Counterknowledge

Overview

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 ...

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Counterknowledge

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

According to Thompson, we are experiencing a pandemic of "counterknowledge": "misinformation packaged to look like fact," but that is demonstrably false. In rapid-fire prose, Thompson, editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, examines several cases of counterknowledge, arguing that creationism, conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 and claims linking autism to childhood vaccines have been promoted as factual by respected journalists and publishers. In one example of the power and danger of pseudohistory, Thompson devotes a great deal of effort to take down already much-debunked notions of creationism and Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and the ridicule he heaps on Mormonism explains little about why it is such a rapidly growing religion. He is scandalized that Gavin Menzies's 1421 is heavily promoted "by all of Britain's leading chains of bookshops," though Menzies's notion that the Chinese discovered America has been widely derided by historians. Seeing the source of the spread of "counterknowledge" in the decreasing role of institutions like church and family, and the rise of postmodernism, Thompson sheds much heat but little light on the age-old phenomenon of human gullibility and its exploitation. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
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. Agent: Simon Trewin/PFD
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393067699
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/15/2008
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents

1 Knowledge and Counterknowledge 1

2 Creationism and Counterknowledge 24

3 The Return of Pseudohistory 48

4 Desperate Remedies 71

5 The Counterknowledge Industry 94

6 Living with Counterknowledge 117

Further Reading 157

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