Every scientific breakthrough is driven by a compelling human drama — the scientists grappling with the fear of failure and the anticipation of success, and at the same time, challenging and inspiring us all to look at the world and its possibilities. Beginning this Sunday, through the lens of six visionaries — Angela Bassett, Peter Berg, Paul Giamatti, Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard and Brett Ratner — we meet the gifted mavericks of modern science and technology who are uncovering scientific innovations in water, pandemics, cyborg technology, energy, longevity and brain science in the new National Geographic Channel series BREAKTHROUGH (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET).
Fighting Pandemics, the first episode of BREAKTHROUGH, centers on the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which caught the world’s attention. That devastating outbreak forced scientists and researchers to act fast and think hard about how we should handle crises like these in the future.
We invited some of our favorite science and education experts to join the heated conversation and weigh in on how we can become more proactive and increase our preparedness as a nation for Fighting Pandemics.
Here’s what the experts had to say…
ScienceBlogs’ Greg Laden, a biological anthropologist and science communicator, addresses the ways in which diseases like Ebola can be misconceived by the public and how that relates to preparedness. In his blog, Laden notes: “There is another aspect of preparation that I think is important. This is the way in which we misconceive Ebola or other diseases, because of a combination of incorrect thinking (about diseases), lack of information, and lack of experience.” He goes on to name other ways we can better prepare for such an outbreak such as, more research, more public education and furthermore, more education on the ground in areas that could be affected. Laden explains, “It is especially important that populations in regions that may be affected by pandemics can prepare by laying a groundwork of education and new thinking about what these diseases are and how to spot them and cope with them.”
The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) takes a look at the topic from a historical perspective, noting, “The laws of probability say that anything will happen that can – and that means something that has happened numerous times throughout history is even more likely to occur again.” Looking to past learnings, ACSH reasons, “Where Ebola was really happening, in West Africa, and taxing an already weak public health infrastructure, we can find a model for what might happen in a truly baffling pandemic, like with the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century, which wiped out almost 25 percent of Europe, and The Influenza Pandemic which swept across the United States in 1918 and killed more people than The Great War.”
Hank Campbell, founder of Science 2.0 and author of the Amazon best-seller “Science Left Behind,” recognizes the daunting task at hand. He notes: “In the United States, the Flu Pandemic of 1918 was almost a hundred years ago, but it might as well have been a thousand, in terms of how we do things differently. Though the media whipped everyone into a frenzy about Bird Flu in 2009, and again about Ebola in 2014, we still have engaged in little real preparation for the next one.” Campbell acknowledges the challenge of getting people to think about disaster before it strikes, but then addresses the hair-raising question of future pandemics with a question of his own: “Do pandemics lead to survival of the epidemiologically fittest? In other words, are they nature’s way of making sure disease does not send us the way of the dinosaurs?”
Ann Reid, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, asks one favor of the public: “Let’s all take a deep breath and put the risk of a devastating pandemic in perspective.” Having spent nearly a decade studying the influenza virus, which she calls the “granddaddy of all pandemics” in the early 1900s, Reid knows a thing or two about outbreaks. “We know what we need to do: invest in basic virology and epidemiology research, build up health care capacity around the world, establish and maintain a comprehensive surveillance, diagnostics, and detection system, and make sure that public health authorities and emergency relief agencies around the world communicate with and trust each other, so that they’re ready to share information and coordinate their activities quickly and effectively,” says Reid.
Editor-in-chief of FluTrackers, Sharon Sanders, addresses the need for concern in this area by explaining that her team “believes a mind shift can be created by increasing education and stressing the need for the general public to plan how they should respond on a personal level.” She continues, “Each person, each family and each local community needs to take responsibility and plan and prepare for their security.”
Author and advocate C.C. Chapman is brutally honest in expressing his view on his blog: “Sadly, I think it is going to take an outbreak on our own soil before we start paying attention. Africa is a faraway place and most people think that just because something like this happens there, it would never make it to our shores.” Chapman continues, “Hopefully it will be dealt with after an outbreak and not a full blown pandemic.”
A big thanks to all of our experts above who joined in this enthralling discussion, and don’t forget to tune in to BREAKTHROUGH: Fighting Pandemics, this Sunday, Nov. 1, at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on NGC.