WBUR announced today a special four-part series on vaccine innovation, hysteria and the spread of disinformation to kick off the third season of its Endless Thread podcast in collaboration with Reddit. For “Infectious: The Strange Past and Surprising Present of Vaccines — and Anti-Vaxxers,” hosts Ben Brock Johnson and Amory Sivertson, along with producer Josh Swartz, will explore the weird, winding story of scientific innovation, medical disasters and online virality that radicalized new parents and created a movement that threatens to send us back to the disease-ridden dark ages.
Infectious features on the ground reporting in Clark County, Washington, where Gov. Jay Inslee recently declared a state of emergency in response to a measles outbreak, as well as conversations with Joan Donovan, Director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, and Dr. Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Infectious seeks to disentangle fact from fiction around one of the most hotly debated topics in our nation’s history.
“Our series takes a deep dive into the controversy, looking at everything from the early discovery of vaccines and the first anti-vaxxers, to the way the digital age has created new platforms to amplify the opposing voices,” said Iris Adler, Executive Director for Programming, Podcasts and Special Projects at WBUR. “Endless Thread takes podcast listeners way beyond the headlines and reductionist arguments to understand how these opposing forces came to be. This series underscores Endless Thread's unique and powerful storytelling; every episode is its own surprising documentary about everything that's weird, wonderful and disconcerting about the Internet.”
Launching Friday, May 3, the series will include the following episodes:
Episode 1: “Scabs, Pus and Puritans” (Friday, May 3)
The problem with being healthy is you completely forget about what it feels like to be sick. In 2019 many people assume that the history of vaccination is recent history--maybe a few centuries of innovation starting in the late 1700s. The truth is much more convoluted: centuries of ancient customs developing slowly into a cycle of extremes--scientific innovation followed by fear, rejection, and sometimes, violence. In the first episode of our series, we explore this recurring cycle and how it echoes still in the fact-challenged year of 2019.
Episode 2: “The Flintstone Dilemma” (Friday, May 3)
There was a time when the measles were common enough to be a source of comedy on TV shows like The Flintstones. So how did we go from joking about the measles to scary reports on the news about a growing international measles emergency? Anti-vaxxers say it’s a scam, while scientists say it’s the anti-vaxxers. In the second episode of our series, we embark on a search for truth, aided by renowned pediatrician Dr. Paul Offit and prominent anti-vaccine activist Del Bigtree. Along the way, we look at how vaccines actually work, fallout from the swine flu pandemic, and the highly controversial suspected link between vaccines and autism.
Episode 3: “First World Facebook Problems”
You can’t tell the story of today’s anti-vax--or “vaccine hesitant”--movement without telling a story of technology and social media. There have always been members of populations who distrust medicine, but the word-of-mouth spread of that distrust has been brought to a fever pitch by the internet. Online, these communities have only become more insular, self-sustaining, and potent. But here’s a question: even if vaccines have saved millions around the world, can we really blame people whose families have suffered great loss for seeing causation instead of correlation? In the third episode of our series we look at the impact the internet has had on vaccine -hesitant communities, and hear from some of the community’s most well-known voices as well as the people who study the galvanizing power of the internet.
Episode 4: "Anatomy of an Outbreak”
Even considering the winding road of scientific advancement and the new expressway that is the internet, what the heck happened in Clark County? With reporting from the ground in Washington and Oregon, we take our fourth episode of the series to trace the societal pathogens, identify the symptoms, and try to prescribe a solution to what some are calling a “canary in the coal mine” for a near future of eroding herd immunity and increasing threats of outbreak for all kinds of diseases in the U.S.
Episode 5: “The Conversation”
At the end of the day, our species only survives if we can communicate. In our fifth and final episode of the series, we follow a group whose radically simple solution for the current controversy has already started to pay dividends. We also tell the stories of people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by the vaccination controversy, and why some of them are still sticking to their guns.
Following Endless Thread’s Infectious series, the 2019 Webby-nominated podcast will return with new episodes every other Friday through December 2019. The new season will feature stories that surprise, delight and confound listeners – like the story of a large, mysterious pile of plates that turned up in the woods of Pennsylvania or a woman who turned to a widowers community on Reddit after her fiancé died. What she found... wasn’t what she expected. Additionally, we’ll be taking a closer look at Hillsong, the Australian megachurch that’s been called a “money-making machine” and whose finances, views on the LGBT community and celebrity followers have been called into question. Episodes are all told with an insider’s eye on Reddit and the trademark warmth, wit and journalistic integrity that Endless Thread fans have come to expect from the podcast.
“We are thrilled to be partnering on a third season of Endless Thread with WBUR, a news source that continues to provide quality and innovative storytelling to the local Boston community and beyond," says Alexandra Riccomini, Senior Director of Business Development & Media Partnerships at Reddit. “Reddit is a place for passion no matter what your interests are, so we look forward to bringing more of our communities and conversations to life through the podcast."
Endless Thread is a Webby Nominee in the category of Podcasts: Technology and a Webby Honoree for Best Mini Series for “Screamtime: Scary Stories From Reddit.” As a Webby Nominee, Endless Thread has been singled out as one of the five best in the world in these categories.