R0, mortality rate, and all that: the science of how disease spreads

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The science of how diseases spread

How epidemiology puts the COVID-19 virus in perspective.

For Popular Science:

Scientists, medical professionals, and governments around the world are working to understand how the new respiratory disease ravaging Hubei province spreads—and how bad it could be for the rest of the world. Part of this effort is epidemiology: the study of how infections move through populations and how to control them.

Epidemiology incorporates everything from geography to complex mathematics in its effort to understand the spread of disease. Here are some basic epidemiological concepts that can help you get past the panic, misinformation, and xenophobia that tend to drive conversations around a newly emerging illness.

[read the rest at Popular Science]

“Peanuts”, vaccination, and the limits of persuasion

In my new comic with Maki Naro, we go meta: using a comic to talk about a comic! Specifically, we comics’ed about one of the most beloved comic strips of all time, Charles M. Schulz’ “Peanuts”. While the strip mostly steered clear of the issues of the day, occasionally Schulz did include topical material. One of those stories is still relevant today: vaccinations.

[ This blog is dedicated to tracking my most recent publications. Subscribe to the feed to keep up with all the science stories I write! ]

When “Peanuts” Went All-In on Vaccinations

Charles Schulz used his culturally monolithic comic strip to advocate for public health. But his approach had some serious shortcomings.

panel from "When 'Peanuts' Went All-In on Vaccinations" comic by Maki Naro and me

This panel includes a true fact as well as a bad pun. What else are comics for? [Credit: Maki Naro (art)/moi (words)]

I’m a lifelong fan of “Peanuts”, and occasionally binge-read old stories. A little while back, I noticed Schulz ran multiple pro-vaccination cartoons — nothing overt like saying “vaccinate your kids!”, but definitely normalizing the practice and not-so-subtly nudging his readers to vaccinate. My latest comic with Maki Naro takes a look at where “Peanuts” fits into the wider landscape of vaccine advocacy, including how methods of persuasion can fail badly. Suffice to say that, much as I love “Peanuts”, the strip is incredibly lacking on issues of race.

P.S. Do you like this comic? If so, please pledge to Maki’s and my forthcoming comics collection Who Owns an Asteroid? (from Unbound), which will include many such nonfiction science comics in full color!