I'm Jim. I'm a doctor, teacher, and journalist. My specialty is preventive medicine. I'm a lecturer at Yale School of Public Health, and I covered the pandemic for The Atlantic, where I started as an editor in 2012 (and did a video series and podcast). My book Clean is a cultural history of hygiene and the soap and skin-care industries. My dog is Moses. That's probably enough about me.
What is The Body?
A body is what we carry around, obviously, but it's also a collective. So I thought the name was fitting. Health tends to be framed as an individual pursuit. In some ways, it is. In most ways, it's not.
I hope The Body can be a community where we discuss news and other useful information about keeping well, separately and together. Ideally it will feel like a reprieve from the clickbait, panic, and oversimplification that tend to dominate news feeds (especially in the domains of science and health).
I see this new platform as a mix between a blog, newsletter, and social media. It's meant for writing that's more conversational, spontaneous, and interactive than what might appear in a book or medical journal or magazine. I think that lends itself to exploring uncertainty, having ongoing conversations, asking questions, sharing interesting things that didn't make news, adding context, and figuring out problems over time.
Who is it for?
It's for readers who want to keep up with the latest in health and medicine but who don't live online or subscribe to every scientific journal. Hopefully some experts will be among the group, but no expertise is required.
The emphasis will be on prevention over treatment, so we'll focus more on day-to-day habits and universal subjects (food, sleep, relationships, aging, alcohol, skin, vaccines, caffeine, etc.) than on, say, polycystic kidney disease. But obviously if there's a promising new treatment for COVID-19 (or a fascinating breakthrough for polycystic kidney disease), we'll talk about that, too.
How do I read it?
Just sign up, and I'll send you a weekly email. No Facebook account needed.
I'll share important/interesting updates from the week in health, with context and analysis. Letters will discuss major news stories, as well as things like research that didn't get enough attention, great science journalism, interesting incremental developments in medicine, policy updates worth understanding, and weird stories from the wellness industry.
I'll also answer questions from readers, and pose questions to the group. I'll write to you like I would any acquaintance who doesn't spend all day reading and talking about health.
If you like getting information that way, welcome. If you find it weird or grating or offensively heavy on em-dashes and parentheses, that's okay. I'll also continue to do (and direct readers to) more formal magazine, newspaper, and book writing.
This platform is still in development, and new features should be online in coming weeks. Among them, you'll be able to reply to my emails and let me know what's on your mind. (For now, you can comment on this site, but I understand that isn't ideal for personal things.) In the meantime, I'll experiment with different approaches and adapt to what's useful and interesting to you (especially in terms of length, frequency, format).
I also hope to commission occasional work from other writers, and to do Q&As with people who have unique perspectives, including readers. Please let me know if there's something you've written/read/produced/wondered that might be of interest to other readers and warrant inclusion in a letter.
A few other logistical notes: The emails will also appear on this site (body.bulletin.com), as will some other writing, which I'll post occasionally. When I post things here, I have the option to also send them out as emails. I know most people have overflowing inboxes (I'll get to this), so I'll listen to your feedback on how much I should send versus leave solely on this site. Also, for now, everything is free. Depending on levels of interest, ambitions of projects, and variables like whether the comments get overwhelmed by people dropping in to hawk diet pills, I may ask regular readers to contribute a very small amount to help keep things productive.
I thought you hated email?
I'm glad you brought that up. Probably only a few people remember this, but years ago I published a semi-serious take called "How to Email." Among other suggestions, I thought it would be simpler if everyone agreed to do away with pleasantries like salutations and "Thanks!" or "Best," and also try to limit emails to three sentences. (This was sort of a joke, but it also tends to work as a general rule for a lot of impersonal correspondence.) The suggestion really angered some people. They told me so in some very long emails.
So they were correct, and you are a terrible hypocrite.
That's one way to look at it.
One of the themes that comes up often in medicine is that circumstances change, and recommendations change, and people use those moments to discredit experts/science itself. Look back at the past year and a half of the pandemic for myriad examples, like when we were told not to wear masks, and to focus on disinfecting surfaces. Sometimes this sort of shift means that the experts screwed up. More often, that's just how science is supposed to work. As we learn more, and as circumstances change, guidelines and practices are supposed to change. If they don't, that's probably bad.
Do we really need more emails?
A few things have changed since I wrote that story in [checks calendar], good lord, 2016. At the time, I was an editor, so I basically lived in my inbox. I couldn't do justice to the people who deserved thoughtful replies, and so I came to resent all email as a constant reminder of how inadequate I was. Every incoming message was just a task to be dealt with, even when it was a nice email that said good things. I managed to stay very near inbox zero, but it also sucked any joy out of the process. It was unhealthy.
So now I'm back to embracing the deluge and just doing my best. I eventually even regained my capacity to enjoy email. I love to keep in touch with regular readers and hear perspectives, concerns, and questions I wouldn't have thought to ask.
I don't fully understand the newsletter boom. I'm not sure anyone does. But I do see this medium allowing for a way of writing that's personal and experimental and casual. It could be a place for thoughtful discussions that tend to be pretty rare on the internet. Spaces like this could add to (not replace) newspaper and magazine journalism. We might engage here with readers who wouldn't otherwise hear or believe everything just as you or I may. That matters because, of course, the subject matter isn't just academic. We're in an ongoing, historic, global mass-casualty event, and somewhere around a third of the population doesn't want to get vaccinated. We manage to divide ourselves over even the simplest things, like wearing masks. And the problems aren't helped by writing off concerns or shouting that people need to trust science or believe in facts. (I think most people think they believe in facts?)
Something new feels especially worth trying right now. The pandemic changed us all in some ways. For me, among other things, it helped reorient me toward meaningful connection. I'm not saying that email or comment threads can replace really getting to know people, but maybe it's a chance to come a little closer to building a reliable, trustworthy community than we do elsewhere on the internet.
We'll see. Let me know what you think, and where you'd like this to go. Comment, or email me, or DM me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
If you know someone who might be interested in joining the conversation, I'd appreciate it if you'd send this to them.