The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin
A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear

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Synopsis

WHO DECIDES WHICH FACTS ARE TRUE?

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist with a history of self-promotion, published a paper with a shocking allegation: the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine might cause autism. The media seized hold of the story and, in the process, helped to launch one of the most devastating health scares ever. In the years to come Wakefield would be revealed as a profiteer in league with class-action lawyers, and he would eventually lose his medical license. Meanwhile one study after another failed to find any link between childhood vaccines and autism.

Yet the myth that vaccines somehow cause developmental disorders lives on. Despite the lack of corroborating evidence, it has been popularized by media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jenny McCarthy and legitimized by journalists who claim that they are just being fair to “both sides” of an issue about which there is little debate. Meanwhile millions of dollars have been diverted from potential breakthroughs in autism research, families have spent their savings on ineffective “miracle cures,” and declining vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough. Most tragic of all is the increasing number of children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

In The Panic Virus Seth Mnookin draws on interviews with parents, public-health advocates, scientists, and anti-vaccine activists to tackle a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? The fascinating answer helps explain everything from the persistence of conspiracy theories about 9/11 to the appeal of talk-show hosts who demand that President Obama “prove” he was born in America.

The Panic Virus is a riveting and sometimes heart-breaking medical detective story that explores the limits of rational thought. It is the ultimate cautionary tale for our time.
 

About Seth Mnookin

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Seth Mnookin is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former senior writer for Newsweek, where he covered media, politics, and popular culture. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, New York magazine, and many other publications. He is the author of The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear; Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top and Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
 
Published January 11, 2011 by Simon & Schuster. 453 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, History, Health, Fitness & Dieting. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Panic Virus

Kirkus Reviews

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Mnookin ties the current anti-vaccination fervor, which vastly outstrips earlier campaigns against vaccination (and its close cousin, fluoridation), to the flourishing of the anti-science mood generally, relating it to, say, the Kentucky legislature’s insistence that evolution be treated as a mer...

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The New York Times

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The first great triumph of mass vaccination, the Salk polio vaccine, made its debut in 1954, promptly followed by the first great vaccine-associated disaster: a sloppily made batch that paralyzed several dozen children in California.

Mar 28 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

Publishers Weekly

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In this searching exposé, the recent hysteria over childhood vaccinations and their alleged link to autism be-comes a cautionary tale of bad science amplified by media sensationalism.

Nov 29 2010 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

BC Books

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In the years before the development of the measles vaccine, about 500 people per year died from measles according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton (a medical correspondent for CBS News.) After the vaccine was introduced, the disease was "pretty much 99% eradicated."

May 11 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

The Wall Street Journal

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As he carefully documents, autism existed long before the MMR vaccine was introduced, and hundreds of millions of children have received the MMR vaccine without developing any negative side effects whatsoever (let alone autism).

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The Wall Street Journal

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As he carefully documents, autism existed long before the MMR vaccine was introduced, and hundreds of millions of children have received the MMR vaccine without developing any negative side effects whatsoever (let alone autism).

Jan 08 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

Examiner

With all the myths surrounding vaccines he not only says they are in fact myths but has the supporting evidence to support his position.

May 02 2012 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

Los Angeles Times

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If you're already convinced that vaccines cause autism, that vaccine-preventable infectious diseases no longer threaten children's lives here and abroad, and that certain modern, anti-vaccine gurus are motivated by nothing but tender concern for your family's health, Seth Mnookin's "The Panic Vir...

Feb 13 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

Oregon Live

The news in 1998 was as startling as the jab of a needle: Dr. Andrew Wakefield, in new study in the influential medical journal The Lancet, had made a connection between MMR vaccination and the onset of autism.

Jan 15 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

The Sydney Morning Herald

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Feb 11 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

Bookmarks Magazine

Seth Mnookin studies this fear, the movement it has spawned, and its significant consequences in The Panic Virus, which includes an examination not only of the recent controversies but also of resistance to vaccination over several centuries.

Jan 10 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

Statesman.com

But nobody comes in for a more serious drubbing from Mnookin than Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a London gastroenterologist who claimed to have found the biological pathway linking the MMR vaccine and autism.

Jan 16 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

Culture Mob

The other thing that makes this book so fascinating is that it is a factual account of a very recent controversy which threw decades of medical practice into doubt, pitting suffering parents against the medical establishment, and a self-styled lone voice of dissent against government agencies tha...

Jan 09 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

Opposing Views

Mnookin’s book isn’t heavy on the details of the public health impact of vaccines, but it does make the point in chapters about children suffering from vaccine-preventable illnesses that vaccines have been tremendously successful in keeping children healthy.

Jun 06 2011 | Read Full Review of The Panic Virus: A True Story...

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