The Cumulative Impact of Having the Wrong Name

In another universe, Karl Starr has already given a TED talk

Karla Starr
7 min readAug 20, 2022


One of the most disheartening conversations of my life happened at a meetup for science writers at a bar in New York about six years ago. I was venting to a friend, “John,” about not getting a response from a Professor after multiple emails; an interview would have been ideal, but I’d have settled for a PDF of his latest study. I reached out to others in that line of research for a quote, but nothing.

“You didn’t even get the PDF?” he asked.

“Nope. And I mentioned that I was writing a book for Penguin.”

“Huh. Who was this?”

John, who was just “looking around for article ideas,” had also reached out to that same Professor that week.

While I got no response, John got an interview shortly after emailing. 😑

We discussed and estimated that I had to send at least 5 emails to get a response — typically passed off to a lab assistant, grad student, or communications department for booking in the distant future — while he had no problems getting phone time and PDFs that week, if not the same day.

The world needs more stock photos of “frustrated woman” / Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Remember Bruce Willis’s realization at the end of The Sixth Sense — when everything he’d been through became perfectly clear, horrible, and heartbreaking? That was me, at the bar and on the way home: I thought back to all of the emails I’d sent over the past several years, unanswered and dismissed after such careful crafting. All of those lingering questions. All of that time spent searching and waiting and hoping.

I thought about editors at publications I’d contacted; the additional research and pitches they requested before disappearing. I thought about John’s speedy responses from sources for interviews, phone time with editors to “bounce around some ideas,” and the grace of several rounds of edits — all while getting paid more money per article.

What would my world be like if I always got responses? If people shared and subscribed to my stuff as much as his? How much more work do I have to do to in order to make the same



Karla Starr

Speaker & author x2, inc. Making Numbers Count (w/ Chip Heath). Behavioral science, cultural history, numbers.