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The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear [Hardcover]

Mnookin. Seth
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 429 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ome (11 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439158649
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439158647
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 17.1 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 803,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`...with great journalistic skill teases out personal stories in a highly readable narrative about the rise in vaccine scepticism'
--Financial Times 19/3

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, clear, honest, insightful 29 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This Is a brilliant and fair account of how we got hear. Readable and clear. Although it follows the mainstream science it gives credit to parents of children with autism who helped with initial breakthroughs, and criticises the FDA and CDC where they fell down.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A highly readable account of the way in which emotionally charged theories about the causes of autism, which were actually contradicted by the scientific evidence, were promoted by their advocates and sections of the media highly effectively and with little regard for actual evidence or the harms and deaths that might (and did) result from reduced vaccinations.

At the time of the early hysteria, circa 2002/3 I questioned whether my son should have the MMR vaccine. There seemed to be a strong argument against, but this fell apart when I looked into the matter more deeply. The evidence seemed clear - not vaccinating came with many dangers, to my son and to others who couldn't be vaccinated. By contrast the 'arguments' about the risks of vaccination were speculations based on anecdotes and the reasoning fallacy 'post hoc ergo proptor hoc' (after this therefore because of this). The question had been asked and answered by robust, reputable studies; there was no evidence for a causal link between vaccination and autism.

This book explains why the 'controversy' emerged, but does much more: it helps explain why a combination of widespread misunderstanding of science (and indeed reasoning), self reinforcing conspiracy theories and lazy, sensationalist reporting can create controversies where there should be none, and in the process generate angst and even real harm. A book everyone should read.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and detailed 11 Jan 2011
Mnookin has written a detailed, fascinating account of how it is that some people believe in ridiculous things. The vast majority of the book is taken up with one of the most ridiculous of the modern age - the idea that vaccines cause autism. I'd recommend this book to anyone. It should definitely be in every GP's waiting room.
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2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars ASD Parent & Advocate 18 Jan 2012
Format:Audio CD
Sat down to read Seth Mnookin's Panic Virus, looking for some facts to support my Pro-Vaccination stance. By the end of the introduction Mr.Mnookin lost me; reading further I found the book to be nothing more than a rant against the Anti-Vaccinationist". Also, found his analogies better supported the "other side" than his point of view. The author often contradicts himself from one chapter to the next and takes unnecessary shots at parents.......upper middle class, obsessed with child rearing....as if that is a "bad" thing.
I'm on the vaccination side of the fence; just found this book to be an attack on some already beat up parents......Seth comes across as mean spirited, glib and condescending.

Seth Mnookin,would be better suited as a FOX Pundit than a serious author..... the next Billy O'Reilly maybe ? There are several better written books from the Pro-Vaccination side of the fence on the subject.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  104 reviews
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to read, hard not to. 24 Mar 2011
By Amazon User - Published on Amazon.com
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.
116 of 127 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One side appeals to the heart, the other to the brain 20 Jan 2011
By EJ - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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.
63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compassionate and factual look at vaccine fears 8 Feb 2011
By Biogrrl - Published on Amazon.com
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.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A theme much bigger than its narrow-sounding topic 16 Mar 2011
By Princessleo - Published on Amazon.com
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.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This damn book kept me up until 4:30 a.m. 2 May 2011
By E. Fields - Published on Amazon.com
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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