The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy

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Simon and Schuster, Jan 3, 2012 - Health & Fitness - 464 pages
WHO DECIDES WHICH FACTS ARE TRUE?

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist with a history of self-promotion, published a paper with a shocking allegation: the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine might cause autism. The media seized hold of the story and, in the process, helped to launch one of the most devastating health scares ever. In the years to come Wakefield would be revealed as a profiteer in league with class-action lawyers, and he would eventually lose his medical license. Meanwhile one study after another failed to find any link between childhood vaccines and autism.

Yet the myth that vaccines somehow cause developmental disorders lives on. Despite the lack of corroborating evidence, it has been popularized by media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jenny McCarthy and legitimized by journalists who claim that they are just being fair to “both sides” of an issue about which there is little debate. Meanwhile millions of dollars have been diverted from potential breakthroughs in autism research, families have spent their savings on ineffective “miracle cures,” and declining vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough. Most tragic of all is the increasing number of children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

In The Panic Virus Seth Mnookin draws on interviews with parents, public-health advocates, scientists, and anti-vaccine activists to tackle a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? The fascinating answer helps explain everything from the persistence of conspiracy theories about 9/11 to the appeal of talk-show hosts who demand that President Obama “prove” he was born in America.

The Panic Virus is a riveting and sometimes heart-breaking medical detective story that explores the limits of rational thought. It is the ultimate cautionary tale for our time.
 

Contents

Introduction
1
PART II
95
The Media and Its Messages
160
Mark Geier Witness for Hire
170
The Case of Michelle Cedillo
178
Cognitive Biases and Availability Cascades
192
How to Turn a Lack of Evidence into Evidence of Harm
203
A Conspiracy of Dunces
221
Baby Brie
274
Casualties of a War Built on Lies
283
Epilogue
299
Afterword
309
Acknowledgments
315
55
327
87
335
118
341

Autism Speaks
228
Katie Wrights Accidental Manifesto
239
Jenny McCarthys Mommy Instinct
249
Medical NIMBYism and FaithBased Metaphysics
265

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About the author (2012)

Seth Mnookin is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former senior writer for Newsweek, where he covered media, politics, and popular culture. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, New York magazine, and many other publications. He is the author of The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear; Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top and Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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