The best science journalism doesn’t read like science journalism at all; it reads like a mystery. And Amit Katwala’s latest Wired feature, which chronicles how a Taiwanese eye surgeon set out to solve his country’s decades-long slide into severe nearsightedness (and ends on one of the more charming kickers I can remember), knows no good solution comes without sleuthin’.
In 1999, the government convened a group of experts in medicine and education to try and fix the problem. Jen-Yee Wu, who worked at the Ministry of Education and had done his doctoral thesis on eyesight protection, was asked to write a set of guidelines for schools to address nearsightedness. Later that year, he published a thin green book full of advice for teachers. It paid careful attention to desk height (to keep texts the right distance from the eyes) and room lighting, and advocated eye relaxation exercises, including a guided massage of points around the eyes and face. The book also advised giving children more space in their notebooks to pen the intricate characters that make up written Mandarin. And it formalized the 30/10 rule: a 10-minute break to stare into the distance after every half hour of reading or looking at a screen.
None of it worked. Nearsightedness rates continued to climb because, as it turned out, Taiwan, and the world, had been thinking about how to address myopia completely wrong.