Seth Mnookin’s book, the Panic Virus, debuted this week. Mr. Mnookin took a look at the vaccine scares and started a two year project of in-depth research resulting in this book. Not too surprisingly, much of his work relates to the autism-parent groups who promote the ideas of an autism epidemic caused by vaccines. Andrew Wakefield and the MMR scare also play a role.
The book is very well written. I believe I have spent more time than most on the subject and I still found a lot of new and interesting information in this book. Mr. Mnookin had great access. He interviewed David Kirby and Lyn Redwood, including a discussion of how the book Evidence of Harm came into being. He spoke repeatedly with Andrew Wakefield. He attended AutismOne. This is not a “Google Ph.D.” research effort. He got down into the trenches and he brings new information to light.
In many ways, the book is a discussion of how people come to believe and promote ideas that are false. Unfortunately for us, vaccine-rejectionists and parts of the autism communities present the best example of this behavior in modern history.
Mr. Mnookin brings an outsider’s eye to the story and comes down clear and decisive that there really is no debate on these issues, no real controversy. The science is in and it is clear.
He also takes journalists to task for being uncritical of the stories presented to them. There is likely no better example of this than how the press treated Andrew Wakefield and his studies, starting with the 1998 Lancet article. Even now we still see a lot of “he said/she said” type reporting on Mr. Wakefield which gives a false impression that the evidence and support for both sides is somewhat equal. Unfortunately, things are getting worse rather than better with time as media outlets downsize and science writers are let go.
This is from the press release:
Seth Mnookin—the New York Times-bestselling author of Feeding the Monster and Hard News (a Washington Post Book World “Best of 2004” selection)—delivers a real-life detective story that exposes what may well be the biggest health scare hoax of all time in THE PANIC VIRUS: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear (Simon & Schuster; January 11, 2011; $26.99). Mnookin, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair with a Harvard degree in the history of science, looks at the bogus vaccine panics—which started with a single, now totally discredited paper linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism—that have cost tens of millions of dollars and resulted in the deaths of an untold number of infants and children around the world.
Why are we so willing to believe things that are false?