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

Book - 2008
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Publisher: Toronto : Viking, 2008.
ISBN: 9780670068654
Characteristics: 162 pages ; 21 cm


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Feb 27, 2017

"Counterknowledge" is journalist Damian Thompson's term for the opposite of knowledge - not ignorance, not mistakes, but claims made in direct contradiction of the facts. It is, he demonstrates, a booming industry. Old standards have fallen as mainstream television programs have endorsed 9/11 conspiracy theories and The Secret, while books purporting to give the "real story" behind The Da Vinci Code have found their way into the history sections of bookstores and libraries, and major universities have dabbled in alternative medicine. Most dramatically, of course, the Internet has proven to be a uniquely successful vector for counterknowledge, not only disseminating untruths more broadly, but allowing the cross-fertilization of ideas between groups that would not normally interact, such as Christian and Muslim creationists or white and black racists.

Thompson is not primarily interested in either cataloging or systematically debunking different forms of counterknowledge, rather, the book is an analysis of what makes counterknowledge so widespread in such an allegedly rational, skeptical age. According to the author, a decline in standards, increased specialization, and a general failure of education all play important parts. More significantly, the dual triumphs of postmodernism and identity politics have established a relativist ideology which refuses to judge between competing truth claims and which is particularly strong among the very elites who might otherwise act as responsible gatekeepers. Meanwhile, consumerism promotes the attitude that objective truth matters less than how a "truth" makes the consumer feel while simultaneously encouraging a profits-first mentality among producers. Most important, however, has been the dissolution of public trust - in a culture that habitually confuses consensus with conspiracy, fact and fantasy are indistinguishable. Unfortunately, Thompson's preferred tactic against counterknowledge - merciless mockery - will not solve that problem.

Feb 03, 2015

Wow, I’ve seen books go downhill before, but this one went down-cliff, accomplishing the world’s fastest A to F transition. On pages 119-120, the author went from a brilliant expose of long-festering con jobs, like homeopathy, to blaming feminists, minorities, homosexuals, democratic egalitarianism, and the modern unravelling of blind faith in authority figures for all the ills of the world—but at least he remembered to whine about how people who hold his views are persecuted. Dear author: people telling you to stop spewing offensive BS about minority rights are not joined in a conspiracy to suppress your truth. Dear other people: allow me to recommend instead.

Jan 16, 2014

"Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones." ... Unpopular Essays (1950), "Outline of Intellectual Rubbish" .... Lord Bertrand Arthur William Russell 3rd Earl Russell 1872-1970

May 08, 2013

Instead of wasting time reading this horrible bunch of misinformation, instead do two things: research the extremely shady background of Damian Thompson, then read the outstanding book by sociologist, Lance DeHaven-Smith, "Conspiracy Theory in America" - - a great and enlightening read. Also, check into the historical events of "Operation Brother Sam" - - "Operation Gladio" - - the CIA's MK ULTRA program - - the FBI's COINTEL program - - the overthrow of democractically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala during the Eisenhower administration (and Kermit Roosevelt's later employment with Mellon family's Gulf Oil - - and Kermit's counsin, Joseph Alsop, the columnist), the same for the democractically elected government in Honduras during the early Obama administration (when Hillary Clinton was chair of the MCC, which financed it), and so on.

Sep 07, 2012

This book on the growth of misinformation warns us to be leery of unproven "facts" but the author doesn't disprove anything or even try to, the opinions of those "who know" are enough for him. In the part about quacks and scientific gullibility he scorns writers who have only a Bachelor of Science, but he doesn't have even that. (His field is the sociology of religion.) His chapter on creation vs evolution doesn't show how to distinguish between what can and cannot be proven (so knowledge and beliefs can be kept separate), he claims science can prove there is no intelligence behind evolution.
Making such a claim without proof fits his own definition of counterknowledge.

Jul 17, 2011

Read this book for the main ideas only. This guy's got some serious issues with people of color, poor people, and non western healthcare.
Otherwise, there's some good basic concepts.

May 17, 2010

'Invented Knowledge' is better, more complete than this book.

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