I grew up with a relative who had been paralyzed by polio, the viral disease that’s been preventable by vaccine since the 1950s. But not that many people in the U.S. today have that kind of constant reminder of the bad things vaccines can protect you from. Media studies scholar Katherine Foss writes that’s part of the reason vaccination campaigns may need to rethink their messaging.

“Phrasing that aims to encourage immunizations by highlighting their accomplishments implies that some diseases are no longer a threat,” Foss writes.

The triumphant tone of memes like “Got Polio? Me neither. Thanks, Science!” run the risk of making it seem like that once-feared scourge and other vaccine-preventable diseases are relegated to the history books. But the reality is they can come roaring back if vaccination numbers slip.

This week we also liked articles about Willie Nelson, today’s sluggish economic growth and challenges the Food and Drug Administration has faced before.

Maggie Villiger

Senior Science + Technology Editor

For much of the 20th century, Americans were used to seeing people bearing the signs of past polio infection. Genevieve Naylor/Corbis via Getty Images

‘Got polio?’ messaging underscores a vaccine campaign’s success but creates false sense of security as memories of the disease fade in US

Katherine A. Foss, Middle Tennessee State University

Polio vaccines have been a massive public health victory in the US. But purely celebratory messaging overlooks the ongoing threat if vaccination rates fall.

A generation told not to trust anyone over 30 nevertheless adored Vonnegut. Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Why Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to college graduates still matters today

Susan Farrell, College of Charleston

A strain of sorrow and pessimism underlies all of Vonnegut’s fiction, as well as his graduation speeches. But he also insisted that young people cherish those fleeting moments of joy.

Willie Nelson’s face is as iconic as his voice, his songs and his beat-up old guitar. Gary Miller/Getty Images

Willie Nelson at 90: Country music’s elder statesman still on the road again

Jason Mellard, Texas State University

Willie Nelson is an icon who rose to the top of an industry by challenging it – showing that you can be a counterculture figure and activist while remaining as American as apple pie.

The Conversation Quiz 🧠

  • Here’s the first question of this week’s edition:

    Which renowned Black entertainer and civil rights figure died this week at the advanced age of 96?

    1. A. Sidney Poitier
    2. B. Morgan Freeman
    3. C. James Earl Jones
    4. D. Harry Belafonte

    Test your knowledge