- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (January 11, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781439158647
- ISBN-13: 978-1439158647
- ASIN: 1439158649
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 155 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear Hardcover – January 11, 2011
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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.
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
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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. But this should not distract the reader from the brick wall of scientific evidence presented regarding the lack of an association between vaccines and autism. I am surprised that this book has not gotten more media coverage given the topic. It's well-researched, well-written, and about as fair as can be given the heated subject. It's simply appalling that the science of this controversial story does not get the press that the more sensational anti-vaccinators have received. Read it with an open mind.
Overall this book is very informative and even humorous at times. Mnookin presents both sides of the vaccination spectrum- those who are completely opposed and those who wholeheartedly support. He does a great job of explaining how certain groups of individuals could ignore current scientific data on vaccines in favor of listening to fringe doctors who appeal to their emotions. Autism research is discussed in great detail and there are several moving stories and families affected first hand by autism.
I found Panic Virus to be very timely considering the news coverage given to relentless anti-vaccine groups in the U.S. For someone like myself who finds it difficult to deny scientific evidence, the book gave me insight into the tactics of anti-vaccine groups. I can now see how a parent desperately searching for answers as to how their child became suddenly autistic.