The National Academies: What You Need to Know About the World Around You

The National Academies

What You Need to Know About the World Around You

What You Need to Know About the World Around You

As debates about issues in science, engineering, and medicine intensify, it can be difficult to separate fact from opinion. The National Academies created the “What You Need to Know About” program, a series of booklets and websites, to introduce topics of social and scientific interest. By providing objective information about the often complex issues that affect us as individuals and as a nation, we hope to help people make better decisions, informed by science.


American society, with a standard of living unprecedented in human history, can attribute a large measure of its success to increasingly sophisticated uses of energy. But that condition has come at a cost—to irreplaceable resources, to the environment, and to our national independence.

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Infectious Disease

Microbes occupy all of our body surfaces, including the skin, gut, and mucous membranes. Most don’t do us any harm—in fact, many help us survive. But there are certain bacteria, viruses, and other microbial life forms that can cause illness, or even death. Learn the basics about microbes and the fascinating relationship we have with them.

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Climate Change

Life on Earth, from lichens to humans, is deeply attuned to the planet’s climate. Through the ages, shifts in conditions have powerfully influenced both ecosystems and civilizations. Now there is abundant evidence that human activities are exerting a growing and potentially long-lasting influence on the climate. Find out what we know—and don’t know—about climate change.

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What Matters Most to You?

Which topics in science, engineering, and medicine concern you the most and are subjects you’d like to understand better? Take a brief survey to help us decide what the next topics in the series should be.

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