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An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases, By Moises Velasquez-Manoff

Date: September 4, 2014 Category: , , ,

This book is a real page-turner. Moises Velasquez-Manoff is chronically ill with an autoimmune condition, and despite not being formally trained in science he sets off on a quest to investigate “worm therapy,” a risky and far-fetched remedy in which one intentionally infects oneself with parasites in an attempt to regulate the immune system. An Epidemic of Absence offers a layperson’s exploration of a set of controversial theories that are often seldom strung together—especially since putting these unproven ideas into practice would run afoul of the Hippocratic oath. When considered together, they could offer a plausible key to the recent (and growing) worldwide explosion in autoimmunity and allergies. The reliability of Velasquez-Manoff’s narration is suspect for several reasonsfirst, his personal biases (conscious or unconscious) cannot fail to influence his account, and, second, his lack of training sets him up to make rookie science reporting mistakes. Yet as a piece of storytelling, An Epidemic of Absence is impeccable. While Velasquez-Manoff occasionally succumbs to the cardinal (and extremely common) sin of suggesting correlation is causation, he does so rarely, and when he does, he immediately recognizes it and offers a disclaimer. In that way, this book is a great mirror to how I typically go about evaluating whether scientific ideas are relevant to my own condition: manic fantasies of what it all means, followed by sobering caveats, and finally, settling on what I suspect actually happened (which often lies somewhere between the fantasies and the caveats). An Epidemic of Absence feels like talking to a very smart friend about a fantastic journey they had: discoveries, missteps, epiphanies, and all. —Bonnie