Counterknowledge

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W. W. Norton & Company, Sep 17, 2008 - Social Science - 176 pages
4 Reviews

An important and compelling book on the viral dissemination of misinformation in today's world.

We are being swamped with dangerous nonsense. From 9/11 conspiracy theories to Holocaust denial to alternative medicine, we are all experiencing an epidemic of demonstrably untrue descriptions of the world. For Damian Thompson, the misinformation industry is wreaking havoc on the once-lauded virtues of science and reason. Unproven theories and spurious claims are forms of "counterknowledge," and, helped by the Internet, they are creating a global generation of misguided adherents who repeat these untruths and lend them credence. Thompson explores our readiness to accept falsehoods and the viral role of technology in spreading quack remedies, pseudo-history, and creationist fanaticism. Following in the footsteps of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, Sam Harris's The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great, Counterknowledge is a brilliant defense of scientific proof in an age of fabrication.
 

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The author discusses pseudohistory and pseudoscience, and how they seem to have grown in the past several decades. He attributes much of this growth to the Internet.
His points are well taken, but
just as an aside: What does he hope to gain by writing this type of debunking book? If he thinks he's going to change anyone's opinion, or prevent someone from diving off into pseudohistory or pseudoscience, I think he's going to be sadly disappointed. In fact, he does mention the futility of his aims, especially with respect to the Internet, where anything goes.
Thompson never really addresses the issue of the psychology of pseudohistory and pseudoscience: that is, why do people today find this so attractive and why is it growing?
He does mention a book by Michael Shermer that looks more at the psychology involved. Shermer attributes it to the feelings of "hope" pseudo-information gives people; for example, someone with cancer may try an herbal remedy, thinking it might work.
I think Thompson should have delved into this psychology more to give personal meaning to his book. People turn to these pseudo-sciences, such as Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, because they are looking for an escape from their own strait jackets. Usually, they have sewn these strait jackets themselves, but they don't know how to get out of them. So, just like fantasy in general, people try to escape their "desperate lives" through pseudohistory, or religious beliefs, or addictions, or whatever they find at hand.
But, says Thompson, they don't know these are fantasies, as they would, say, a comic book hero or a vampire book. I'm not so sure about that. And neither is he, because he makes many assumptions about people's motivations. His history may be factual, but his psychology is lacking.
So what type of person is going to write such a book? One for whom everything has to be correct? That seems a bit compulsive, but then total correctness, according to science, is a worthy goal, at least in some corners of the universe.
 

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Who are the real dons of ‘counterknowledge’?
Damian Thompson’s fiery polemic against conspiracy theories has much to recommend it. But we can’t blame the demise of Enlightenment thinking on diet
doctors and Islamists alone...
Review continued here: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/reviewofbooks_article/4705/
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Dare to know nothing
‘Counterknowledge’, fiction masquerading as fact on everything from 9/11 to homeopathy, is thriving thanks to today's mad mixture of postmodern political correctness and capitalist greed.
Review continued here: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/reviewofbooks_article/4360/
 

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Contents

II
1
III
24
IV
48
V
71
VI
94
VII
117
VIII
141
IX
157
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About the author (2008)

Damian Thompson is the editor in chief of The Catholic Herald. He also writes for The Daily Telegraph. Thompson is the author of The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium. He lives in London.

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