I had high hopes for this book, hoping to find studies and facts refuting modern conspiracy theories like alternative medicine and 9/11 truthers.
But from a purely pragmatic point of view of persuading the reader, Thompson would be more effective if he didn't wax quite so white-hot indignant about each and every example he cites. Bogus science which denies the link between HIV and AIDS, or which makes unwarranted claims about a putative link between MMR vaccination and autism is clearly actively dangerous, as it can cause people to avoid therapies proven to be beneficial. But no matter how much the success of Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret" or Gavin Menzies's "1421: The Year China Discovered America" might irritate Thompson (and it clearly frosts his eyeballs enormously), it is hard to see these books as being quite as dangerous or reprehensible as,say, holocaust denial used to foment anti-Semitism or the South African government's distortion of information related to the cause of AIDS. Thompson's uncalibrated indignation has the unfortunate side-effect of suggesting that every instance of 'counterknowledge' deserves equal condemnation, which ultimately hurts his argument, though not fatally. In these sections Thompson appears clearly guilty of applying differential standards of evidence to support his claims.
Counterknowledge is a slim book about a big problem: the rising tide of pseudo-science and conspiracy-mongering that threatens to drown out real, empirical science and history in the public consciousness. It gets off to a promising start, but unfortunately it drifts for a dozen chapters before sputtering to a non-finish. Thompson has pet theories about why these forms of public ignorance are on the rise, and briefly explains them.
Damian Thompsons Counterknowledge: How we surrendered to conspiracy theories, quack medicine, bogus science, and fake history has an amazing number of them. For example, Samuel Davies Baldwin published a book in 1854 that asserted that Armageddon would be fought on U.S. soil, that the Semites were an inferior yellow race, that the numerical values for the word Latinos equaled 666 (Im sure a lot of our Tea Party folks would like that one), and that the number of Christians in American in 1776 totaled 144,000 (p. If they know the truth about 9/11, or the real cause of cancer, or the law of attraction, then they possess information that can change the world. 234) Thompson traces the spread of conspiracies, quackeries, and reactionary counter-science to the rise of postmodernist claims (p.56). He also recognizes the role of the Internet in spreading bogus information, noting: Wikipedia itself is, by its nature, unreliable; a fair amount of counterknowledge creeps into its database every day. 108) In addition to scams like The Secret with its law of attraction, Thompson stakes out other atrocities. In northern Nigeria, Islamic leaders have issued a fatwa declaring the polio vaccine to be an American conspiracy to sterilize Muslims. 113) But Thompson doesnt just pick on fundamentalist Christians (he really doesnt understand authentic Intelligent Design but confused it with the radical rights attempts to use the terminology on the same old, same old young earth creationisman unfair and uninformed judgment as bogus as some of the citations in which he displays the lack of consistent methodology in others) and fundamentalist Muslims, he also goes after the Templar and DaVinci Code folks. Thompson charges, The free market likes counterknowledge.
Damian Thompson lays out the very considerable problem of a failure in critical thinking that has so deeply permeated popular culture. Complain all you want, but look beyond the complaint and design an enthusiasm in popular culture that can make science open to everyone, so critical thinking becomes the popular habit, and not simply an unknown in the public eye.
While I agree with just about everything written here, this book is useless in its stated purpose of combating what the author refers to as counterknowledge (belief in information that is demonstrably false). There are no arguments about why counterknowledge beliefs are wrong besides attacks on credentials and associates, and occasional lines stating that such and such as been shown to be false or there is no evidence for this claim. No one who disagrees with anything written here will be dissuaded from their beliefs, and those who already agree will find no new information to battle counterknowledge. Also, by choosing to attack only the most low-hanging fruit of the beliefs of fringe elements, the author provides no insight into more insidious and less obviously false counterknowledge.
I don't think he wrote this book to convert anyone; I think he wrote it to be a quick read to raise awareness to a growing problem: pseudoscience, complementary and alternative medicine, and pseudohistory making inroads, and thus corrupting, science, medicine, and history.
But perhaps 2 stars is too low, because some this author presented some excellent points, albeit from a seemingly conservative view (meaning that he harped on the left wing too much), about the rise of "knowledge" that is not empirically based that is being touted as such.
He used the phrase roughly two or three times per chapter, and when your book only has five chapters, it tends to stand out. Also, even though the book as little to no politics in it, the writer felt the need to point out if any person or publication he quoted was "left-wing".