In The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin doesn't offer much in the way of cultural analysis of the origins of anti-vax hysteria. He does provide glimpses of iIn The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin doesn't offer much in the way of cultural analysis of the origins of anti-vax hysteria. He does provide glimpses of insight into the psychosocial bases, e.g., by touching on the “disgust response” invoked by early vaccination practices; and hinting that societies facing increasingly bureaucratic and/or secretive governance, like the 1950s US, are primed to mistrust powerful entities including government and the pharmaceutical industry. He also brings up in passing the relatively young field of behavioral economics, pointing out the cognitive biases at play in the paranoid reactionism of anti-vaxxers. But mostly he delivers a more or less straightforward history of the movement, and that is damning enough on its own.
Though he is clearly on the side of science, Mnookin is careful to report on instances when practitioners of the vaccine movement have made disastrous missteps by concealing data (e.g., a 1-in-a-million risk of contracting polio from the vaccine) when faced with the potential repercussions - backlashes that would shut down a vaccine program and allow mass morbidity and preventable mortality - in the midst of particular epidemics. Of course, the repercussions are so tinged with extremism because of the anti-vax appeal to emotion. With this in mind, it's somewhat understandable that public health influencers have shut their mouths; the fallout, however, has been a long-term slow but significant growth of the anti-vax movement that now in America is leading to infant pertussis outbreaks and deaths. So what should be done, when a small but loud portion of society refuses to participate in the activities that keep society as a whole safe? The establishment and re-establishment of mandatory vaccination laws is the most immediate counter to this insanity; whether it will work or further fuel the fire of the movement is yet to be seen.
Pro-science vaccine advocates will find plenty of juicy details to stoke their own fires in Mnookin's history. One of my personal favorites is the story of how anti-vaxxers respond to actual scientific studies with their own attempts at empirical evidence (this was before they realized that no one with a scientific background is fooled, and it's much easier to appeal to the vast population of parents with emotional logic); the sculpting of nonsense as a foil for science is amusing -- and troubling, since credible journals have published it. And here I think is the biggest mistake we have made: Wakefield's NEJM publication based on complete garbage STILL convinces people that the MMR vaccine -- which, incidentally, has never contained thimerosal -- causes autism.
The appeal to emotion that has turned out to work best for the anti-vaxxers begs a second look at George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant. We who stand with science need to look at language as a way to retool the pro-science argument. But perhaps this is disrespectful to science itself -- why should we have to debate what is true with people who function within a fantastical paradigm? As Mnookin points out, those who have decided to believe something are inclined to believe it more when faced with the evidence against it, and to seek out the company of those who already agree with them. The key may then be to target people before they become new and anxious parents, in these days when a quick Internet search seems to provide equivalence in size and power between the pro- and anti-vaccine arguments. I think this education should start with compulsory scientific literacy courses in high school -- or even earlier. When the choice becomes enforcing mass vaccination that comes with a negligible amount of unavoidable side effects, or buckling to pressure from loud advocacy groups by rescinding vaccination that will precipitate preventable deaths of children, we have to step up to the plate to protect the vulnerable -- now....more
The characters of Airborne suffer repercussions of ignorance. At an individual level, this ignorance (in the young, more kindly called naivete) can beThe characters of Airborne suffer repercussions of ignorance. At an individual level, this ignorance (in the young, more kindly called naivete) can be as small in scope as personal unease; Eisenberg, however, conveys the gravity of adolescent pain with the skill of the best young adult fiction authors. At its worst, this ignorance is global, and the repercussions both political and personal can include death -- but Eisenberg is sneaky, only hinting at devastation of this magnitude in the background; the protagonist's foolishness keeps the narrative focus. Every agony shares a subtle but equal weight here, though the subjects in the stories run the gamut from slavery, racism and revolution, to petty drug-dealing in LA, a teacher seducing an underaged neighbor, and the angst of trying to make it in New York while burdened by an acquaintance’s boyfriend who’s been dumped on you.
This last is the plot of “A Cautionary Tale,” the first story in the anthology, which threw me somewhat, because it is has a constant lightness absent from the rest of the book. The second story, which shares the title of the collection, is a 180 from the first, and sets the tone of underlying danger for the remainder of the book. It follows a petty actress who follows her daughter out of spite to Honduras, where she gradually and unwittingly -- having no idea what’s going on or what her daughter’s fiance really does -- gets in over her head with an American contra during Operation Golden Pheasant. The reader alone is aware of the gradually escalating menace, until it's too late. The final scene harrows.
One of Eisenberg's skills is offering ironic humor in the context of peril, as in the practically satirical “Holy Week.” This piece is narrated in the format of short- and longhand notes scrawled by Dennis, a journalist hired to write a cultural review (with an emphasis on local cuisine, which figures in both amusingly and apropos) of an unnamed Central American town for a travel magazine supplement. Dennis, a doofus who sees what he wants to see, is eager to get along with his white connections, who float comfortably above the devastation of the civil war they perpetuate. He admonishes his much sharper, younger lover and travel companion Sarah, who becomes increasingly horrified by the suffering of the locals and the insufferable local patriarchy. While Sarah lashes out darkly at everyone complicit, including herself and Dennis, the lack of self-awareness in Dennis’s notes brings despairing laughs (“Band angry about something?"). It's the kind of leftist humor that makes you want to kick someone.
And it's the kind of writing that makes a would-be writer want to copy cover to cover, just to know how it feels to choose these word, in this order. My ebook is covered in highlighting; I read each story again immediately upon finishing it, and was reluctant to finish the whole collection. Luckily, she has four more. Is it too much to hope she'll offer a memoir someday?...more
Hallowell breaks down 6 distracted employee types, including technology addicts, multitaskers who can't say no, idea people who can't follow through,Hallowell breaks down 6 distracted employee types, including technology addicts, multitaskers who can't say no, idea people who can't follow through, those who do for others before themselves, worriers and those with clinical ADHD. The greatest thing about this book is how Hallowell creates a fictitious sufferer of each of his types, allegedly an amalgam of people he's counseled or interviewed. It's great because Hallowell clearly enjoys creating these personas, who have remarkably detailed backstories and habits and body types. They have passionate and revealing fights with their spouses, and their work personality is always a result of their childhood, with particular incidents spelled out. Methinks someone wanted to write a novel! So those are amusing.
The rest of it, though, not so much; he lists the pros and dangers of being each type of person (yawn), describing their qualities in a metric he created that doesn't really serve any useful purpose, and then at the end of each type section gives 10 usually limp and often repetitive tips for enhancing your focus. Nothing novel here: being told you need structure isn't enough of an answer for someone who needs structure. Being told to make three daily, three biweekly, and three long-term goals and check in with them regularly isn't going to work for people who need to do that -- they need a WORKBOOK. A little better are his hints for discovering what matters to you if you are an idea person who can't choose what to focus ON (e.g., make lists in funky fonts, large letters or colors). So there's some insight here, but I can't imagine really applying his techniques, especially since they don't stick in my head whatsoever....more
If you're looking for something light and cheerful, look no further than Cary Elwes's memoir of the Princess Bride film-making experience. You'll gleaIf you're looking for something light and cheerful, look no further than Cary Elwes's memoir of the Princess Bride film-making experience. You'll glean plenty of PB trivia and hear from the other living actors, Rob Reiner, William Goldman, and the executive producer. Clearly this experience was an uncommonly lovely one for everyone involved, and it'll make your day to hear just how fun it all was, recap a favorite film, and rejoice in its deserved (if belated) success....more
This grew on me. I was interested to read a King without supernatural elements, and at first his comic-book style (especially of dialogue) grated, butThis grew on me. I was interested to read a King without supernatural elements, and at first his comic-book style (especially of dialogue) grated, but it ended up an exciting cat-and-mouse story, albeit with abundant cliches. King really needs to take heed when writing black characters to not undo the progressiveness he's trying to present....more
I particularly enjoyed the actual research presented, though it was vexing to then not be sure what was true (e.g., about UC Davis). at first this seeI particularly enjoyed the actual research presented, though it was vexing to then not be sure what was true (e.g., about UC Davis). at first this seemed like a flighty college book a la Monsters of Templeton, but it is actually much better, with more emotion and much more to deliberate, especially in re: ethics of animal research. And I laughed out loud a few times. Audiobook narrator was perfect....more