Like many people, I have been watching the recent measles outbreak with mounting dismay. Since January 1, 176 cases of measles have been reported.
This, for a disease the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared eradicated in the U.S. 15 years ago. That more people are at risk today than a decade ago is sad. We should be moving forward, not backward. But how we got here is perhaps even sadder.
As someone who makes a living communicating science, I can’t help but notice an extraordinary disconnect on the issue of vaccines. On one side, there are those who believe a discredited and de-licensed doctor, Andrew Wakefield, as well as various celebrity anti-vaxxers. Politicians who can’t seem to decide where they stand only make things worse.
On the other side, there’s science. Study after study has shown vaccines to be safe. The CDC estimates they will save 732,000 lives and prevent 21 million hospital visits among children born in the past 20 years. Also, there is no documented connection between vaccines and the anti-vaxxers’ central concern, autism. Even Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, comes down strongly in favor of immunization.
So why the dissonance? At the risk of sounding clichéd, I think that often we fear what we don’t understand. Gain a little insight and fear slips away. Plus, understanding things is fun. I mean, how else will you lord your towering intellect over your friends? It’s with this spirit that we undertake our 10th annual How It Works issue. In it, we rip apart some of the world’s coolest and most important stuff to see what makes it tick. This year, we dig into a cutting-edge cancer treatment, virtual reality, black holes, a drone that follows its pilot, and much more. One item we consciously left off the list: vaccines. That’s because there’s so much credible information out there already, if you’re curious enough to look.
In line with explaining how things work, I’d also like to shed some light into our operation. This month, we’re switching our iPad edition platform. Popular Science Plus is free to print subscribers, so if you own an iPad and haven’t yet signed up for it, well, you should–because it’s awesome. Download the app, go to “My Account,” fill in the credentials, and you’re all set. If you’re already a Popular Science Plus reader, the change going forward won’t mean a whole lot–other than faster download times, which are always nice. All you need to do is update the app. The How It Works issue will be there waiting for you.
Enjoy the magazine.
This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Popular Science, under the title “The Power of Understanding.”