Sunday, August 7, 2022

Book Report: Viral BS by Seema Yasmin

General Overview

Viral BS is a book written by Dr. Seema Yasmin that covers a variety of myths, misinformation, disinformation, and generally controversial topics in the media. Most of the chapters cover medical questions or health-related myths and mysteries. There is a range of topics from questions regarding pregnancy, food myths, vaccines, psychological mysteries, vitamins and supplements, drugs, environmental controversies, and more. Each chapter covers a different question where Yasmin lays out research done on the topic. Some chapters end in a clear cut yes or no on whether the myth is true or false. Other chapters cover a question that does not have a definitive answer yet. Yasmin makes sure to describe studies that back up and refute the topic in question and the reader can decide their opinion on the topic based on that research. 

Dr. Yasmin first heard of pseudoscience as a young girl surrounded by conspiracy theorists in her family. She participated in creating theories about the Illuminati, the Moon landing, subliminal messages in pop songs and famous movies, and more. She had dealt with patients refusing medical prescriptions during her work as a medical doctor due to medical myths in the media. Dr. Yasmin had also worked for the CDC, tracking contagions around the United States. During that time, she had seen and studied many myths, misinformation, and disinformation about viruses and diseases that were being spread around the US. She had seen this misinformation and disinformation cause hysteria. She wrote the book to examine the facts and question them and the experiments done to determine the facts. She wanted to know why some beliefs are firmly held in people’s minds, even when there is information that defies those beliefs. Sometimes facts are not enough for people to believe in science. 

Favorite Part & How it Relates to Our Class

My favorite part of the book was how Dr. Yasmin went about researching and explaining the evidence behind each topic. She did not use her opinions to form the answer to the questions, and the answer was not always a straightforward one because science is always changing and some topics have not been researched enough yet. She made sure to bring up evidence that backed up the question and evidence that refuted the question. Most science topics that have multiple studies done have mixed outcomes. The more studies done, the more firmly the question can be answered, but there will always be outcomes that support and do not support the topic. 

Because Dr. Yasmin was researching many pseudoscience topics and analyzing them in a scientific way, she had to make sure she was using slow thinking to research and answer each question. Throughout the book, she used the elements of thought to explore the topics. She used point of view to see whether the study could have bias if it was funded by a company who had a personal stake in the outcome. She studied the purpose of the studies to see whether the study was looking to see if there was a correlation between two factors or to see if there was a causal relationship between two factors. This greatly matters because some journals will report on the study as if there was a causal relationship when the study only found a correlation between two factors. This spreads wrong information to the public, which will have a big influence on personal decision making. Question at issue, information, interpretation and inferences, and concepts were all studied as the key way to attempt to answer the question each chapter asked. Assumptions made by the public were also taken into account in some chapters if those assumptions had a big influence on decision making regarding the topic. Finally, implications and consequences of the studies, the journals written about those studies, and the way the public responded to those were analyzed, as well. Dr. Yasmin also talked about heuristics in some of the chapters. She mentioned the availability heuristic in chapter 9, which explores if MSG, a food additive, is addictive or not, and chapter 46, which questions if debunking a myth actually helps it spread. The availability heuristic is important to pseudoscience because it happens when we make conclusions based on information that is easy to find. We do not look further into the question to discover other explanations. 


The whole purpose of the book was not only to show the truth behind certain myths, misinformation, and disinformation in the media, but also to show why people might believe in something that hasn’t been proven, or even has been proven to be false, and how we can detect false information in the media ourselves. At the end of the book, Dr. Yasmin describes techniques we can use to determine if studies, journals, and other information sources are credible enough to listen to and trust. It is important that people know how to detect false information in the media because it can be so important that it can save lives. For example, one chapter analyzes a well-known myth that vaccines cause autism. It has been proven and supported that they do not, but many parents still refuse to vaccinate their children for this exact reason. If these parents knew how to look for credible sources and how to differentiate between false information and trustworthy information, it could protect their children against preventable diseases. This knowledge can save people a lot of trouble because they would know exactly who to trust and what to believe when it comes to science. Knowing who to trust and what science to believe in could save lives and make quality of life much better.

Here is a link to the Viral BS book's trailer:

Dr. Seema Yasmin has done many interviews speaking about her book and answering more medical myths:

Here is a really good article on false information all over the place. It talks about the difference between misinformation and disinformation, how much information on the internet is fake, where false information comes from, why false information is spread, how to detect false information, and how to stop it from spreading:

No comments:

Post a Comment