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Tim Wilkinson "T" (UK)

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The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5
The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5
by Christopher Andrew
Edition: Hardcover

20 of 60 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Intelligence insulted., 8 Nov 2009
I found this book worse than useless, so I'm glad I didn't buy a copy. Obviously every word has been censored by MI5 before publication, and the author selected to know his limits in any case. But the Boy's Own combination of adolescent anorak-ism (another reviewer points out a fixation on hobbies and outdoor pursuits) and an apparently unshakeable faith in the Good Eggness of the organisation and its personnel was a shocker, even given my low expectations.

I don't suppose there is anything actually invented - at least not to the certain knowledge of the author - in there, but there is undoubtedly a huge amount of great interest that has been suppressed (and not for national security reasons, unless you go along with the slippery slope thinking that says National Security = National Interest = Interest of the Government = Whatever is least likely to cause even the slightest inconvenience or embarrassment for the government or the establishment more generally = don't tell the public anything they might actually find useful). Systematic omissions can be every bit as misleading as outright fabrications, especially if the reader is not alert to the overwhelming likelihood of such pervasive bias. The way to look at it is that this book was basically written by MI5. (Of course I don't have any way of knowing what the author's relationship is to MI5, beyond being trusted to look at selected files. I mean that he was basically working on MI5's behalf and under their supervision in writing this book. Though of course there are - there must be - MI5 'assets', agents and employees in academia, publishing, the media etc.)

I should have trusted Private Eye's dismissive review and saved some time. If you want something with more depth and bite than a school newsletter, read some Robin Ramsay, David Leigh, Stephen Dorril (not the MP of similar name) or Richard M Bennett instead.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2010 12:08 PM BST

Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History
Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History
by Damian Thompson
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 38 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An odd combination of sneering and alarmism, containing numerous misconceptions and errors., 21 Sep 2008
Young-earth creationists in the US have built a museum containing mechanised tableaux showing dinosaurs and humans in Flintstone-style coexistence. `Alternative' therapies of no more medical value than sugar pills are available on the British National Health Service, with homoeopathic hospitals well-established and degree courses available in one of the new universities. In US academia, some `Afro-centric' historians play fast and loose with facts in their attempt to construct a distinctively `black' history which, according to at least one proponent, is teachable only by black people. Meanwhile, postmodernist literary and cultural theorists take it upon themselves to develop ill-conceived philosophical doctrines about the nature of truth and reality - and even in some cases to offer criticisms of such specialised fields as quantum physics.

Damian Thompson criticises all these trends, with copious footnotes and some theoretical discussion. He alerts the reader to many other putative instances of 'counterknowledge' - glossed: "misinformation packaged as fact" (p1) - and decries the "casual approach to the truth"(pp12, 44) that underlies and sustains them. This seems a worthwhile project, and in reviews it attracts descriptions such as `timely' and `much-needed'. These epithets are somewhat hyperbolic: this is only the latest addition to a substantial body of debunking literature, which goes back at least to Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841.

To adapt a remark of Dr Johnson, while one expects to see it done, one is surprised that it is not done better. While many of Thompson's points are correct as far as they go, the book's defects are so numerous and glaring and themselves betray such a `casual approach to the truth' that the reader could be forgiven for thinking that the word `Counterknowledge' embossed across the front categorises its contents rather than defining its subject matter.

One cannot avoid the suspicion that Thompson chose his title first and only then attempted to construct an entity corresponding to the catchy `counterknowledge' label. Many of the book's failings can be traced back to the assumption of a simplistic, polarised view of the intellectual landscape. Insiders, those engaged in a scarcely-examined `enlightenment project', have knowledge: a steady accretion of certainties, irrevocably established by academic consensus. Outside lies knowledge's evil twin, counterknowledge: not only untrue, but to Thompson, obviously so. The interesting - but potentially controversial - middle ground is simply ignored.

In delimiting the contours of his invented category, Thompson sides with orthodoxy and with the powerful, granting a latitude to supposed political and technical authorities which he denies to those on the intellectual or social fringes. Such facile deference betrays the enlightenment ideals he professes. Knowingly or not, he also includes among the enemies of reason a number of views which don't belong there. These views are caricatured or exaggerated, either by Thompson himself or by others whose reports he casually adopts.

The book is not aimed at changing minds: few of its significant targets will come as news to its self-selecting audience. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but Thompson affects a gravitas which leads one to expect something a little more edifying than the opportunity to bay and jeer, as an assortment of intellectual freaks and outcasts is paraded by. Still, Thompson does his best to foster a certain siege mentality. His readers may be assured of the triumph of reason and the rightness of their opinions, but, crucially, they are offered a frisson of danger and flattered with the role of tough-minded hero standing, with Thompson, against the forces of chaos.

In the first three pages, Thompson's vocabulary sets the tone: "pandemic" (p1); "disturbingly", "alarming" (p2); "threatened", "vulnerable", "[not] immune", "converts", and more subtly, "outlandish"(p3). According to the synopsis on the inside cover, Thompson demonstrates that "unless the defenders of enlightenment values fight back soon, the counterknowledge industry has the potential to create new political, social and economic disasters". On the back cover, reviewer Nick Cohen joins the fray, projecting his own preoccupations onto Thompson's sketchily apocalyptic canvas: "Thompson shows how apparently harmless pseudo-science breeds nationalism, race hatred and disease".

Finally and perhaps most perniciously, Thompson swaddles his banalities, biases and non-sequiturs in an impenetrable tangle of junk philosophy and sociological verbiage. Even those astute enough to detect that something is wrong in Thompson's approach may well be baffled, browbeaten or bored into conceding that Thompson has a point - whatever exactly it is.

You can download my full detailed review - which is too long to post here - at

The Strange Death of David Kelly
The Strange Death of David Kelly
by Norman Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mandatory reading, 22 Mar 2008
The other reviews say it all. And you can't blame Norman for the cop-out at the end when he fingers, wait for it...Iraqis!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2008 2:06 PM BST

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