The Boston Globe: “Anatomy of a Panic”

January 9th, 2011 → 2:58 pm @ // No Comments

The Boston Globe, the newspaper I grew up reading, ran David Shribman’s review of The Panic Virus in today’s paper:

In the past decade Seth Mnookin has become a chronicler of some of the icons of American popular culture. He wrote a popular book, Feeding the Monster, on the ascent of the Red Sox, and a controversial book, Hard News, on the scandals of The New York Times. Now he is taking on another modern phenomenon, the movement against vaccinations. …

But in a larger sense, this volume is less about the insurrection against inoculations than it is about the democratization of information. It is less about the movement to battle the medical establishment than it is about the ability of social networks to mobilize for what Mnookin and most mainstream scientists and doctors believe is a bad cause. It is less about reasoned debate than about the free flow of information through the Internet. It is less about the contagion of ideas than about the contagion of misinformation and mistrust that metastasizes in the new technology. …

In time, freedom from disease has become an important American freedom. But skepticism of the American medical establishment became (and remains) an important part of the civic landscape, often inflamed, Mnookin contends, by shoddy shock-seeking journalism. …

Mnookin compares the vaccination opponents to those who don’t believe in global warming or evolution. And he blames the media for tolerating misinformation and validating “the notion that our feelings are a more reliable barometer of reality than the facts.’’ The ironic thing about Mnookin’s book is that he implicitly summons his profession to the admonition from the Book of Luke addressed to physicians: Heal thyself. This book is Mnookin’s effort to begin the healing process.


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