Sometimes, the title of a book is all one needs to read: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is a popular history of popular folly by Charles Mackay, first published in 1841.
Mass hysteria is a universal phenomenon for our species (and perhaps others as well). Nicholas A Christakis, professor of medical sociology, Harvard Medical School, and attending physician, Mt Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts has an important piece in this week's BMJ, This allergies hysteria is just nuts.
He writes: The issue is not whether nut allergies exist or whether they can occasionally be serious. Nor is the issue whether reasonable accommodation should be made for the few children who have documented serious allergies. The issue is what accounts for the extreme responses to nut allergies and what to do about the responses and the allergies themselves.
Espousing his views will not make you popular with certain people; yet this piece is in the Mackay tradition and will be valuable to read. If you have trouble accessing the BMJ site, here is a pdf: Download Nut Allergy Nuts