WSJ on The Panic Virus: “Should be required reading at every medical school in the world.”

January 8th, 2011 → 3:22 pm @ // No Comments

Michael Shermer has devoted his life to truth-seeking and fact-finding, and his work has long been an inspiration to me. In addition to being the founder of Skeptic magazine,, and The Skeptics Society and he writes a regular column for Scientific American and is a frequent blogger. The range and scope of Shermer’s work and interests is awesome, in the old-school sense of the word. (Here’s a sampling of some of the past speakers at the Skeptics Society’s lecture series at Caltech: Richard Dawkins, Leonard Mlodinow, Barbara Ehrenreich, Carl Zimmer, Alison Gopnik, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Pinker, and Daniel Dennett.)

Shermer reviewed The Panic Virus in the January 8 edition of The Wall Street Journal. It is an incredibly generous and humbling review: To know Shermer feels so positively about my work is an incredible honor — and to see him hit on the main themes of the book in 1,250 words gives me hope that I was able to tie together various the themes I was hoping to address into something resembling a coherent package. Below are some brief excerpts; the whole review can be read here.

Humans are pattern-seeking primates whose brains evolved to look for and find meaningful patterns in the noise and chaos of nature. … One of the most nefarious anecdotal patterns in recent years has been a seeming connection between autism and vaccines. … [It would be] a public-health disaster if enough parents were to stop vaccinating their children and communities began to suffer a return of communicable diseases once thought to be routed.

This tragedy in the making has now been chronicled in a book that should be required reading at every medical school in the world. Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus is a lesson on how fear hijacks reason and emotion trumps logic.

In a brilliant piece of reportage and science writing, Mr. Mnookin explains precisely how medical researchers set about determining whether there is a causal connection in an apparent pattern. …

We may have evolved to “feel” rather than think our way through problems, but we have also developed the remarkable gift of cognitive flexibility. We have the power to override our instincts and employ reason, logic and science to solve our problems and advance our species.

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2 Comments → “WSJ on The Panic Virus: “Should be required reading at every medical school in the world.””

  1. Twyla

    13 years ago

    Just wondering, why do so many people use the work “humbling” these days when they receive praise or awards? It’s like they’re using the word as the opposite of what it means. Why would praise, recognition, positive feedback, awards be humbling? Doesn’t it make you feel proud? Not proud as in arrogant, but proud in the good sense of the word, a good feeling. I would hope that my critical comments might make you feel humble (though they probably just roll off like water off a duck) but why would Michael Shermer’s article be humbling?


  2. MarshallDog

    13 years ago


    From wiktionary:

    humble – Near the ground; not high or lofty; not pretentious or magnificent; unpretending; unassuming;

    This is how I take Mr. Mnookin to be “humbled” by Michael Shermer’s praise. Certainly he is proud of his work, but next to a giant like Shermer this one piece of work might seem a bit unworthy of such lofty praise. I think the lack of pretention, the lack of self-importance, is the key to being humbled by praise.


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