2013 Big Shot of the Year - Seth Mnookin

Seth Mnookin is the Co-Director of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing. His most recent book, The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, was one of The Wall Street Journal‘s Top Five Health and Medicine books of 2011 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He is also the author of the 2006 New York Times bestseller Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top. His first book, 2004′s Hard News: The Scandals atThe New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year.

Since 2005, Seth has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he’s written about the American media presence in Iraq, Bloomberg News, and Stephen Colbert. In 2002 and 2003, he was a senior writer at Newsweek, where he wrote the media column “Raw Copy” and also covered politics and popular culture. His blog on science, medicine, and media is part of the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Blog Network.

His work has appeared in numerous publications, including New York, Wired, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Spin, Slate, and Salon.com. A former music columnist for The New York Observer, he began his journalism career as a rock critic for the now-defunct webzine Addicted to Noise and has also worked as a crime reporter at The Palm Beach Post, a city hall reporter at the Forward, a presidential campaign reporter at Brill’s Content, and a jack-of-all-trades at Inside.com. He graduated from Harvard College in 1994 with a degree in History and Science, and was a 2004 Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. A native of Newton, Massachusetts, he and his wife currently live in Cambridge with their seven-year-old dog, their two-year-old son, and their infant daughter.

About The Panic Virus
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.