The new year brings new beginnings—fresh thinking, honest assessments, and a general determination to do things better. This rarely lasts.
And so it goes in 2016, which within a week has already dashed many hopes for happier times. China’s persistent meddling in its markets has mostly backfired, sending jitters through global markets, especially in developing economies. The cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is heating up. The conflict in Syria is as horrifying as ever. North Korea provocatively tested some sort of bomb near the Chinese border. America’s social ills brought its president to tears on national television.
First impressions matter, and 2016 hasn’t made a great one. Indeed, one high-profile consultancy says that 2016 is shaping up to be “the most volatile and challenging” year in a very long time. That’s disconcerting, given how lousy last year was, in many ways.
But it is darkest before the dawn. For investors, at least, there is no evidence that trading in January holds any predictive power for the year as a whole. The US economy is chugging along, and there are reasons to believe that even Europe may finally be getting its economic act together. And let’s not forget that for all the turmoil in 2015, many big markets ended the year more or less flat.
In investing, as in life, it often pays to zig when others zag. When asked to make a bullish case for 2016, one fund manager told Quartz, “I don’t see the wheels coming off—it definitely could be worse.” Not exactly a cause for celebration, but it will do amid the general doom and gloom of the past week. Hang in there, there’s a lot of the year left to come.—Jason Karaian
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The forgotten victim of the Saudi-Iran spat. The breakdown in relations between Tehran and Riyadh, prompted by the Saudis’ execution of a prominent Shia cleric, roiled the Middle East this week. But few paid attention to Yemen, site of an Iran-Saudi proxy war, which, Bobby Ghosh argues, will suffer the brunt of the collateral damage.
Why it’s so hard to build a hydrogen bomb. North Korea said it tested one this week, but it probably didn’t, and one reason is they’re really hard to make. Akshat Rathi provides a short guide to nuclear-weapon design and explains what Kim Jong-un is most likely up to.
What makes creative people’s brains different. Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman explain the research that discovered that creative people aren’t exceptionally intelligent, but they are very good at allowing contradictory parts of their brain and personality to interact—making, literally, the most of themselves.
How to keep women in science. The default assumption among educators is that girls need to be lured into science with stories of famous female scientists or feminizing portrayals. Wrong, says Shannon Palus; the problem is plain and simple sexism in the scientific community, and the solution is to challenge that head-on.
Ask Emily: The economics of student debt and TV-watching. We launch our regular economics advice column with Emily Oster, professor at Brown University, with two questions: How to balance austerity with enjoyment when you have debt to pay off, and how to choose which shows to watch, treating your time as an economic resource.
Got an everyday problem that could use an economist’s point of view? Send Emily your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
The paradox of virtual-reality realism. We’re expecting VR to become ever more photo-realistic as it gets better. We should expect the opposite, says Tom Vanderbilt in Nautilus: For most purposes, the virtual spaces we create will, like cartoons, be “not realistic, but believable”—clearly artificial, yet useful for a certain purpose.
Freud’s revenge. Cognitive-behavioral therapy was hailed as a no-nonsense, results-oriented substitute for a discredited Freudian psychoanalysis. But more and more studies have shown it doesn’t have lasting effects. Oliver Burkeman at the Guardian explains how little we really know about how therapies work; and that maybe it’s simply the relationship with a therapist, of any school, that counts the most.
Scandinavia’s refugee gold rush. A pair of Norwegian hospitality tycoons are making a mint by running refugee shelters for the government to house the influx of asylum seekers. Some on the left call them “welfare profiteers.” Businessweek’s Bill Donahue explores their business, and comes away relatively impressed.
How Israel makes autistic kids into intelligence analysts. Shira Rubin writes in the Atlantic on the Israeli army’s unit 9900, which drafts autistic teens with unusually strong perceptual skills, and puts them to work on analyzing satellite imagery. It gives the country an unconventional but effective way of preparing kids with autism to become productive adults.
The most profound video game ever? That Dragon, Cancer is a complex, painful, surrealistic game about caring for a young boy as tumors ravage his body—and made by a game designer who went through just that experience. In Wired, Jason Tanz tells how the game was made, describes what it’s like to play, and produces a haunting, thought-provoking rumination on what a game—so often constrained to a few limited tropes—can be.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Freudian epigrams, and satellite images to email@example.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.