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The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear Hardcover – January 11, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439158649
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439158647
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

It might be possible to view Mnookin’s book as the final nail in the coffin for the contemporary antivaccine movement, given its recent scientific and legal setbacks. But Mnookin’s own conclusions would likely deny this; as several reviewers approvingly observed, The Panic Virus is just as much about how today’s society deals with information overload as it is about how it confronts disease. Many reviews echoed Mnookin’s condemnation of the American media for allowing false antivaccine findings to flower. Yet they also praised him for avoiding heavy-handedness and unnecessary jargon, even if the book breaks little new ground in the vaccine debate. Critics strongly recommended the book to anyone interested in medicine and public health, as well as to parents who may fear that booster shot.

From Booklist

Over the last three decades, the incidence of autism spectrum disorder, better known simply as autism, has risen dramatically in the U.S., from approximately 1 in 1,000 children to 1 in 110, arousing widespread concern among parents and psychiatrists alike. A few of the many potential possible culprits scientists have targeted are faulty genes and thimerosal, a mercury-laced preservative in vaccines. Former Newsweek senior journalist Mnookin focuses his masterful investigative skills primarily on the latter, highly controversial possibility, illustrating how the current, misguided anti-vaccine movement can be blamed almost equally on panic-driven parents, sensation-hungry media, and PR-challenged health authorities. In making his case, Mnookin covers a wide swathe of medical history, from polio outbreaks to the scare tactics of fringe British researcher Andrew Wakefield, who first forged the dubious vaccine-autism link. While Mnookin dismantles this link convincingly, his argument that multivaccine cocktails have been proven safe is ultimately less persuasive. Still, he’s an able, engaging wordsmith, and this cautionary tale about misinformed medical alarmism is thoroughly compelling. --Carl Hays

More About the Author

Seth Mnookin is the co-director of MIT's Graduate Program of Science Writing and is the author of three books. His most recent, 2011's THE PANIC VIRUS: THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE VACCINE-AUTISM CONTROVERSY, won the National Association of Science Writers Science in Society Book Award, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was named one of The Wall Street Journal's Top 5 Health and Medicine books of the year. In 2006, he published the national bestseller FEEDING THE MONSTER: HOW MONEY, SMARTS AND NERVE TOOK A TEAM TO THE TOP, which chronicled the rise of the Boston Red Sox and their 2004 World Series win. Seth's first book was 2004's HARD NEWS: THE SCANDALS AT THE NEW YORK TIMES AND THEIR MEANING FOR AMERICAN MEDIA, which was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year.

Seth began his career as a rock critic for the now-defunct webzine Addicted to Noise. He's been a police reporter at The Palm Beach Post, a political reporter at Brill's Content, a music columnist at The New York Observer, and a national affairs reporter at Newsweek. Since 2005 he's been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he's reported from Iraq, written about Stephen Colbert, and delved into plagiarism accusations against Dan Brown. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, New York, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Spin, Slate, Salon, and other publications. He graduated from Harvard College in 1994 with a degree in the History of Science and was a 2004 Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. A native of Newton, Massachusetts, he and his wife currently live in Brookline with their two children and adopted dog.

Customer Reviews

A very informative book, and well written.
MS
Back to the book--Seth Mnookin has written a very interesting book and his considerable skill in writing prose is evident on every page.
Jeff S. Smith
His book is based on facts rather than hysteria and it was done in a down-to-earth way that made it a pleasure to read.
Sheila

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Amazon User on March 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent, and (despite what some will say) relatively unbiased account of the history and consequences of anti-vaccine sentiment. As a scientist, it is fascinating, but maddening to read the accounts of entire nationwide organizations devoted to denying what real, peer-reviewed, well-designed science has shown them.
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115 of 126 people found the following review helpful By E. Jacobs on January 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title of my review comes from a quote in the book by Arthur Allen, who was describing what, to date, has been the penultimate courtroom showdown in the debate over vaccines and autism. As a mother, I could not agree more. Decisions related to our children's healthcare are agonizing and should be done carefully, using the best information available. In my opinion, this book summarizes that information as well as can be done when distilling complex science down to its most elemental truths. Even though to me it was pretty clear which side of the debate the author falls on, he nevertheless managed to present both sides of the argument and write a pretty engaging story while at it.

The Panic Virus focuses primarily on the debate over vaccines, thimerosal, and autism, but it doesn't end there. Mnookin doesn't gloss over mistakes that were made by the CDC and other government bodies in overseeing the safety of multiple vaccines. Even as someone who has a lot of respect for the contributions of vaccines to public health, I was taken aback by some of the points he made regarding the lack of rigorous safety studies in some areas related to vaccines.

However, he also presents the science that has demonstrated as conclusively as possible that vaccines do not cause autism. Those looking for the ultimate proof of a negative will not find it here, because it cannot be done using science, as Mnookin points out. He also covers some of the psychological reasons for why people are so willing to believe in junk science, and discusses Andrew Wakefield's chicanery in detail. Finally, he gives a voice to families whose children have been harmed by the anti-vaccination movement.

In fairness, one or two of the more esoteric points about the science are a tiny bit off the mark.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Biogrrl on February 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Reviews for this book in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Nature (the world's top scientific journal), the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, New Scientist, and many, many others have all been highly positive, and that's for a reason: Mnookin has carefully and masterfully parsed the story of the fear that has built up around vaccines and how that happened. But even as he focuses meticulously on the facts and evidence about vaccines, he is compassionate and understanding of the fear--and yes, the panic--that have driven one of the most groundless panic attacks the world has seen over a medical intervention. He does not hesitate to call out his own in this book, pointing to the news media as having played a substantial role in beating the panic drums. As anyone who's spent time in the "vaccine wars" foxholes knows, this issue remains a highly contentious one, and some people will cling to the wrong information and wrong icons no matter what the facts say. But, Mnookin's book isn't for them; it's for anyone who's seriously looking for information and context, whether that's a new parent considering vaccines for their child for the first time or an open-minded explorer trying to trace how it is that the greatest public health success in history came to be demonized. He does it without becoming shrill, with a measured and thoughtful voice throughout. Highly recommended.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Princessleo on March 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Quite simply, this is one of the best books I have read in years. The "topic" is the anti-vaccination movement, and how inaccurate (to put it politely) research led to thousands of parents being scared to have their children vaccinated for fear vaccines cause autism. But the context goes so much further. What Sean Mnookin points out exceptionally clearly is the way in which our politicians and media could be manipulated into giving the research of Andrew Wakefield a credibility it clearly never should have had. It is a case study on how passionate advocates, with the aid of the Internet, can take control of an issue and overwhelm well-done and proper science. It is perhaps one of the most egregious cases of this sort, but, as Mnookin points out, it is certainly not the only one. This book ought to be required reading for every high school student in the land to increase their media literacy and, we might hope, to prevent so many from getting caught up in the next great non-issue of the day.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By E. Fields on May 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I went into this book knowing all about the lying scam artist "Doctor" Wakefield and the flawed "logic" behind anti-vaccine activists. I had read (and loved) "Denialism", and I really just expected more of the same.

I was wrong. This book places the current anti-vaccine/ anti-science plague spreading across America in a historical context in which I had never considered it. It was fascinating to read about the flawed polio trials, and how fear of vaccinations has been with us even though crude, ur-vaccinations were present in 8th Century India.

I don't want to give everything away about this book because Mr. Mnookin writes so wonderfully. To attempt to distill it into a few words here would be unfair. If you are interested in learning more about how and why people cling to anti-scientific beliefs, and how history keeps on repeating itself despite all of our advances, you absolutely must read this book.
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