From Publishers Weekly
According to Thompson, we are experiencing a pandemic of counterknowledge: misinformation packaged to look like fact, but that is demonstrably false. In rapid-fire prose, Thompson, editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald
, examines several cases of counterknowledge, arguing that creationism, conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 and claims linking autism to childhood vaccines have been promoted as factual by respected journalists and publishers. In one example of the power and danger of pseudohistory, Thompson devotes a great deal of effort to take down already much-debunked notions of creationism and Holy Blood, Holy Grail
, and the ridicule he heaps on Mormonism explains little about why it is such a rapidly growing religion. He is scandalized that Gavin Menzies's 1421
is heavily promoted by all
of Britain's leading chains of bookshops, though Menzies's notion that the Chinese discovered America has been widely derided by historians. Seeing the source of the spread of counterknowledge in the decreasing role of institutions like church and family, and the rise of postmodernism, Thompson sheds much heat but little light on the age-old phenomenon of human gullibility and its exploitation. (Sept.)
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In the genre of skeptical literature, there are books like Richard Roeper’s recent Debunked! (2008), or the writings of James Randi: books that debunk pseudoscience, bogus history, charlatans, and the like. There are also books like Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things (1997), and this one, which explore why so many seemingly bright individuals buy into so much rank idiocy. Thompson tackles such notorious foolishness as 9/11 conspiracy theories, satanic ritual abuse, the bafflingly widespread belief that the Chinese discovered America, and other abundantly debunked nonsense, but he tackles it from the point of view of a sociologist. Why do people persist in believing outrageous things when the evidence of their invalidity is so easy to find? Why do people so readily fall for counterknowledge—defined as misinformation packaged to look as fact—when the actual facts are readily available? And why do people who should know better (in particular, book publishers) treat this garbage as though it didn’t stink to high heaven? An important, impassioned addition to the skeptical literature, and a book that makes a significant contribution to the art of critical thinking. --David Pitt