The Panic Virus

  • by Seth Mnookin
  • Narrated by Dan John Miller
  • 10 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The Panic Virus is a gripping scientific detective story about how grassroots radicals, snake-oil salesmen, and cynical journalists have perpetrated the biggest health-scare hoax of all time. It explores what happens when the media treats all viewpoints as equally valid, regardless of facts, from parents who are convinced that vaccines caused their children's autism to right-wing radicals who believe that climate change is a myth. It also explains how the endless quantity of information available online has radicalized partisans by fueling their tendency to filter out anything that doesn't reinforce their way of thinking.
Tens of millions of dollars have been wasted appeasing denialists who think the government is perpetrating a health "holocaust" on children. Declining vaccination rates have caused recent outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, and Hib - and children around the country are dying as a result.
Like works by Oliver Sacks and Richard Dawkins, The Panic Virus uses everyday experiences to show how science affects our lives. Listeners will learn why definitive proof in science is virtually impossible, how rational decision-making is ruled by emotion, and why paupers' graves in the 1880s led to an outbreak of throat cancer in the 1950s.


What the Critics Say

"A riveting and important chronicle of one life-and-death realm in which passionate, panicky belief has dangerously trumped reason---and put millions of children at risk." (Kurt Andersen, author of Heyday)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Incredible thorough journey

This book was non-stop interesting and informative as Seth Mnookin demonstrates that the anti-vaccine movement is not a modern thing, but rather goes all the way back to even the Smallpox vaccine, which we now know was responsible for fully eradicating the Smallbox virus from the world. He doesn't pretend that vaccines have no risks, or that the government and health agencies didn't frequently underestimate the consequences of not fully explaining those risks to everyone. This caused backlashes resulting in lower immunity rates as younger populations forgot about how bad each illness was.

This was repeated time and time again with polio, mumps, measles and whoooping cough (pertussis).

The book goes all the way through the landmark Autism omnibus trial as he demonstrates just how utterly lacking the case was for the anti-vaccine side as they had to delay for more than a year to even find a set of doctors willing to testify to the theory of vaccine-caused Autism.

The narrator of this was very good and was never a distraction from the content.
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- Rachel Dewald "rage2o"

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

The day after I finished Seth Mnookin's "The Panic Virus" (2011) I heard Paul Krugman's March 30, 2014 New York Times Op-Ed "Jobs and Skills and Zombies." Referring to the 'skills gap', Krugman says, "It’s a prime example of a zombie idea — an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die." Mnookin makes the same point about the idea that vaccines cause autism: that theory's long ago disproven, and anti-vaccine/autism activists should let it pass peacefully.

That isn't to say that vaccines are either entirely safe, or entirely effective. They are neither, and no one should fault actress/activist Jenny McCarthy for demanding an investigation, especially with the recent substantial increase in autism diagnoses. Mnookin discusses some spectacular public health failures, including a MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine campaign in the United Kingdom that killed 19 children in a small community. The vaccine, stored without preservatives at the time, was contaminated with staphylococcus. There have been polio vaccine campaigns that have given people polio, and still do - although it's usually a very mild case. Mnookin's point is that, after careful study, autism isn't a complication - even of the preservative thimerosol. And, by the way - thimerosol hasn't been used in vaccines in the United States for more than a dozen years.

[Reviewer's commentary: Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, using (in part) intelligence provided by Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi administering CIA-funded Hepatitis-B vaccines in Abbatobad. The program was dramatized as a polio vaccine program in Kathryn Bigelow's 2012 movie "Zero Dark Thirty." According to a March 27, 2014 Huffington Post article, at least 30 polio health workers have been killed in Pakistan since then. That makes the odds of being killed while administering the polio vaccine substantially higher than the odds of having an adverse reaction to the polio vaccine.]

The book was well written and engaging, although it was a bit repetitive. That actually means, like Andrew Solomon's "Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity" (2012), various chapters can stand alone without the entire book. Solomon's book, by the way, has a lot of information on autism and disabilities and is a good follow up to "The Panic Virus."

Mnookin points out a problem for everyone: deciding not to vaccinate, especially against pertussis, or whooping cough, eliminates crowd immunity. As Nancy Shute reported for NPR on September 30. 2013, "Vaccine Refusals Fueled California's Whooping Cough Epidemic." In 2010, 10 babies in California who were too young to be vaccinated died.

Setting aside the 'good of the many' argument for immunizations, Mnookin drives home - with actual dollar amounts - that money and other resources that could be used to study the actual cause of autism, and to treat those on 'the spectrum' are being used to disprove a zombie theory. Dr. Temple Grandin, a PhD and widely respected scientist with autism recommended iPads for people with autism in her 2013 book "The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum." How many occupational therapists could have been hired, and how many iPads could have been purchased, for what the government has spent repeatedly studying the non-existent autism/vaccine link?

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- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-12-2011
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio