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Customer Review

11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shooting fish in a barrel, 6 July 2008
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This review is from: Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History (Paperback)
Generally I am with Mr R A Davies who gave the book two stars, but perhaps that is a little harsh.

Thompson is quite selective in his choice of targets, and treats them largely the same (despite his repeated points about what is and is not "counterknowledge"). That is, he attempts not only to oppose their arguments and their evidence but also to undermine their motives, and to treat them as charlatans. In most cases that may be legitimate, but not always.

The blurb says he has a PhD in the sociology of religion from LSE (presumably supervised by David Martin?). I would have expected that someone who had worked in that very nuanced area, which poses interesting questions about the validity of knowledge, to have been able to distinguish between positions better than he does. Take complementary medicine (CAM) as an example. He is very rude about it, relying heavily on one of its severest critics. That's fine (and I tend to agree with him).

However, he extends his condemnation beyond the science to the business, including pharmacists in Boots who refuse to assert that a product on sale is useless. This is not the same world. Placebo is a potent treatment, not entirely reliant on conscious belief but upheld by it (Evans D [2004] Placebo London; HarperCollins). The discourse has shifted, but Thompson has stuck with his positivism.

And it does not help that he castigates some proponents as "batty". Assertions like that are sloppy playground name-calling; they detract from his very sound analyses in many areas.

Pity; I heard him on "Start the Week". I was looking forward to reading the book, and to a sociologist's eye on these phenomena. All I found was some predictable debunking of fairly obvious targets.

Read Francis Wheen's "How Mumbo-Jumbo conquered the World" instead.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Jan 2014 01:52:27 GMT
Nicodemus says:
A thoughtful comment, thanks.

But I take issue with one point - surely the placebo effect is entirely dependent on belief, by its very nature?

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jan 2014 09:33:09 GMT
jsa says:
I can no longer find my copy of Evans (2004) to check the point, I'm afraid. But as I recall, placebo is not *entirely* dependent on belief. Google "placebo effect in animals", for example. The other component is something analogous to theatre--*something is being done*, even if it is irrelevant to the actual physical problem. I hadn't thought of applying this distinction <http://www.doceo.co.uk/tools/process_content.htm> to placebo, but it is along the same lines.
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