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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  5,366 ratings  ·  573 reviews
A riveting medical detective story that explores the limits of rational thought

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 healt
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published January 11th 2011 by Simon Schuster
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Kathy Dalton This is a great book that I very much enjoyed reading. I learned a lot!
This is a great book that I very much enjoyed reading. I learned a lot!

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 ·  5,366 ratings  ·  573 reviews

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Apr 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, adult
Mnookin's The Panic Virus is an amazing investigation into the culture of vaccinations, and the deadly effects of those too selfish and shortsighted to see how their choices affect others. Stories of young infants too young to yet receive vaccinations die because of young carriers whose parents have decided to "opt out," citing herd immunity as a justification for letting their offspring go unvaccinated. Cases such as this are only growing as more and more families are gripped by the powerful fe ...more
Christina Dudley
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If this review is incoherent, it's because I stayed up way too late finishing this book...

Seth Mnookin chronicles the history of the feared vaccine-autism connection. Until I read The Panic Virus, I wasn't positive which side the data finally came down on, but now I know. My main take-aways:

1. Only three vaccines ever did contain thimerosal (ethylmercury) as a preservative. Ethylmercury is not the same thing as the decidedly harmful methylmercury. Thimerosal has been phased out of all vaccines s
This book was fascinating. I grabbed this purely because of the title, and I'm glad that I did, because this book was so worth the Audible credit I used for it. If nothing else, then this book should shine a light on the "vaccines cause autism" debate, and some of the... less than ethical means that have been used to support that claim. I'm not a scientist or a vaccine or autism expert (and I don't even play one on TV), and I definitely support parents researching what's best for their child - b ...more
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: parenting
If this book had been written seven years ago, it would have saved me seven years' worth of stress as a parent. I have always kept my children up to date with their immnunizations, but I have done so knowing that it was the best practice for society as a whole, but fearing that autism link in regards to my own babies. Until this year I had always declined to have my children immunized against the flu, again because of worries about thimerosol and autism. I did extensive research into the issue, ...more
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
As a parent who has always grown very nervous around the time of vaccinations--to the point where I chose to not give most of them to my second child--this book felt like a breath of fresh air. Mnookin demonstrated with an extremely readable technique the history of vaccine skepticism in this country, as well as the events that led to the current, ongoing doubts many parents still have about the vaccination schedule set forth by the CDC. He spares no one, equally skewering the Ford Administratio ...more
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 solid stars.

While no one in my family has autism, I have several friends whose kids have been diagnosed with various levels of autism, some with mild, functioning autism, and others with autism so severe, the children will require care for their entire lives. The interesting part of that fact is that not a single one of parents has ever said that their child's autism was caused by a vaccine. Instead of trying to find a scapegoat for their difficult situation, they are focused on trying to live
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
While Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus is about the autism/vaccine controversy, I’d argue that it’s also partly about irresponsible journalism perpetuated by the likes of Oprah and any number of reporters who fail to do the proper research and wind up writing misleading articles which might prove to be compelling reading, but which also misinform.

See — that’s what I don’t get.

I lost respect for Oprah a long time ago because she’s the sort of public figure who doesn’t own up to her responsibility
Feb 25, 2011 rated it liked it
I worry that books like this -- Mnookin's account of how well-educated parents in both the U.S. and England have decided in recent years not to vaccinate their children due to fears that vaccines cause autism -- simply preach to the choir. If you really believe that a vaccination can harm your child, you probably won't read this book. And if a few of Mnookin's editorial comments strike me, a staunchly pro-vaccine adherent, as a bit much, then those who think differently would likely react even m ...more
Jan 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest in science.
The biggest lesson I took away from this was "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." It's astonishing, how many people are so thoroughly unscientific in their thinking, and how that can lead to tragedy. Yes, it's important to question the "conventional wisdom", but sometimes "conventional wisdom" is conventional for a reason.

Besides being well-informed, this book is well-written, with a great deal of explication for people who don't necessarily have a background in science. I highly
Kaethe Douglas
Slow going for me because of the rage. The world is a complex place: I understand why people find simple answers appealing, I just wish they would stop. If someone can reduce any issue of modern life into a single terse sentence then they're wrong. It's never that easy. Of course it's not that easy. If there were easy solutions then these things wouldn't be problems, would they? I am an ardent admirer of the tremendous gains in human life-expectancy that have accrued from vaccination, and I am a ...more
Jul 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: health, science
This is an interesting book about an important topic. Mnookin has a way with analogies that makes a confusing topic very understandable.

The media has distorted the science of vaccines with its focus on highly emotional interviews with parents who believe their child's disability was caused by a vaccine. They have not covered disability and death from the illnesses that vaccines prevent.

Parents with an autistic child make good TV. It is an emotionally powerful story and we want to believe there
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011, non-fiction
I wouldn't ordinarily pick up a book like this to read, but I became involved in a vaccine debate with my friend. I read The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child and recommended that she read it, but her child's pediatrician told her to shred it and read this instead. That, of course, piqued my interest so I decided to check out the 'opposition' myself. Let me briefly outline my vaccine beliefs: I don't believe they cause autism per se, I believe in fully vaccinating children ( ...more
Jeff Raymond
No book has made me quite as angry as this book has.

I've become familiar enough with the anti-vaccination movement over the years. It piqued my interest due to my natural skepticism, but the reality was clear really early on - there was nothing to support the claims that vaccines and autism are linked in any way. That hasn't stopped folks like Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, "journalist" David Kirby of the Huffington Post, Robert Kennedy Jr (who was apparently shortlisted for a post in the Oba
Colin Bendell
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating history of vaccines and the generations of opposition to vaccines because of religious conviction and ignorance. People such as Andrew Wakefield, Jenny Mccarthy and Opra are the recent villains in this story using greed, mis-information, bad science and emotive plees to convince well educated and well meaning parents to not vaccinate their children. As a result society's herd immunity has been compromised for viruses that were eliminated decades ago. The deaths of hundreds of child ...more
Rachael Hope
Sep 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2011
Autism has become a fairly hot topic in the past few years, and I've been interested in the subject for quite a while. I've read a couple of books previously about the subject, including Jenny McCarthy's book "Louder than Words." Despite McCarthy's 'mother's instinct' and conviction that vaccines caused her son's autism, and that she was able to cure him through diet and therapy, I finished the book believing neither. I ran across "The Panic Virus" by Seth Mnookin at the library when I was looki ...more
Feb 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
I read this book with the expectation that it would be like a lot of other books that I've read about junk science. Most people don't understand what science is. They don't understand the difference between a theory and a hypothesis. They think that correlation is causation. They imagine conspiracies of government and industry to steal their money or ruin their lives.

All of that is included in this book, but there is a much sadder undertone. Many of the scientifically illiterate people are pare
Mar 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. As a nurse, I am strongly pro-vaccine, especially since I have taken care of infants with pertussis and had a glimpse into the horrors of these diseases that we take for granted we don't really see anymore. I appreciated that Mnookin didn't spare the government in his book; he addressed their failings in history in regard to vaccine development as well. It was an interesting discussion of parent intuition vs scientific fact vs media hype and sensationalism. It was another ...more
Holly Bik
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pop-sci
For me, this book underlined how important it is for scientists to get out of their Ivory Tower and engage with issues that broadly affect society. It also made me very angry. Science is constantly undermined by the media--people with no credibility (and serious conflicts of interest) are given the limelight to influence public opinion (driven by the media chasing ratings, not balanced information). This book made me want to be a better science communicator. Mnoonkin's book is extremely well res ...more
Moira Russell
Something I already made fun of on G+: "Instead of thinking as F=ma as being wrong, think of E=mc2 as being more right." Footnote to this immortal sentence: "Don't worry if you're having a hard time following this oversimplified explanation of physics' most challenging problem. For most of us, understanding special relativity is a little like true love: We should consider ourselves lucky if we can grasp hold of it for even one fleeting moment." Special relativity! A little like slippery soap in ...more
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Puts the anti-vaccine movement in its proper context, i.e. anti-science very much like the denial of climate change. Both anti-scientific movements share a common tool: bad and irresponsible journalism. Not sure how many of those opposed to vaccines would actually read this book though.

Seth Mnookin is a very clear and engaging writer. I also immensely enjoyed his book about the Red Sox - Feeding the Monster.
Apr 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is about all the junk science which leads people not to vaccinate their kids and thus ruin the "herd immunity" which would normally keep the rest of us safe from measles, pertussis, and many other illnesses which have been making a comeback. Much of this began from people believing that vaccines caused autism. This causality has been completely debunked by the international scientific and medical communities as the result of many double blind studies ...more
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-audio, quest
I think EVERY new parent needs to read this book, and write a book report about it. I'm so disgusted that there are ignorant humans running around and breeding, and endangering the rest of us because they would rather trust their "mommy instinct" instead of actual science. ...more
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars--THE PANIC VIRUS examines the fallout from the anti-vaccine movement. Chances are, you’ve already read about the resurgence of communicable diseases the US thought it conquered long ago, such as measles and whooping cough. These illnesses are not simply a case of the sniffles—they can and do kill people, particularly infants and children. The author’s descriptions of real-life cases of preventable diseases are absolutely chilling.

The vaccine discussion is an extremely emotional one, a
May 10, 2018 added it
Audiobook DNF, could not get into this at all.
Evan Killeen
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Real good! It's a very thorough summary of the history, psychology, and science that led to the anti-vaxxer movement. When covered correctly, this topic gets dry, but Mnookin writes well enough that it's not too tough to get through. A decent chunk of the book pulls apart fallacies in other books/articles/news segments, and I don't plan on reading any more books about the topic, so I will have to trust that Mnookin isn't making the same mistakes as his examples. The ~30 page bibliography helps s ...more
Matthew Harbowy
Mar 26, 2012 rated it liked it
A five star thesis in a two star book.

Most of the premise of this book hinges on the concept of authority: that the consensus of authority represents provisional truth, while those in opposition do not represent an equally valid point due to the absolute correctness and overwhelming evidence for the provisional truth.

Mnookin spends a lot of time demonizing (even resorting to elliptical character attacks) the experts of the "other side"- which I suspect is exactly what "they" want. Despite an org
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I gotta start writing drafts on my book club books reviews because then I always forget to go back and write about them. Particularly this one, which the members of the Tipsy Ladies Book Club all universally loved so much that we barely had anything to talk about.

So, anyway, what I really love about Seth Mnookin, both from this book, Feeding the Monster and his magazine features, is that he has a way of examining an issue like he's manipulating it in Photoshop. Like, let's look at the autism-vac
Natalie Innes
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There is nothing I love more than well-written nonfiction. This book was extremely well-researched and written in an easy to read format. I loved Mnookin's approach--using people's experiences, unethical scientific experiments, cognitive reasoning fallacies, historical context, and the media's skewed influence to show how the anti-vaccine movement has become a major American movement among parents of autistic children. Some reviews say this book takes an unbiased and fair look at both sides of t ...more
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Definitely preaching to the choir. What I want to know is, where is the organization for parents who don't think vaccines caused their child's autism and don't want other parents' babies to die from pertussis? 'Cause I'd join that one. ...more
The connections to the current climate are striking and sometimes frustrating. I recommend but maybe not right now.
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Bio-Nerds: The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin 1 18 Mar 16, 2015 06:47PM  

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Since 2005, Seth has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he’s written about the American media presence in Iraq, Bloomberg News, and Stephen Colbert. In 2002 and 2003, he was a senior writer at Newsweek, where he wrote the media column “Raw Copy” and also covered politics and popular culture.

He graduated from Harvard College in 1994 with a degree in History and Science, and was a 2004

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“Don't worry if you're having a hard time following this oversimplified explanation of physics' most challenging problem. For most of us, understanding special relativity is a little like true love: We should consider ourselves lucky if we can grasp hold of it for even one fleeting moment.” 6 likes
“The type of journalism that relies on the reporter's notion of what does or doesn't "seem" correct or controversial is self-indulgent and irresponsible. It gives credence to the belief that we can intuit our way through all the various decisions we need to make in our lives and it validates the notion that our feelings are a more reliable barometer of reality than the facts.” 4 likes
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