Book Review: The Panic Virus

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

I’m pretty passionately pro-vaccine. Somewhat predictably boringly passionate. I’ve read a lot of books on both sides of the issue. This is partly because I enjoy reading about medicine and science. It’s also partly because as a pediatrician and a mom I am drawn into conversations about vaccines frequently. Not just in my role as a doctor but at the soccer field or in the nursery or at the park. I feel like the more I read the better able I am to understand where other people are coming from and the better able I am to defend my own position.

Mnookin writes from a decidedly pro-vaccine standpoint. He believes firmly that the science does not support a connection between vaccines and autism. He primarily looks at how the theory of the connection between vaccines and autism developed over time. He also looks at the broader influences (media, politics, the Internet) that have changed and are continuing to change medicine today.

Recently, I want to a pediatric conference where one of the underlying themes running through several different lectures was that of the increasing influence of consumer groups in medicine. For the most part, this is a good thing. People should be involved in their own health care and should be educated. However, the Internet has created a world where every theory has equal weight and everyone is an expert. I frequently find this makes my job tougher. That’s not a complaint; my patients don’t owe me an easy job. But I find that often the voices on the Internet and in the media that are the loudest and most vocal on a topic are not the ones who are the most balanced or that demonstrate rigorous scientific thought. It’s often very tough to counter what someone has read online that offers a simple answer and promises a easy fix when I have 10-15 minutes to see that patient and no easy fix or simple answer. One of the best things about Mnookin’s book is that he examines this brave new world in depth.

This is an excellent book that I think anyone with an interest in medicine or science would enjoy. I hope that those was are as passionately anti-vaccine as I am pro-vaccine will read this book. For the same reason that I have read books like What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children’s Vaccinations. It’s never bad to be better educated on a topic, especially one where you think you know exactly what you think.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Panic Virus

  1. I enjoy books that look at the history of science. This one certainly sounds interesting, but since I no longer have wee little ones I don’t know how pertinent it would be for me — except to be interesting in a Margaret Mead kind of way. I’m currently reading “Ghost Map” which is about the cholera epidemic in the 1840’s.

  2. If you like the reading about science, I think you’d like this. It’s interesting just from the perspective of why people believe things they do and how science and culture intersect. I don’t think you have to be immersed in the vaccine debate to find it interesting. Also, I’d argue that from a public health standpoint the issue of vaccination is pertinent to everyone.

    I’ve heard about the Ghost Map book, I think that’s another one for the TBR list.

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