How The World Has Changed! Science During The 40 Years Of 'Morning Edition'
When Morning Edition first went on the air on Nov. 5, 1979, AIDS was an unknown acronym. And the ideas of a cloned mammal or a map of human DNA may as well have been science fiction.
But much has changed in the past four decades. During that time, spectacular advances across the scientific disciplines have had a major impact on the way we live today.
In 1981, Morning Edition aired a story about a strange set of cancers called Kaposi's sarcoma.
"In the last three months, 28 cases of Kaposi's sarcoma have been reported in this country, all occurring among gay men, most of them young," Laurie Garrett reported.
No one knew it at the time, but those cases were the first indication of the AIDS epidemic that was to come. And that story was the first mention of the disease on NPR.
At first, AIDS was largely viewed as a disease of gay people. But it was never only that, a fact that hit home to many people in 1991 when basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson — who was married and heterosexual — announced to the world that he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
When he made the announcement, Johnson also said he planned to live a long time, despite having the virus.
Many people were skeptical. HIV infection was frequently a death sentence in the early days of the epidemic.
But medical researchers had already found a few drugs that were helpful at keeping AIDS at bay, and now there are a bevy of options for treating HIV infection and AIDS. These days, HIV infection is typically a manageable disease — and Johnson is still alive.
AIDS is just one of the diseases scientists have made progress controlling during the Morning Edition era. Now, parents can prevent many genetic diseases before a pregnancy is even begun. Genetic testing can ensure that only embryos not carrying a disease gene — the cystic fibrosis gene, for example — are implanted via IVF.
Almost all advances in genetic medicine rely heavily on a project to map and sequence all of the DNA in a human body.
But in 1986 when the idea was first proposed, many people, including many scientists, scoffed. Sequencing all 3 billion DNA base pairs in our 23 pairs of chromosomes was thought too Herculean a task.
"We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome. Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind."
Climate change is another topic that has been in the news for as long as Morning Edition has been on the air. As early as 1982, the show was reporting on scientists' concerns about what was then known as the greenhouse effect.
"In the past year, scientists have presented evidence that the polar ice caps are slowly melting," Lili Francklyn reported in a story from that year. "And some researchers feel that we'll see climate changes within the next decade."
For a while, climate change seemed to be a nonpartisan issue. In 2008, Republican Newt Gingrich and Democrat Nancy Pelosi recorded a TV commercial together in which they say they "do agree our country must take action to address climate change."
But by 2017, that consensus had almost totally broken down. President Trump, who once famously called climate change a "hoax," announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement that committed countries to taking steps to slow the rise of global temperatures. The U.S. formally requested withdrawal earlier this week.
Of all the transformative scientific advances in the past 40 years, perhaps the one that has affected the most lives is the rise of the Internet. Developed initially with support from the U.S. Department of Defense and then the National Science Foundation for national security and scientific research, the Internet now connects the world as never before.
When Morning Edition first went on the air, few people, if any, would have imagined that companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon would come to be part of the S&P 500. At the time, computers were mainly used by enthusiasts, scientists and engineers.
An announcement in 1981 from an industry executive signaled that computers were going mainstream.
"Well, today I'm pleased to tell you that we're introducing the IBM personal computer. It's a landmark announcement for our division and our company and we believe it will set a new standard for the industry," said George Conrades of IBM.
That people would carry small devices in their pockets capable of connecting them to the world would also have been unthinkable. Yet today more than 2 billion people own smartphones, and the number is growing rapidly around the world.
Indeed, when Morning Edition went on the air in 1979, you had to live near a broadcast tower in the United States in order to hear the program. Now you can tune in from a cafe in Kathmandu or a bar in Barcelona, and for that, you can thank the Internet.
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