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Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History [Hardcover]

Damian Thompson
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jan 2008
We are being swamped by dangerous nonsense. From 9/11 conspiracy theories to Holocaust denial, creationism to alternative medicine, we are all experiencing an epidemic of demonstrably untrue descriptions of the world. For Damian Thompson, these 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. 'The sleep of reason brings forth monsters', warns the title of Francisco Goya's famous etching of 1799. As Damian Thompson demonstrates, unless the defenders of enlightenment values fight back soon, the counterknowledge industry has the potential to create new political, social and economic disasters.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 162 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 Jan 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843546752
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843546757
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 740,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"'Damian Thompson's extraordinary book is literally a revelation... Superb and often breathtaking.' J. G. Ballard, Daily Telegraph"

About the Author

Damian Thompson is a leader-writer for the Daily Telegraph. He is also editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald and the author of The End of Time (1996) and Waiting for Antichrist (2005).

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Forceful yet lightweight 13 Oct 2008
By Stucumber VINE VOICE
A good read but quite slight. Although I did agree with most of the author's arguments it was mostly because I was familiar with them already. I can't imagine that this would likely convince anyone who believes in 'alternative' notions of reality as it doesn't really examine them with any real rigour.

I'm still looking for the definitive book on all things 'woo' and though this is not it, it's still a decent primer into the world of 'Counter-Knowledge'.

Where the subject of this book -counter-knowledge- begins and ends I don't know and from the author's definition I'm still not entirely clear. Given the author's occupation as a writer for a christian publication, what defines orthodox knowledge for him may not chime with everyone else's definition.

Still, I believe at least he is nominally on the side of rationality and reason. Even if some of his personal beliefs, for me, make him a target of his own argument.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Superficial swipe at a serious issue 7 July 2013
While Thompson convinces that 'counter-knowledge', an odd conflation of "conspiracy theories, quack theories, quack medicine, bogus science and fake history" is a real issue he doesn't really get to the heart of "how we surrendered" to such daft ideas. The book feels superficial; trailing on the coattails of Francis 'Mumbo-Jumbo' Wheen and Ben 'Bad Science' Goldacre without adding much further analysis.

Why does 'counter-knowledge' gain traction? Can such a range of 'counter-knowledge' usefully be treated together? The profit drivers behind homeopathy and suchlike are obvious and Thompson is right to criticise the editorial sloppiness and greed that has allowed the more egregious examples of pseudo-history to be published. But to what extent, for example, is 'conspiracy' an understandable (if usually daft) response to the 'manufacture of consent' that all governments indulge in? The motivations of creationists were also under-analysed. Why do religious fundamentalists peddle such nonsense and what are the actual, as opposed to speculative, consequences on its believers for education and development.

The reading list at the end looks good though, maybe that is where to look for some of these answers.
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39 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fighting the fictionalisation of fact 5 Feb 2008
Everyone always goes on about this and that being a 'necessary' book. It is rare to find one that really is necessary as well as being hugely entertaining and thought-provoking.
Thompson writes in clear, elegant prose which belies his deep research of the subject matter. The argument put forward is clear, ratonal and of interest to anyone who's dismayed by the conspiracy theory and easy answer culture of our decade. Previous reviews have mentioned the author's (purported)Catholicism but these purely ad hominem attacks miss the point. Even if you don't agree with Thompson's targets (and with holocaust denial, homeoipathy and creatonism - you'd be remiss not to) then this book is still a valuable treasure trove of methodology. Thompson lays out a process by which all 'knowledge' can be emprically tested. This is so essential that it's a surprise no one teaches it to kids in school.
Oh, did I also mention that te book is funny? well, that it is; acerbic and witty in all the right places. In an age where believeing in UFOs and believing in DNA are accorded the same credibility by the masses, this is that rare thing, a truly necessary book whose lessons you can take with you and apply to anything. In the years to come, this will be seen as a ground-breaking text on destroying dogma and piffle....make sure you read it now and arm yourself against the exigencies of fiction masquerading as fact.
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4.0 out of 5 stars debunking 21 April 2014
By m. dosa
this book sets out to question and debunk. its quite wide ranging which can give it a bit of a sneering tone but its autopsy of the book 1421 was interesting,homeopathy and some of the conspiracy theories concerning 9/11 were worth reading it came across to me as positive debunking some of the aura counter knowledge has attained
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1.0 out of 5 stars Void of science or thought 14 April 2014
What I saw in this book was abject rejection of anything even slightly outside the strictly-established norm, without any actual delving into the supposed "facts" of each thing on an individual basis. Non'o'that "consideration" nonsense - just shoot down complex issues in a quickfire way with little to no critical analysis. Tackling heavily scientific subjects in a sensationalist non-scientific way. Spending pages upon pages refuting/ridiculing ONE book, and then quickly bundling completely unrelated subjects into the end as if discrediting one thing means discrediting everything.

As a rule of thumb - I avoid sources which place a blanket rejection over things which THEY label as "conspiracy" or "quackery". These are emotive terms used to manipulate people into knee-jerk reactions and are never used by serious thinkers. Most of the time they are speaking from emotion instead of the reason and rationality that they claim exclusive sovereignty over. Any source which relies on manipulative language, ridicule and any measure of verbal abuse to make its case is an entirely bankrupt source unworthy of even a second of time, in my opinion and experience. This book ticks all these boxes.

The message of this book is pretty much "Institutions and corporations know the facts and you don't, so stop trying to think for yourself and just accept what you're told". History proves with endless repetition that established fact is always changing and what is established fact in one decade can become absurdity in the next. This book is already scientifically obsolete in this decade, in another one or two it will be a rag.

We can credit it with poking holes in the most obvious and crudest of theories, which anyone can do.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Makes the same mistakes he accuses others of making
Thompson's argument like Andrew Keen's is that now we have the internet it is much easier to spread disinformation and crank ideas - his counterknowldge. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Andrew Dalby
1.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight Rubbish
A pointless book. The author makes claims that evolution is true, but presents no evidence to substantiate it. The fossil record of course contradicts the claims of evolutionists. Read more
Published on 12 Jan 2012 by Johns
1.0 out of 5 stars I can't agree with the author about homeopathy
I borrowed a copy of this book from the public library a couple of years ago, and when I read it, I was very disappointed with the author's attitude toward homeopathy. Read more
Published on 21 Dec 2011 by Jonathan Davies
1.0 out of 5 stars Yet another propaganda book
Talking about quack medicine, vaccines are the best

'Vaccines did not save humanity and never will. Vaccines have never been proven truly safe ... Read more
Published on 13 Feb 2011 by
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the money?
I came late to this book and what a disappointment. The author has written a derivative pot boiler which draws heavily on well known works and arguments by the likes of Wheen and... Read more
Published on 25 July 2010 by M. Haynes
1.0 out of 5 stars Completely Useless
I can't believe A C Grayling gave this book a good review. 'Counterknowledge' will not save us from the tsunami of misinformation, falsity, error and distortion that infect our... Read more
Published on 10 Jan 2010 by mysterioustraveller
5.0 out of 5 stars Attack the Quacks
If conspiracy theories annoy you, bogus 'experts' bother you, and pseudo history frustrates you - here's why it is the credulous fall for so much untested stuff, and why the spread... Read more
Published on 16 Nov 2009 by Dilberto
1.0 out of 5 stars very skewed
Damian is a good spin doctor at his job praising the Vatican for the Catholic Herald. I suppose there are two kinds of truth for Damian, The Truth and Catholic Truth, but they... Read more
Published on 4 April 2009 by Rudy Manchego
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but ...
The book is well writen, etc. and I share all of the author's misgivings about counter knowledge, conspiracy theories, etc. Read more
Published on 1 Mar 2009 by Christian Heyde Petersen
1.0 out of 5 stars Good but bad
Much of this may be excellent, but anyone who lumps together all complementary and alternative medicine as 'quack medicine' and makes no intelligent, fact-based distinction between... Read more
Published on 8 Feb 2009 by amantedofado
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