Pushing back against liars, pseudo-science, and the "Endarkenment".
If you care about reducing the suffering of children (and of parents, and brothers, and sisters, and husbands, and wives, and everyone else), looking around in America right now can seem pretty bleak. We have a leading presidential candidate promising to destroy ("burn down") the public health apparatus of the United States, one of the greatest in the world. A third of the population has simply abandoned the Enlightenment. Our friends and neighbors spread nonsense claims that vaccines cause "turbo-cancer", or that viruses don't exist, or that germ theory is false. One can be forgiven for believing that the drive to understand the universe around us and to push back against human suffering is faltering. It can feel like "The Endarkenment" is upon us.
But it's not true.
A decade or so ago, I was involved in an effort to develop the technology for "no needles" continuous transdermal glucose monitoring, with the ability to continuously monitor and report a diabetic person's glucose level to their phone. We failed badly at our attempt, as did many companies before us. At a pool party this weekend, I met a gentleman wearing just such a monitor. You've almost certainly seen them or know someone who wears one. In twelve years, we went from "not possible, despite expending billions of dollars and millions of man-hours" to "absolutely ordinary".
A decade ago, a woman died of cervical cancer every minute or two. That number is falling off a cliff (we have a vaccine against it now!), and by the time our young daughters are full grown, their peers (outside of certain religious communities) will look back on cervical cancer with the same sense of "quaint terror" that us folks in 2023 hold for Scarlet Fever.
We hammered smallpox and polio into the ground. We haven't won the final battle against HIV yet, but we've driven it to its knees, and rendered it no longer a death sentence. We're hammering SARS-CoV-2 into the ground, we're hammering RSV into the ground, we're hammering malaria into the ground, and we finally have the tools to begin pushing back against pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, and melanoma. The battle against disease and human suffering is steeply uphill, but we're climbing that hill, and building machines to help us climb that hill faster.
It's true that our society is littered with people that are happy to promote the suffering of children (and parents, and siblings, and loved ones) for their own political, or religious, or personal aggrandizement, and they will happily get your children killed. I don't know how to cure that scourge, but for those folks reading this who don't have a direct view into the institutions and mechanisms of saving lives, I promise, the pro-disease folks are losing.
While it's true that a large section of our society has lapsed into superstition and ignorance, don't lose track of the reality that another segment of our society lands robots on comets using rockets, harpoons, and math.
If you are the parent of school age children, teach them how to ask and answer questions about the universe around us.