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

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

Seth Mnookin, Simon & Schuster, $26.99 (410p) ISBN 978-1-4391-5864-7

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. Journalist Mnookin (Hard News) treats the belief that autism is caused by common vaccines as an epidemic, tracing its origin to a young British doctor's dubious research into Crohn's disease and measles in the early 1990s. This "panic virus" spread through online communities of parents desperate for answers; fueled by mainstream media, it has created a growing reluctance on the part of parents to vaccinate their children, which, Mnookin warns, results in an increased rate of children dying from preventable infectious diseases. Crucial to this virus's spread was the unwillingness of reporters to parse complex health statistics and their embrace of a populist story line about feisty "Mercury Moms" challenging a corrupt and covert medical establishment. Mnookin presents a thorough and lucid debunking of the claims of a link between vaccines and autism and the charlatanism and profiteering of those who publicize it. The result is a hard-hitting contribution to the debate and a troubling portrait of a public sphere that elevates intuition and emotion above reason and evidence. (Jan. 11)