Elena Conis

Research Expertise and Interest

history of medicine, history of public health, environmental health, environmental history, US history, global health history, pesticides, vaccines, infectious disease, epidemics, science communication, public understanding of science, measles, mumps, chicken pox, hepatitis B, HPV, smallpox, polio

Research Description

Elena Conis is a writer and historian of medicine, public health, and the environment. She is the author of How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT; Vaccine Nation: America's Changing Relationship with Immunization; and, with Aimee Medeiros and Sandra Eder, Pink and Blue: Gender, Culture and the Health of Children.

Conis's research focuses on scientific controversies, science denial, and the public understanding of science, and has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institutes of Health/National Library of Medicine, and the Science History Institute. She is an affiliate of Berkeley's History Department and Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society, and the Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Previously, she was a professor of history and the Mellon Fellow in Health and Humanities at Emory University and an award-winning health columnist and reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

In the News

Remembering the history of polio can help in finding a coronavirus vaccine

On a spring morning in 1955, a pair of press officers greeted a mob of reporters in a stately hall on the University of Michigan campus. The officers had hot news: A clinical trial of the long-awaited polio vaccine had proved it to be safe and effective. The reporters nearly rioted in their scramble to spread the word. Once they did, church bells rang, and people ran into the streets to cheer.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
April 8, 2020
Wayne Freedman
We've been really fortunate to live in a time relatively free of the scariest pandemics of human history, says journalism professor and medical historian Elena Conis, in an interview about the historical context of COVID-19. Speaking of the polio pandemic, she says: "Movie theaters closed, church services cancelled, festivals cancelled, kids kept home from schools, swimming pools closed -- it shut down American towns." Link to video.
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