…is the bold title of Seth Mnookin’s exploration of the ‘vaccination debate’.
The Panic Virus® is a ruminative, thoughtful, exploration of vaccine history and, in particular, how people come to think the things that they do.
Not too many popular science books are headlined with the support of Nobel laureate – if you look closely you’ll see Peter Doherty’s praise for the book at the top of the cover to the left.
It surveys key events – without minutiae that you might get from an historian. It draws on the reader to do their own thinking slightly more than Offit’s Deadly Choices but is lighter than Allen’s Vaccine, which at 500+ pages is a much more lengthy affair.
I especially appreciated that the material seemed well-balanced with negative points in public health, for example, presented plainly without excuses and criticism given where it seemed deserved. Vaccination is a topic that’s easy to polarise or to stick to one side of the fence. Mnookin does pretty well to see it both ways.
He touches on some of cognitive dissonances involved, where some of the poor thinking arises from and these emerge as a key underlying themes.
This from the blurb,
“Wakefield eventually lost his medical licence, yet the myth that vaccines cause developmental disorders lives on. In The Panic Virus Seth Mnookin examines how the anti-immunisation panic spread and looks at a controversial Australian case that exposed the claims and tactics of the movement to new scrutiny. Sorting fact from rumour, he confronts fundamental questions: with more facts at our fingertips than ever, why is our trust in science so fragile? Has the internet made us better informed, or simply enabled panic to spread more quickly? And how might we balance fact and intuition when it comes to decisions about children’s health?”
The book, in part, tracks the author‘s personal exploration into parents and their relationship with vaccination information starting from his own new parenthood and dinner parties,
“The more I pushed my friend, the more defensive he grew. Sure, I said, there had to be something tangible, some experiment of epidemiological survey, that informed his decisions. There wasn’t I was even more taken aback when he said he likely would have done the same thing even if he’d been present with conclusive evidence that the MMR vaccine was safe.” (From the Introduction, p11.)
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