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on 25 January 2009
I thought Mr Thompson's book was a very entertaining and enlightening read. Other reviewers have given a good flavour of what this book is about so I have little to add.

I do think the best things about the book is the often very funny style in which it is written and the fact that it draws attention to the unexcusable gullibility of institutions such as certain universities which are in effect running courses in quackery! It's repeated calls to review the actual evidence alleged to support various streams of knowledge is well worth remembering.

I've given the book 4 stars because I feel that in some instances the author has not gone into the evidence which refutes certain theories and simply stated that a given theory is wrong. I'm sure that he has done this so that the book doesn't become too long and consequently less hard-hitting but personally I would like to read a longer version of this book!
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on 5 June 2008
"First you decide what you believe, then you find the evidence, brushing aside anything that doesn't fit," writes Thompson in explaining how irrational beliefs develop.

Logic is the ideal way to unmask the bunco artists of the modern world. So, how does a modern Don Quixote challenge the windmills of superstition, nonsense and lies of zealots, crackpots, frauds and government bureaucrats?

This book is a great answer. It is a marvelous collection of fads, fallacies, farces and frauds in the name of science, religion, medicine and every other modern topic. Thompson does a masterful job in exposing the myriad phantasies of the modern world; however, even the best of logic cannot overcome the delusions of true believers.

Folly is usually the result of stupidity or cupidity.

For example: Tobacco is harmful to one's health. The British health ministry knew this by 1956; but any warning was vetoed by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan "because the Treasury believed the revenue from cigarette taxation was too important to be put at risk." (This direct quote is from John Kay, the Financial Times, June 4, 2008)

Government officials took the attitude, "We lied to you for our own good. Now trust us." President George W. Bush used a similar rationale of "lying to Americans for our own good" to generate fear about Weapons of Mass Destruction and thus justify his war on Iraq.

Since governments lie, why should people trust official government statements? Likewise, why trust an expert doctor who diagnoses cancer? This legacy of distrust by official sources is why some people trust quacks and charlatans more than experts for simple answers to complex issues.

Actually, the desire for simple solutions goes back at least to the legend of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot - - the ultimate simple but irrelevant solution to a complex problem. In today's world, Creationism is the simple answer vs. the complexities of the math and physics of Quarks and/or Superstring theories.

The practical person, more so in modern American than in Alexander's time, is admired. Instead of untying the long complex knowledge-knot of cancer, it's easier to trust the counterknowledge of a quack-with-a-pill than a doctor with a complicated diagnosis. Since government officials tell lies or deliberately bury the truth, it's hardly surprising that some suspect the World Trade Center attacks are an American government plot?

Some people want quick and easy answers. As Thompson clearly shows, there's always someone who "knows about a secret little shortcut". This book is a first-class debunking of today's popular bunk and bunco artists.

It's a marvelous roadmap of modern gullibility. It is concise, readable, straightforward and packed with logic. For that reason, it should be read by everyone; for that reason, sadly, only the intelligent will find it interesting. It's simply too logical, too rational, too good, to become a best seller.

As such, it's a pity. The book is excellent; being so, it will only appeal to readers who don't believe in fads, fallacies, cults and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night. It's truly an example of offering gems to the literate audience . . . Let's hope there's enough rational people left to make it a best seller.
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on 1 March 2009
The book is well writen, etc. and I share all of the author's misgivings about counter knowledge, conspiracy theories, etc.
However, it is as such not a very convincing book unless you already are convinced all these things are bogus and the book may (unfortunately) add to entrenchment rather than enlightenment.
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on 6 July 2008
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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on 25 July 2010
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 Goldacre. He adds little though I am grateful for being warned off 1421 and the Chinese discovery of the World. Part of the problem is that author has been so lazy that we learn very little about anything. He might have pointed out that all reputable historians do accept that the Chinese voyages of this time were epic even if not as claimed in this book. The fantasy account therefore builds on an element of truth. This typifies much of the book. The author is religious but attacks religious thinking he does not like arguing that there are effectively two standards of judging religion. He attacks the Daily Mail for its perpetuation of health fraud but accepts it as a legitimate source on the progress on Islamisation in Britain and so on. Some reviewers declare it funny - I couldn't see the jokes beyond the fraudulent ideas themselves. The author addresses a serious problem but in a completely cavalier way so that it becomes at times an embarrassment and reflects almost a join the dot conspiracy theory itself. I wonder if the author has not written this tongue in cheek - if not then rationalists who endorse this are in serious trouble.
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on 3 February 2017
Spurious drivel from a man who holds people who don't agree with him in the highest contempt.
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on 28 February 2008
If like me you are fed up with 'George Bush planned 9/11' or 'MI6 killed Diana' or even 'The Da Vinci Code has some thought provoking ideas' then this is the book for you. Thompson makes an impassioned cry for research and evidence based conclusions. For the reader, ammunition is provided to shoot down those who keep coming out with such witless and baseless statements. Quite what the authors association with the Catholic Herald has to do with the quality of this book I don't know, especialy as one of his main targets in the book are creationists. Thompson does not close his mind to new ideas or science only bad methodology passed off as science.
My only criticisms are that the author does not explore why people are prepared to fall for counterknowledge despite all the evidence to the contrary. I also would like the book to have had more content, ie: more de-bunking of all the quacks and conspiricists that plague modern life
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on 2 October 2008
If the last Diana inquest bored you to tears, or you are sick of listening to crap 9/11 conspiracies, get hold of this brilliant book now.

Conspiracy theories, along with quack medicine, fake history and bogus science, all form "Counterknowledge" - that is, `misinformation masquerading as fact.'

The problem is huge, and Thompson powerfully argues that the 21st century faces a `pandemic of credulous thinking' when, conversely, our ability to evaluate claims made about science or history is better than ever before.

With the arrival of the scientific enlightenment, ideas that no longer held their ground were banished to the fringes of society. Now, with internet communication, they have a larger following than ever before.

But it's not all turtle-neck wearing novelists and bible-crazy wackos - the City of Westminster University offers, astonishingly, a degree in homeopathy.

Readers of the Guardian's Bad Science column will love this book. Damian Thompson fights Counterknowledge tooth and nail using reason and, crucially, systematically tested evidence. With his razor-sharp prose, he not only rubbishes the credulous world we live in, but calls on us to challenge the `guardians of intellectual orthodoxy' and waken them from greedy, slothful indolence.

Without doubt, this is my book of the year.
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on 5 February 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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on 2 July 2008
Thompson seems genuinely angry at the dishonesty he encounters among those who would prey on our gullible natures. And there's also a sort of impish glee in the way he demolishes sloppy thinking. Thompson is a very funny writer and he's completely in command of his material. It's a mixture - decisive, pellucid argument, humour and savage indignation - that makes Counterknowledge a delight to read. I honestly think it should be a bestseller.
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