from folks like George Church, David Eagleman, and Lux Alptraum. Sign up to get an 🚨 when it launches

Lawrence and I have recently got a bit obsessed with BBC TV show Fake or Fortune. I’d never heard of it before November, and now we’ve been watching it from episode 1 right through (we’re almost done which I’m super sad about!!) Essentially it’s this delightful show where people put forward a piece of artwork they are convinced is by someone significant, and the hosts (journalist Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mould) use science, provenance, and connoisseurship to try and prove it one way or the other. Bloody brilliant, honestly. I had to share in case any of you lot, like me a month ago, weren’t aware.


➡️ Next Reel ➡️

  • 29 Jan: London, UK - Google’s Future of Insurance breakfast (moderator)

  • 12-13 Mar: Paris, France - Hello Tomorrow (host / moderator)

  • 14-19 Mar: Austin, Texas - SXSW (judge, possibly speaker) (I have a spare ticket to this btw let me know if you fancy it / someone you know is keen…)

  • 21-25 Mar: Borneo - Biodiversity mission (press)

  • 26 Mar: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Thought For Food (host / moderator)


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Brain Reel #23

The ego fuelling hype, book tour planning, time is so damn precious

Hey you lot,

I’m writing this from a hotel overlooking Lake Windemere. I’ve been here with Lawrence since Thursday, I’ve read 3 books in 3 days, I’m feeling good.

I hope you guys are having a glorious weekend too - whatever might be your equivalent of a ‘glorious weekend’.


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

This week I’ve been pondering the role of the media in covering the deep tech and science startup world.

I’ve been asked to moderate a panel on the theme at Slush (on Fri 22nd, for anyone else going), but I’m the only person from the media on there. And I’m moderating. Which means I’m meant to be the one asking questions…to people all from the business side.

Don’t get me wrong, the panellists are all brilliant people, very capable of having balanced opinions, and I’m excited for the session. But in case I don’t manage to get the nuance out (as the panel might end up being understandably quite one-sided), I wanted to write my thoughts here:

I think the science and tech media has a lot to answer for when it comes to covering complex topics such as quantum computing, biotech and energy - I have literally just wrote a book about it, after all - but I also think that companies, universities and investors are equally complicit in the wrong messages reaching the public. Hype is *needed* to get support behind complex ideas, but what I think those outside the media sometimes fail to understand is that not all journalists are ‘in’ on the hype train. Not all journalists know that what you’re communicating is over the top. They don’t live in your world.

Some journalists *are* cognizant of the game that deep tech hype is, and they’ll write and cover the field accordingly (I try my best in this respect), but unfortunately, the ‘deep tech startup’ beat is not one many outlets have, and one that not many journalists cover (yet). I myself have had issues when pitching stories - the editors ask if it’s a science story, or a tech startup story, or a business story. In reality, it’s all of the above, but it has to land in one of those sections. And when you tell the story through the lens of only one of those sections, hype will be misconstrued, statements will be misunderstood, and the ‘real’ story will be lost in the segmentation of the piece into a category not right for it.

Yes, good journalists check many sources. Yes, good journalists do research. But many journalists take the press release as gospel, under pressure to publish more, quick. And the digital tech PR / media / startup world - which is *far* easier to understand and gain context around - churns out pieces like no one’s business.

When deep tech startups ask how they should get their story out, I *always* say that they should pitch the outlets that understand their world, if they don’t want to be tarnished with the ‘overhyped’ brush. But despite this, many deep tech startups say they want the TechCrunch / WIRED coverage of their raise / release / whatever else. Those outlets are great, but they are not deep tech outlets. So unless you pitch to a deep tech journalist who writes for them (most likely freelance) OR to a deep tech (industry) outlet, your story is almost certainly going to get misconstrued. The ego involved in the bid for the TechCrunch / WIRED piece is getting in the way of the message.

I guess I see it as everyone’s responsibility to do better. The media gets blamed for a lot, and rightly so on some counts, but business, VCs, and academics also need to take responsibility for getting their stories out correctly.

It’s their job too.


📖 Book Reel 📖

As some of you know, I started a wee YouTube series on my book publishing / writing journey!! I’ve posted 4 episodes so far covering agents, publishers, first drafts, research planning and all sorts, and I’d *love* it if you’d give my channel a wee subscribe :)

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • I’ve started planning the ‘tour’ next year after the book comes out. I’m not sure I want to go around bookshops all over the UK (despite my LOVE of bookshops) - mainly because I’ve heard its not the best tactic for nonfiction authors. Instead, I’m planning on doing events at coworking spaces / popular venues for the tech / science / startup crowd, and inviting awesome local scientists / technologists / thinkers to join me on stage for a discussion - reckon this will be far more interesting for folk to attend as opposed to me reading out the intro and then signing copies. If you know of a space, or an awesome person I should invite as a speaker, in your town - do shout! I haven’t finalised the locations, so I’m all ears!

  • I’m travelling a lot the next two weeks, and was really hoping the physical proofread copy would land in my postbox ahead of going away, but alas it has not. Which means I’m probably going to have to read it pretty speedily when I get back to London…and this does not bode well considering how terrible I am at spotting mistakes in my own writing. All of this is to say that if there are any comma splices or spelling errors in the final manuscript, you can blame Royal Mail, ok?

  • Still looking for recommendations for who I should send ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to - this is for people who might write reviews of the books in big media outlets, as well as well-known people who might provide a quote for the front / back cover. Any suggestions of people I should send ARCs to? Hit reply :)

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

So I mentioned I’ve read three books since Thursday - two of those were fiction, which is most likely how I’ve managed to read so much so fast.

I find fiction far easier to get through, but not always quite as fulfilling. Not in the sense that I don’t enjoy it as much - I love reading, full stop - but I’m a bit of a slave to my own wee brain saying things like ‘yeah but this is just LEISURE if you’re not learning’, or ‘if you’re not making connections between the fiction and something _profound_, then it’s *just* reading’ etc.

Yes yes yes I know, I’ve been on holiday and so why does it matter (/ give yourself a break you twat / seriously no wonder you’re approaching burnout woman), but this really is the reality of how my brain works.

I know that I don’t find it easy to do something ‘just for the sake of it’. I know that I’m far too easily pulled into that world of self-care-for-productivity-enhancement.

But I also feel the effects of ‘information FOMO’, as it were. I don’t want to do or read or watch something at the expense of something else. Not because I want to be productive or do more work; but because I’m haunted by the books I’ll never get to read, the TV shows I’ll never get to watch, the countries I’ll never get to visit - there just isn’t enough time. Maybe that’s why recommendations mean so much to me: I want to have some level of confidence that it won’t be a waste of my time.

Maybe it’s because my life is just particularly hectic right now, or because my close family member is particularly ill right now, or because my career feels like it’s recently shifted into the ‘this is it’ phase…whatever it is, time feels so damn precious.

I’m a big fan of the phrase ‘if you worry, you suffer twice’, and so I try my best to not worry about things like wasting time (so I then don’t waste more time worrying and end up spiraling into a hole etc…)

All of that is to say I’m going to take December off client work. I want time. I’m not sure yet what I’ll use it for, but I want to spend less of it - even just for a month - worrying that it’s going to waste.


📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • How To Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables (Should cities be run like businesses? Should city services and infrastructure be run by businesses? The stories and essays in this book explore how a city might look, feel and function if the business models, practices and technologies of 38 different companies were applied to the running of cities. They ask: what would it be like to live in a city administered using the business model of Amazon (or Apple, IKEA, Pornhub, Spotify, Tinder, Uber, etc.) or a city where critical public services are delivered by these companies?)

  • Conan Doyle to the Defence (“After a wealthy woman was brutally murdered in her Glasgow home in 1908, the police found a convenient suspect in Oscar Slater, an immigrant Jewish cardsharp. Though he was known to be innocent, Slater was tried, convicted, and consigned to life at hard labor. Outraged by this injustice, Arthur Conan Doyle, already world renowned as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, used the methods of his most famous character to reinvestigate the case, ultimately winning Slater’s freedom.”)

  • Born to be Posthumous (Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Born to be Posthumous draws back the curtain on the eccentric genius and mysterious life of Edward Gorey.)

I absolutely *loved* The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast from Jamie Bartlett, Georgia Catt and BBC Sounds, and I’ve been very much enjoying following along with Matthew Russell Lee (Inner City Press)’s coverage of Ruja’s brother’s NYC court case. (Get involved with the podcast if you’re not hooked already..!)

I just started subscribing to The Syllabus, by Evgeny Morozov, which is a personalised (to an extent, by categories) newsletter which is so far providing me with some fascinating reads. He pulls together journalism, academic papers (but you can say you want more of one or the other if you like), and all sorts of videos, podcasts and articles from across the internet. Recommend.


➡️ Next Reel ➡️


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Brain Reel #22

Science fraud, responsibility of 'futurists', and who should I send ARCs to?

Hey you lot,

Long time no speak! Hope everyone’s had a cracking last few months :)

It’s been crazy busy with travelling and family stuff for the last wee while, but I’ve been missing chatting to you lot, so much so, that I’m going to give the whole weekly newsletter a shot to see if that might keep me a little more disciplined..!

(/see you in 3 months again haha…)

In all seriousness, this wee newsletter is dead special to me - I love hearing from you guys with each edition going out, and it’s so nice to write without being edited (despite the spelling mistakes…) So I’m excited to prioritise this a bit more, and stop putting it behind the paid client work which doesn’t quite fulfil me in the same way.

With that, shall we?


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot recently on science fraud - I had a piece in The Times a few weeks ago (online version on Raconteur here), and on Wednesday, my profile on the incredible ‘Sherlock Holmes of Science’ Elisabeth Bik publishes on Medium’s science outlet OneZero.

Science fraud is totally fascinating. Instead of trying to trick a system to steal money, like most other forms of fraud, most science fraud is to gain prestige. Yes that might eventually lead to money, but predominantly it’s about getting your name and ‘your’ work published in the most prestigious journals. For those not in academia, it’s the equivalent of a journalist cheating their way into the New York Times or The Guardian ‘just to get the name’.

It’s the strange incentive structures that exist within academia that make it so fascinating to me. Most folk think I like writing about science because new discoveries are cool - and yes there’s an element of that - but mainly it’s because I think the whole system of research, taking inventions to market, and all the bits in between is completely bonkers.

There’s the guy who got caught rejecting papers he was peer reviewing, ensuring the didn’t get published in the journals he was assessing for, who then went off and published them under his own name elsewhere. There’s the woman who edited the images of Pfizer cancer research and published the results with regards to new drugs being created. Like, science crime is completely mad. I don’t understand why more folk don’t follow it..!

Speaking of which, a few places to keep tabs if I’ve convinced you to get involved:


📖 Book Reel 📖

As some of you know, I started a wee YouTube series on my book publishing / writing journey!! I’ve posted 4 episodes so far covering agents, publishers, first drafts, research planning and all sorts, and I’d *love* it if you’d give my channel a wee subscribe :)

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • I have the first cover options now!! We’re doing second versions of a few of the ones the designer mocked up, but in short, I’m super happy with how they’re looking! Hopefully will get to reveal it publicly soon…

  • We’re into the proofreading stage with the manuscript - so I’m waiting for the publisher to send me a physical proof that I’ve to go through WITH A PEN and try to find mistakes. I have *the worst* attention to detail, so, fortunately, a professional proofreader will also be doing this simultaneously.

  • Next will be sending out ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) - this is for people who might write reviews of the books in big media outlets, as well as well-known people who might provide a quote for the front / back cover. Any suggestions of people I should send ARCs to? Hit reply :)

What’s happening with book number 2:

  • I’m heading to lovely Devon in December to work on the proposal for this eeek! 3 days at Urban Writer’s Retreat, and my plan is to get the intro to the proposal (essentially the intro to the book, outlining what it’s about, why it needs written, and why I’m right to write it), the chapter outlines (bullet points on what’s in each one, and the order), and the market comps (similar books / authors), all complete ready for my agent to tell me whether or not we think we can sell it…

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

I’ve been thinking a lot about the responsibility of futurists - ‘futurists’ meaning anyone who writes or speaks about the future (journalists, scientists, public intellectuals, VCs on Twitter, you name it) - and how that links back to the work I do.

(Note: I absolutely detest the term ‘futurist’ and do not identify with it at all, but couldn’t think of another catch-all term right now…)

‘Smoke & Mirrors’ has been a long project, but I’m conscious that by publishing it in April and then moving onto the next thing (whilst promoting the ideas presented in the book), I won’t really get to build upon all those months of research and interviews and thinking. It feels like a shallow way to do things: write a book, put it out into the world, get more Twitter followers, move on.

I didn’t write the book so I could ‘have written a book’ - I wrote it because I genuinely think that if more people feel empowered to critically think in areas they don’t feel expert in, hype wouldn’t have such a powerful (detrimental) role and, ultimately, the world would be a better place.

My book isn’t going to change that alone, so my recent musings have been centred around what I can do (AFTER the book is out and I have some TIME) to keep that wee mission alive. Maybe a research project, maybe more writing on that specific theme, maybe teaching, maybe working with an organisation that already does that - who knows.

Just putting the musing out there, I guess…


📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost (In this investigation into loss, losing and being lost, Rebecca Solnit explores the challenges of living with uncertainty. A Field Guide to Getting Lost takes in subjects as eclectic as memory and mapmaking, Hitchcock movies and Renaissance painting.)

  • Queens of the Kingdom (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most mysterious and secretive societies in modern times and the lives of the women living there is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of all. What do the women of Saudi Arabia really think about their lives?)

  • Born to be Posthumous (Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Born to be Posthumous draws back the curtain on the eccentric genius and mysterious life of Edward Gorey.)

The Netflix documentary ‘Tell Me Who I Am’ is incredible. It’s slow and quiet and beautiful - about twin brothers, one of whom lost his memory at 18, and the other helps fill it back in…but holds back one big family secret in the process. It’s stunning. Go watch.

I stumbled upon this podcast called ‘Our Opinions Are Correct’ with 2 hosts - one a science fiction writer who loves science, one a science journalist who writes science fiction - and their episode on the history of Afrofuturism. It got me thinking and rethinking and pondering and more.


➡️ Next Reel ➡️


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

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