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Science General

Science Goes Viral

Captivating Accounts of Science in Everyday Life

by (author) Joe Schwarcz

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2021
General, Infectious Diseases, Contagious, Public Health
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
    List Price
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Jan 2022
    List Price

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Where to buy it



Science has gone viral! In more ways than one.

Bestselling popular science author Dr. Joe Schwarcz breaks down the science of essential oils, placenta creams, intermittent fasting, and of course the spread of COVID-19 misinformation in this new collection from the master of demarcating non-science from science

Since we first heard rumblings about a novel type of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, terms like pandemic, spike protein, viral particles, variants, mRNA vaccines, antibodies, hydroxychloroquine, social distancing, immune response, convalescent plasma, aerosol transmission, and of course, face coverings, have entered our everyday vocabulary. The scientific literature has exploded with studies exploring every facet of COVID-19, but unfortunately the “viral” spread of misinformation about the pandemic has also reached epic proportions.

Science Goes Viral provides a framework for coming to grips with the onslaught of COVID-19 information and misinformation in this ever-changing pandemic. Here, you’ll learn about the first antibodies ever identified, the connection between tonic water and coronavirus, and whether we can zap COVID with copper. And although our thoughts and daily activities have been hijacked by the pandemic, life does go on, as does the pursuit of science. Dr. Joe features his usual array of diverse topics, including biblical dyes, essential oils, Jean Harlow’s hair, Lincoln’s magician, and bioplastics, along with assorted examples of quackery.

Delving into the many fascinating facets of science can serve as a welcome distraction from the COVID curse. In fact, enchantment with science can also be contagious. Will you be infected?


About the author

Joe Schwarcz is Director of the McGill Office for Science and Society. He is well known for his informative and entertaining public lectures on topics ranging from the chemistry of love to the science of aging. Dr. Joe has received numerous awards for teaching chemistry and for interpreting science for the public and is the only non-American ever to win the American Chemical Society’s prestigious Grady-Stack Award for demystifying chemistry. He hosts "The Dr. Joe Show" on Montreal's CJAD and has appeared hundreds of times on The Discovery Channel, CTV, CBC, TV Ontario and Global Television. He is also an amateur conjurer and often spices up his presentations with a little magic. Dr. Joe also writes a newspaper column entitled “The Right Chemistry” and has authored a number of books including best-sellers, Radar, Hula Hoops and Playful PigsThe Genie in the BottleThe Right ChemistryAn Apple a Day, Is That a Fact?, and Monkeys, Myths, and Molecules.  Dr. Joe was awarded the 2010 Montreal Medal, the Canadian Chemical Institute’s premier prize recognizing lifetime contributions to chemistry in Canada. In 2015 he was named winner of the Balles Prize for critical thinking by the US based Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in recognition of his 2014 book, Is That A Fact?

Joe Schwarcz's profile page

Excerpt: Science Goes Viral: Captivating Accounts of Science in Everyday Life (by (author) Joe Schwarcz)


It was once characterized as “The Strangling Angel of Children.” Diphtheria is a bacterial infection transmitted via respiratory secretions spread through the air. The bacteria produce a toxin that causes a thick film to develop in the throat, making breathing difficult, and in the worst case, strangling the patient. The name of the disease derives from the Greek for “leather,” an apt description of the distinctive coating seen in the victim’s throat.

In 1878, Britain was shocked by the diphtheria deaths of Alice, Queen Victoria’s thirty-five-year-old daughter, and Alice’s youngest child. Apparently, the disease could be spread by the innocent kiss between a mother and child, the “kiss of death.” The tragic case invigorated research and within a few years, the bacterium responsible for diphtheria was isolated, and the toxin it produced identified as a specific protein. Although the concept of immunization had been introduced in 1796 by Edward Jenner’s prevention of smallpox through inoculation with cowpox extract, a similar regimen was not possible for diphtheria. Attempts at immunization with small doses of the bacterium ended up causing disease. Another approach was needed and was found by German researchers who injected the toxin into a horse. This did not harm the animal but provoked the production of white blood cells from which an “antitoxin” was isolated. That “antitoxin” turned out to be the first “antibody” ever identified. While it saved the lives of many diphtheria victims, it did not prevent the disease, nor did it stop it from spreading.

Then in 1923, Gaston Ramon made a landmark discovery at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Exposing diphtheria toxin to minute amounts of formaldehyde resulted in the loss of its toxicity but the ability to stimulate antibody production was retained. This opened the door to the possibility of formulating a vaccine with the altered diphtheria toxin, now renamed as a “toxoid.” Indeed, by the end of the 1920s, carefully controlled trials in some 36,000 Canadian children had shown that toxoid injections reduced diphtheria incidence by at least 90%. The first modern vaccine was born!


Editorial Reviews


“Dr. Joe is at his best in this trip through history, science, and communicable disease, and in plain language helps us understand the dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic.” — Hon. Kelvin K. Ogilvie, CM, Chemist and Canadian Senator (2009–2017)

“To all the people who feel that science is a dry and boring affair, this book will be an eye-opener. Joe Schwarcz has a great talent for turning science into amusing and entertaining, yet informative and easy-to-understand stories. It is, I think, impossible not to be fascinated by this terrific book.” — Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine, University of Exeter

“Joe Schwarcz does it again with this fun, fast-paced, and evidence-informed exploration of the hot topics in science we’ve been bombarded with over the past few years! From the biology of vaccines (including the new mRNA variety) and immune boosting (spoiler: you can’t) to the history of epidemiology and toilet paper, Schwarcz gives us the fact-filled low-down. In a world filled with misinformation and twisted science, this is a must-read!” — Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, bestselling author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?