Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: Deadly Choices by Paul A. Offit, M.D.

Cilia of Respiratory Tract infected with Pertussis.  via

Reviewed by Christina

Complete Title: Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

Published: 2011

It's about: [From the bookjacket] "There's a war going on.  Science is under siege.  And the casualties are mounting.  The victims aren't professors or researchers- they're children.
In 2010, California suffered the largest and deadliest outbreak of pertussis, also known as 'whooping cough,' in more than fifty years, killing at least nine children.  Worse- this tragedy was avoidable.  An effective vaccine has been available to prevent pertussis since the 1940's.  In recent years other diseases, like measles and mumps, have also made a comeback.  The reason for these epidemics can be traced to a group whose vocal proponents insist, despite evidence to the contrary, that vaccines are poisonous.  As a consequence, parents, caretakers, and other adults are rejecting vaccines for themselves and their families.
In Deadly Choices, infectious-disease expert Paul Offit takes a look behind the curtain of the anti-vaccine movement and tells the story of a handful of parents who, having witnessed a life-saving tool wilt before an epidemic of fear, are fighting back.  This book is more than just a vigorous rebuttal of arguments against vaccines: It's a reminder of the power of scientific knowledge, and the harm we risk if, as a society, we give it up.  A cry from the heart and a call to arms, Deadly Choices is essential reading for a society confronted with a vital decision."

I thought: I went ahead and used the bookjacket text above because I wanted to start by condemning its melodramatic tone.  That first paragraph sets my teeth on edge.  The very last sentence, too.  Why is this necessary?  It's like the author is trying to fight anti-vaxers' nonsensical fear with other ramped up emotional responses: indignation and, yes, more fear.  This drives me crazy.  Sound argumentation and scientific backing do not need a coating of inflammatory, alarmist crap.

So, even though I absolutely support vaccines and I knew I would agree with Dr. Offit, I opened Deadly Choices (ugh, that title) with one eyebrow cocked.  And yes, there's some unnecessary filler material that serves solely to heighten the drama.  It appears mainly toward the beginning and ending of each chapter, which leads me to wonder if it might not have occurred naturally in Dr. Offit's writing.  As I complained to my husband about this, he pointed out that many readers like a little excitement- straight up science writing can be pretty dry.  Maybe an editing/publishing team encouraged the more melodramatic tone inserted here and there.

But anyway, I still really appreciated and enjoyed this book.  It is full of sound, persuasive writing and fascinating history about vaccines and the waxing and waning backlashes against them.  The author really nicely lays out the arguments of anti-vaccine thinkers and then logically dismisses them, using the abundant facts available for support.  I feel more certain than ever before that vaccination is the right thing to do.  But then, I pretty much already felt that way.  I'm very curious about how a more wary parent would respond to Deadly Choices

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!

Reading Recommendations: I found this to be a very quick, interesting read.  It's not very long, and it's full of information presented in an easy-to-absorb manner.  But if you're not wild about nonfiction (or, more specifically, science writing) you could read it a chapter at a time and still get just as much out of it.

Warnings: Quoted swears from class act Jenny McCarthy and a few other prominent anti-vax voices.

What I'm reading nextThe Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll; Introduction and Notes by Martin Gardner

Psssssst!  Here's a funny clip of Paul Offit and Deadly Choices on The Colbert Report.