Author Steven Johnson on the Good News of the Century
“It took us four years just to identify the virus that caused AIDS in the ’80s,” says author Steven Johnson. “Imagine COVID where it’s four years before we even know what is causing the outbreak. That’s what would have happened if we just shifted 20 years, 30 years earlier in terms of when this outbreak happened.”
Johnson is the author of the new book Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer (Riverhead Books), which is also running as a series on PBS. He says that the rapid advance in vaccine technology is best understood in the context of a series of innovations that more than doubled the life expectancy of the human race over the last 100 years. Extra Life explores how innovations in epidemiological statistics, artificial fertilizer, toilets, and sanitation systems, along with vaccines and other measures, have allowed billions of people to flourish until old age. Reason‘s Nick Gillespie spoke with Johnson in June.
Q: What’s the elevator pitch for Extra Life?
A: If you rewind the clock to the end of the Spanish flu in 1920, life expectancy globally was probably somewhere around 35. Today, even in the middle of the worst pandemic since then, global life expectancy is just over 72. We have doubled the length of the average human life. If a newspaper came out once a century, that would be the headline.
Q: Is that progress appreciated?
A: Slow, incremental progress is the least interesting thing from a news-cycle perspective. Secondly, it’s unlike ot
Article from Latest – Reason.com