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Don't Get Fooled Again: A Sceptic's Handbook: The Sceptic's Guide to Life [Paperback]

Richard Wilson
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 April 2009
Why is it that, time and again, intelligent, educated people end up falling for ideas that turn out on closer examination to be nonsense? We live in a supposedly rational age, yet crazy notions seem increasingly mainstream. New Age peddlers claim to cure Aids with vitamin tablets. Media gatekeepers stoke panic and regurgitate corporate press releases in the name of 'balance'. Wild-eyed men in sandwich boards blame it all on the CIA.Even the word 'sceptic' has been appropriated by cranks and conspiracy theorists bent on rewriting history and debunking sound science. But while it may be easier than ever for nonsense to spread, it's never been simpler to fight back. "Don't Get Fooled Again" offers practical tools for cutting through the claptrap and unravelling the spin - tackling propaganda, the psychology of deception, pseudo-news, bogus science, the weird cult of 'Aids reappraisal', numerous conspiracy theories (including the one about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq), and much more. Richard Wilson's book is user-friendly, enjoyable, shot through with polemic - and argues forcefully for a positive solution.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310528
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310520
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 902,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Reviews for his first book, 'Titanic Express': "'Incredibly moving' Ziauddin Sardar, Independent 'An astonishing chronicle' Bronwen Maddox, The Times 'I have watched in growing admiration how, with dogged persistence, Richard Wilson has conducted a singular crusade, not just to bring his sister's murderers to justice, but to understand who they were and why they killed her.' Jon Swain, Sunday Times" 'An enjoyable polemic against pretty much everything really, and as it rips apart our own gullibility and life in general, it also manages to highlight a lot of the basic philosophical premises that we have opted into without giving them real consideration in the first place. An enjoyable diatribe, indeed.' -- Publishing News 'Richard's Wilson's [book] has been likened to Francis Wheen's 'How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World.' It provides an objective and philosophical dissection of some commonly held beliefs. Almost a self-help book, this provides the reader with the analytical tools to avoid being taken for a ride, as well as being entertaining and informative.' -- Patrick Neale, Bookseller '... a very useful handbook for people who know that things they read in the paper or hear on the television are "not quite right" and need to be challenged.' -- A Common Reader 'Written in lucid prose, well researched and strongly argued, 'Don't Get Fooled Again' is a great little book. It has reminded me of the virtues of scepticism (as distinct from cynicism, which is unthinking negativity and expecting the worst in all circumstances). So, if you don't want to buy a pig in a poke, have the wool pulled over your eyes or be an unquestioning sheep, then this is the book for you.' -- Bookgeeks 'There's so much gold in Wilson's book it's hard to pick out specific examples. Wilson explains in a wonderful aside that the brain regenerates itself every seven years - meaning in effect that you will be a completely different person by November 30 2015. He shatters the postmodern paradigm of a Western imperial Enlightenment forced upon complaining natives by discussing the developing world's substantial contributions to science.' -- Max Dunbar 'Prescribed read for the hype-harassed and panic-pumped.' -- Hindu 'It's refreshing to read this new book by Richard Wilson.' -- Brendan Wallace, Fortean Times 'Wilson's book is a necessary and well-written guide to guarding yourself against 'being fooled again'.' -- Brendan Wallace, Fortean Times

From the Back Cover

`This is a book about expensive delusions, and how to avoid them. It looks at the myriad ways in which we can deceive ourselves - and be deceived by others. We've all been fooled at one time or another - be it in love or in business, by the media or by the promise of politicians. There are no solid guarantees that can protect us in the future. But by learning more about the human weakness for wishful thinking, the mechanisms of psychological manipulation, and the tools that we can use to separate fact from fantasy, we can at least go some way towards inoculating ourselves.'
Richard Wilson, from his Introduction --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nonsense has a lot to answer for 20 July 2009
By Sphex
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You don't have to be a self-conscious sceptic to enjoy this superb book. To some, sceptics are killjoys who explain the weird noise in a haunted house as the puffing of an automatic air freshener rather than a ghost sneezing, or (in a recent Guardian piece by Daniel Dennett) just plain old-fashioned "loonies" (sorry, "moon-landing sceptics"). Richard Wilson takes scepticism a lot more seriously, for the simple reason that it can be a matter of life and death. More scepticism within the South African government towards Aids denialism, for example, could have prevented "one of the greatest man-made disasters of the modern era" (when that government "deliberately delayed the roll-out of antiretroviral drugs"). Scepticism is one of the great positive virtues we should all cultivate, not just a thorn in the side of woo.

Wilson starts the book with a scam he witnessed as a teenager (but which goes back to the Middle Ages and from which we get the expressions "buying a pig in a poke" and "let the cat out of the bag"). He was impressed that the "salesman had managed to fool the crowd completely, while speaking the literal truth", relying on haste and greed for a bargain to override the crowd's better judgement. This is hardly grand larceny of course, but no less instructive for being on a small scale. After all, we're more likely to fall victim to this kind of salesmanship than to the high-rolling Madoffs of this world.

One of the pleasures of this book is the real-world examples that get you hot under the collar (and misty eyed about trading standards and the Sale of Goods Act). Another is the serious intellectual argument against relativism. The glib catchphrase "it's all relative" is "an idea with troubling implications".
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By A Common Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
It is refreshing to read a book like Don't Get Fooled Again, which takes our vague feeling that "things aren't quite right" and shows us that gut instincts are often quite correct, and we really shouldn't believe the utterances of any institution or public figure without first submitting them to some pretty stringent tests.

Richard Wilson puts forward a good case for scepticism, reminding his readers that humanity has a long history of "meekly engaging in depraved acts of inhumanity on the basis of ideas that turned out to be total gibberish".

Much of his book focuses on the public relations industry, citing a number of case studies to show how opinion can be manipulated. He devotes a whole chapter to the way tobacco companies in the 1950s manipulated news organisations to question the increasingly obvious link between smoking and lung cancer. The strategy consisted of getting an influential academic on-side (geneticist Clarence Cook Little in this case), and using him to question every scrap of evidence which research scientists gathered supporting the need for anti-smoking legislation.

A story really takes off when two sides are seen in opposition, even when it is obvious that the alleged "controversy" is falsely based. This can be observed every day on radio and tv programmes when even the most blindingly obvious truth has to be contested by a protagonist with opposing views, resulting in equal weight being given to both nonsense and fact.

Wilson warns of the dangers of pseudo-science, and its ability to influence government and other decision-makers. Wilson traces this back to Trofim Lysenko, Stalin's favorite scientist who's wrong-headed ideas about agronomy led to mass starvation throughout Russia.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Genuinely Good 24 April 2009
By GeogMan
Format:Paperback
I was surprised by Wilson's book. It is not only provocative and well researched but interesting for subject matter which can often be tired or plain boring. Whilst much covered can be found elsewhere it is presented exceptionally well and I felt rewarded from after completing the 223 pages. I'd certainly recommend this to you all. Sceptical of my review? You've ever right to be, but trust me, it's a good read ;-)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and insightful 2 Nov 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brilliantly written and full of sound advice on how to avoid having the wool pulled over your eyes. I'd recommend to anyone who wants to develop their inner sceptic.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sceptical concerns that should concern us all 15 July 2012
Format:Hardcover
The book's subtitle, "The Sceptic's Guide to Life", may be a bit ambitious as an aim, but the content offers excellent advice on how to check if what you're being told can be believed.

Wilson covers dubious advertising, news stories that are no more than uncritical rehashes of press releases, manufactured controversies and much else besides, all with examples and copious footnotes (so if you have any doubt you are free to check his sources -- many of which are available for free on the web).

By way of example he goes into detail about Trofim Lysenko's bogus attempts to reform Soviet agriculture, as well as examining Clarence Cook Little's initially successful efforts in the 1950's to obfuscate the growing concern about a link between tobacco and lung cancer.

There's a chapter about AIDS denialism -- the claim that there's no evidence HIV causes AIDS, and that anti-retroviral drugs actually cause AIDS. He deals with the tendency to invent neologisms to disguise and defuse serious problems, whether factual or ethical, and he goes into some detail on the religious question, in response to the "new atheist" publishing phenomenon.

He touches on corruption in high places, mentioning the secrecy surrounding MP's expenses (the book was published before the widespread scandal -- which is probably a good thing, else it would be twice the length and dominated by a single issue).

The book is a comprehensive overview of matters that should concern us all, by someone who appears to be of a generally liberal/left persuasion (something that he doesn't conceal -- nor should he). It covers a selection of sceptical subjects, but gives the overall impression that these are but a fraction of what's going on, and with which we should be engaged. In the modern world he could probably write another book with entirely different examples, and we should therefore be eternally vigilant.
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