Most of us have little or no memory of some of history’s most lethal killers. I’m not talking about people, but rather diseases like smallpox, polio, or diphtheria. These are killers, from which, thanks to vaccines, those under about 50 years of age have been largely spared. However, the science of vaccinations is still poorly understood by most of the general public.
Seth Mnookin has taken on this topic in his new book The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. In this book he examines events surrounding the assertion made by Andrew Wakefield in 1998, that vaccines might cause autism. The panic regarding vaccinations and Austism is the focus of the book, but Mnookin begins by offering the history of vaccines, especially relating to smallpox and polio. He goes on to examine every aspect of the autism and vaccination controversy and the damage caused by misinformation and fear.
This is a thorough examination of a scientific fraud, but it serves as a warning as well. Jonathan Mahler writes “Seth Mnookin has given us a nonfiction story worthy of Michael Crichton – an absorbing, disturbing, and scrupulously researched account of a contagion of human unreason run wild. This time the hysteria was over autism; the next panic virus could be even more dangerous”.