COUNTERKNOWLEDGE by Damian Thompson

COUNTERKNOWLEDGE

How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History
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KIRKUS REVIEW

We are drowning in a sea of lies and fakery, aided and abetted by the Internet culture’s anything-goes mentality, warns Thompson (Waiting for Antichrist, 2005, etc.).

In this slim but tough-minded book, the editor in chief of Britain's Catholic Herald newspaper argues that the Web-enabled proliferation of alternative theories and speculations challenging orthodox beliefs on everything from evolution to 9/11 are nothing short of a looming disaster for civilization. Thompson takes a cold chisel to the fatuous bubbles of pseudo-theories proliferating in the modern mediascape, to devastating effect. Defining counterknowledge as “misinformation packaged to look like fact,” he begins to dismantle some of its more popular examples. Keeping his prose cool and level-headed, the author debunks theories ranging from the idea that the U.S. government was behind 9/11 to the surprisingly popular belief that the Chinese (among a host of other nations) landed in North America before Columbus. Not coming from any easily deducible ideological angle, Thompson passionately defends nothing more complicated than factual truth, a concept in danger of being swept away by “a pandemic of credulous thinking.” He pushes aside the baseless “theories” behind alternative-medicine hokum and intelligent design by doing something he calls “deeply unfashionable”: assuming that when a large number of scientists from varied backgrounds all state something as a proven fact based on empirical evidence, it probably is correct. Showing that fringe quackery has charged unchallenged into the mainstream media and begun bellowing unproven beliefs (Vaccines cause autism! Aromatherapy cures cancer!) to a conspiracy-prone public, Thompson portrays a culture dangerously close to losing touch with reality.

The only thing to complain about with this illuminating book is that it isn't long enough to irrefutably knock down each of the baseless ideas the author discusses.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-393-06769-9
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2008