As a society have we completely lost touch with the reason and enlightenment that brought us out of the dark ages and into modern science? If so have we become so confused that we are headed back to a time when reason is thrown away in favor of what can only be called superstitious belief? Author Francis Wheen examines our world today and how cults, superstition, and the desire to want to believe have caused a veritable epidemic of foolishness often passing as science. In his book "Idiot Proof" he takes on several people who are veritable icons of contemporary society - people like Nancy Reagan, Deepak Chopra, George Bush, Hillary Clinton, and many others. In addition to people he takes on various subjects like UFOs, crystals, psychics, and astrology. This is a book about how people are lead like sheep to the slaughter merrily bleating along the way totally unaware of their folly. While you may not agree with all the assessments, they are logically founded and well argued.
While I enjoyed the book and Mr. Wheen's commentary, I don't personally agree with everything in the book. Still, I recognize the importance of having people like Mr. Wheen occasionally point out the contrasting side of a belief. The way we grow and refine our beliefs requires that we keep an open mind and examine all sides. Mr. Wheen serves this purpose of presenting the opposing viewpoint very well. Then again, if we have learned anything from history it is that science can lead us down the wrong path just as easily as any superstition. There was a time when doctors lost their jobs and were subject to ridicule if they believed in germs. The whole concept was nonsense and against logic and current knowledge.
With plenty of notes and cross-references at the end of the book, "Idiot Proof" is a recommended read and sure to be enlightening to everyone on at least a few fronts.
Do you ever find yourself flagging in enthusiasm for the Enlightenment? The Enlightenment of the 18th century, I mean. As Francis Wheen puts it, do you miss values such as insisting on intellectual autonomy, rejecting tradition and authority as the infallible sources of truth, loathing for bigotry and persecution, committing to free inquiry? As you might expect, Wheen's enthusiasm for such ideals is not flagging, nor is his indignation that the ideals are not being upheld in our time. In _Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense_ (PublicAffairs), Wheen whines at length about contemporary preposterousness in many forms. The values of the Enlightenment are being betrayed every day, he demonstrates, and he does so with a fiery keyboard, an infectious sardonic laugh, and a huge command of examples.
In fact, the examples often seem so bizarre that they ought to be mere fiction. Mawkish advice from management gurus like "When opportunity knocks, the entrepreneur is always home" or "Remember to expect miracles... because you are one" may be found in volumes insisting that they were conveying management principles from Moses, Aristotle, Elizabeth I, Gandhi, or Star Fleet. Deepak Chopra (a frequent target here) has intoned the Principle of Highest First: "Go first class all the way and the universe will respond by giving you the best." Wheen's book was first issued where he writes, in England (as _How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World_), and has an Anglo bent, but Americans will find much about their own leaders here. President Clinton sought advice from a Hollywood mystic and a "sacred psychologist" who helped Hillary Clinton talk to Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary's "spiritual archetype." The current president Bush was put into office largely by those who agree with his close alliance with Israel, because according to fundamentalists, maintaining the nation of Israel is a necessary condition for the second coming of Jesus (they usually do not emphasize that the nation has to convert to Christianity, too). Anyone expecting Wheen to skewer only one political philosophy, to let the liberals go while blasting conservatives, has only to read a few more pages on. Noam Chomsky, Jerry Falwell, and the Ayatollah all get their turn.
It is all right that Wheen is over and over again just shooting fish in a barrel. These are fish that deserve extinction. Nostradamus, creationism, newspaper horoscopes, Enron, and new age trendies are all here, as is the teaching of the postmodernist Luce Irigaray that E = mc^2 is egregiously a "sexed equation" since it "privileges the speed of light over other less masculine speeds." The Cult of Diana is remembered with acerbity; one of London's airports risked being renamed Diana Airport, for "The People's Princess" and devotee of colonic irrigation. A feng-shui consultant hired by the labor government to improve housing estates gave the invaluable lesson that red and orange flowers would reduce crime, "...and introducing a water feature would reduce poverty." Teachers have noticed that students cite "The X-Files" as a factual source; reminded that it was fiction, they counter that it was _based_ on fact. Wheen knows that the Enlightenment ideals are not perfect. Science only gives partial truths and must always be checked for its own prejudices or adherence to tradition. But it gives a lot better answers than are being dished out by his targets here. Wheen's book is hilarious, but it is the hilarity of a thoughtful man indignantly enjoying the foolishness of his fellows, and enjoying bursting them for the benefit of an audience. Let us hope that the audience is a huge one.
I've read a number of books* exposing quackery, fake science, business and political fraud, deluded celebrities, lying politicians, the gullible and superstitious public, and the like, and I've enjoyed almost all of them. What sets this book by Francis Wheen, who is a columnist for the London Guardian, apart from the others is the literary quality of his writing and his sharp cultural insight. Wheen knows how to turn a phrase, he knows how to be expressive in an effective manner and he knows how to delight the reader with exactly the right barb delivered at exactly the right target with panache and style. For example:
Commenting on a satire of self-help books (especially Deepak Chopra's) by comic writers Christopher Buckley and John Tierney ("If God phones, take the call"; "Money is God's way of saying 'Thanks'!"), Wheen observes that their satires "serve only to confirm that the genre is beyond parody..." He goes on to say that their second satirical law, "God loves the poor, but that doesn't mean He wants you to fly coach" is not more "hilariously absurd" than Chopra's "People with wealth consciousness settle only for the best. This is also called the principle of highest first. Go first-class all the way and the universe will respond by giving you the best." (p. 47)
Reacting to "post-modern anti-scientific relativism," Wheen apprehends that "For those who regard rationality itself as a form of oppression...there is no reason why scientific theories and hypotheses should be 'privileged' over alternative interpretations of reality such as religion or astrology." (p. 98) Later he refers to "the enfeebling legacy of post-modernism--a paralysis of reason, a refusal to observe any qualitative difference between reasonable hypotheses and swirling hogwash." (p. 111) This is similar to Bertrand Russell's observation, "Science is at no moment quite right, but it is seldom quite wrong, and has, as a rule, a better chance of being right than the theories of the unscientific" (as quoted on page 98).
If only this truth could be more universally realized!
On the newfangled terminology of the creationists, Wheen notes that they have "adopted a more scientific-sounding phraseology--'abrupt appearance theory,' 'intelligent-design theory'--to disguise the fact that their only textbook was the Old Testament." (p. 100)
Incidentally the quote in my subject line ("The sleep of reason brings forth monsters") is from page seven where Wheen identifies the monsters as both "manifestly sinister" (try Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Osama Bin Laden and other fundamentalists) and "merely comical" (e.g., Nancy and Ronald Reagan and their reliance on astrology). By the way, I lump Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Osama Bin Laden together because of this pronouncement from the TV evangelists just two days after 9/11: "What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be minuscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve." So spoke Rev. Falwell. He attributed the mass murders to God's wrath at "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians...the ACLU, People for the American Way, all...who try to secularize America." Rev. Robertson responded with a forthright, "I totally concur." (p. 177, and widely reported in the media).
Wheen's point is that as rationality goes out the window--and there is increasing evidence, a lot of it presented here, that much of the world has indeed abandoned reason in favor of unreason and religious superstition--monstrous ideas and personages come flying in. It is ironic in an almost cosmic sense that in the modern world, a world equipped with the stupendous tools of science and technology, most people still follow Bronze Age gods and think like the uneducated followers of warlords and tribal chieftains.
A nice way to sum up Wheen's thesis is this quote from Salman Rushdie: "In one pan of the scales we now have General Relativity, the Hubble Telescope and all the imperfect but painstakingly accumulated learning of the human race, and, in the other, the Book of Genesis." (p. 101)
Needless to say this book will not sit well with a lot of people. Wheen not only slaughters sacred cows, but attacks the bozos on both sides of the political aisle. His critique of idiocy in the Bush and Blair administrations (in addition to his frequent recall of the voodoo delusions of Maggie Thatcher and Ronnie Reagan) is to be expected of course, but his devastating devaluation of Bill Clinton comes as something of a surprise. Here he is on the man who would redefine the meaning of "is": "...a man of no discernible moral scruples who in 1992 interrupted his primary campaign and hastened back to Arkansas to execute a brain-damaged black man, Rickey Ray Rector, solely to forestall any suspicion that he was soft." (p. 191)
Add this to the delight that Wheen takes in going after beloved cultural icons like Princess Diana and one sees why some reviewers do not like this book. Ignore them. True, Wheen wanders about in idiot land indiscriminately at times, and indeed has pasted together his anti-enthusiasms in places like a patchwork quilt; but his keen lambasting of the spouters of what Bob Dylan called "the idiot wind" is well worth the price. Bottom line: this book is a lot of fun to read.
on July 29, 2004
...can actually be harder than it looks. Welcome to Francis Wheen, amusing columnist for the eminently sensible Guardian. Wheen's last book was a surprisingly informative and sympathetic biography of Karl Marx. Now he devotes his attention to the many idiocies that curse our modern life. He starts off with the coincidence that Margaret Thatcher and the Ayatollah Khomeini both came to power in 1979. We then get a discussion of the complacency and foolishness of the Reagan years. We get into a discussion of the fatuity of self-help gurus, advice manuals and ilk like Deepak Chopra. We then look at foolish realist intellectuals, with Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington taking pride of place. Then we go into the foolishness of postmodernism, which then segues into the surge of creationism, and how it is indulged by Gore, Bush II and Blair. Then we learn about other assorted New Age crackpottery, and we see Wheen worry about belief in UFOs, the popularlity of the X-Files, and how Reagan and the Clintons have met astrologers. There is a discussion of blowback from the CIA, then Wheen defends the Enlightenment from Postmodernists and the Frankfurt School, which then merges into a discussion of how Wheen disliked the hysteria over the death of Princess Diana. Then we get a caustic look at the cult of globalization, a return of the fatuity of the last economic boom, and finally criticism of those leftists who opposed the war against Afghanistan.
Well looking over this summary, there are no shortage of worthy targets. And Wheen occasionally provides some useful details to go along with his disgust. For example during the eighties people earning over $500,000 dropped their charitable givings by 65%. We learn about Thatcherite heroes of the Free Market who ended up in jail. We see Martin Walker give the "Alien Autopsy" Hoax a ridiculously free pass. We learn that Enron was criticized by both Amnesty International and the IMF for the same dubious Indian plant. On the other hand, much of this will not be new or insightful to anyone who has a good memory. And the book is as scattershot and ill organized as my summary implies. There is also a certain polemical desparation to the book. I was never terribly interested in Princess Diana, and I was always inclined to think that most of her marital problems were self-inflicted. But there is little point in sneering at her appearance, which is presumably Wheen's point when he compares her to a Bulgarian airline hostess. And praising himself and Dissent magazine for being among a brave minority of pro-war supporters does not quite read the same after Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq.
There are other problems as well. Against Deepak Chopra, Wheen is suitably vitriolic. Against Alistair McIntyre or "The Dialectic of Enlightenment," he is out of his depth. (Saying that Nietzsche was really a Romantic figure, not an Enlightenment one, is of questionable accuracy for a start.) And while Francis Fukuyama is a clearly less a serious thinker than a cunning opportunist in the right time and the right place, it is of importance whether his statement that liberal democracy is the last stage of human civilization is falsified in years, decades, or centuries. Wheen doesn't get this. He criticizes "The X-Files" for always supporting the supernatural solution, but that is sort of like criticizing H.P. Lovecraft for not being Agatha Christie. And, really, how many articles have there been about Derrida and Foucault in the American media since 1991 that did not sneer and spit at the mention of their names, AND preen itself on its courage in criticizing them? Wheen's account is different for using Terry Eagleton and Barbara Ehrenreich to support his criticisms and this is useful as far as it goes.
There is a certain lack of depth in this account. (The uncritical praise of Mencken is not a good sign.) So what that a solitary academic has wrote a book that is indulgent about alien abduction claims? To believe in creationism means rejecting not merely biology, but also geology and many other modern sciences as well. Belief in alien abduction implies the Earth faces the gravest and most serious threat in its history, and so does belief in the final days. Yet there is a patent disconnect between the indulgence of superstition and foolishness and how Americans and Britons actually act. Modern science is well funded and its dominion is not seriously challenged. People go about day to day notwithstanding their waiting for the rapture. That people look at a horoscope instead of flipping a coin is not the end of the world. This disconnect is disturbing and should not be viewed complacently, but the problem is larger, and more subtle than Wheen presents it.
on November 16, 2009
In these sarcastic, but also angry, comments Francis Wheen denounces the actual assault on reason as a menace to civilization and defends staunchly the progressive ideas of the Enlightenment against those who argue that `ignorance is bliss'.
The slogan of the supply-siders, `make the well-to-do prosperous and it will leak down through those below' was a hoax in order to cut taxes for the rich. Scarcely anything trickled down.
Some found even a solution for the squaring of the circle: cut taxes, increase defense spending and balance the budget.
Liberalization would do wonders, but the S & L industry generated a loss of $1.4 trillion to be covered by the government (the taxpayer).
`Free markets' was the cry of the day, but not for the media and certainly not for defense spending programs.
Businesses didn't make products anymore, but deals (Enron).
US international policies
The US intervention in the Middle East provoked further setbacks in the cause of secularism and democracy.
In the name of national sovereignty, the US government didn't sign international treaties on land mines, global warming or an international criminal court.
A. Blair, S, Huntington, R. Murdoch, T.L. Friedman, post-modernism
As a Labour PM, A. Blair adopted all the measures proposed by M. Thatcher for privatizations or lower taxes for the rich. He even defended the teaching of creationism in British schools.
There is no clash of civilizations, as S. Huntington writes, but clashes within civilizations for reasons of hunger, lust for power, religious zeal or economic desperation.
The staunch defender of liberalism, R. Murdoch, kowtowed shamelessly to China's autocrats in order to clinch commercial deals.
For T.L. Friedman, the 1.3 billion human beings who subsist on less than one dollar a day are not important. Those who own billions of dollars can trample over entire continents without a care for social dislocation, economic insecurity and environmental devastation. For him, `the hidden hand of the market needs a hidden fist, called US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps'. As F. Wheen remarks, `people ought to understand that they are being pulverized for their own good.'
The post-modernist apostles believe that `facts are a chimera'.
Francis Wheen derides astrology (in the White House), the UFO scares, the com(motion) after the death of Princess Diana and the management, get-rich and self-help book industry (`The only way to get rich from a get-rich book is to write one', says Brother Ty.)
This most necessary book is a must read for all those who want to understand the world we live in. As Charles Mackay already wrote in the 19th century, `people go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.'
The dust jacket depicts cartoonish figures of Princess Diana, Deepak Chopra, Noam Chomsky, Hillary Clinton, Pat Buchanan, and Ayatollah Khomeini, accompanied by carnival-print phrases like "Deluded Celebrities" and "Media Morons." The back cover offers a testimonial that IDIOT PROOF is a companion to Michael Moore's STUPID WHITE MEN. Whatever this book is, it decidedly does not belong with anything by Michael Moore. Furthermore, the contents of this book are rather substantially different than the expose-style cover would suggest. Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, and Francis Fukuyama, and Alan Sokal occupy far more of this book's content than Hillary Clinton and Pat Buchanan. The latter have clearly and misleadingly been pasted onto the cover to attract American buyers. Then again, how many Americans would buy this book if its cover was plastered with head shots of Diana, Tony, and Margaret surrounded by Immanuel Kant, Jacques Derrida, Noam Chomsky, Tom Friedman, and Jacques Lacan?
IDIOT PROOF is an extraordinarily difficult book to categorize, in part because it feels like it was written by an ADHD sufferer. The book skips wildly from philosophy to economics to pop culture to globalization to Marxism to Islamic fundamentalism to the dot.com bubble to the sins of left-wing liberalism and the IMF to Enron. In the end, it is difficult to know who the idiots are and what their delusions are, since the only common thread seems to arise out of a specious argument that Margaret Thatcher led a revolt against the rational principles of the Age of Enlightment. So Americans can apparently blame Dame Maggie for everything from irrational exuberance to Paris Hilton, from aromatherapy to UFO sightings at Area 51.
Following an opening discourse on Immanuel Kant, Chapter 1 traces the new Victorianism of Margaret Thatcher's ministry. The next chapter deals with the inflated importance of gurus from Tom Peters, Stephen Covey and Deepak Chopra to Anthony Robbins, John Gray, and Jeffrey Robbins, a subject that seems consistent with the book's title and cover depictions.
The next chapter jumps to a bizarre discourse on Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington, followed by a chapter on structuralism, deconstructionism and the post-modernist critics from Derrida to Lacan to Stanley Fish, wrapped up with a riff on creationism in Kansas.
Chapter 5 gets seemingly back on point with an amusing discussion of popular delusions and quackery, ranging from Nostradamus to homeopathy to UFO's and the Book of Revelation. Much of the remainder of the book wanders through religious fundamentalism, the military-industrial complex, Al Gore's tobacco farm, Lady Diana worship,Thomas Friedman, the East India Company, the World Bank, Enron, Islamic fundamentalism, and finally to Pol Pot and Noam Chomsky. The wrap-up says it all -- those who reject rationalism and the Enlightenment live in darkness and threaten to take the rest of us with them.
Individual chapters in IDIOT PROOF are generally interesting in themselves, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. In the end, this book lacks a strong enough connecting thread to tie together such wildly disparate topics and their odd juxtapositions. It hardly seems necessary to use 287 pages to make the point that rationalism is more rational than religious fundamentalism and New Age mumbo-jumbo, and in the end, there appears to little notion as to what to do about it. The author offers little hope, and the dust jacket lamely suggests that "we might just think a little more and believe a little less." Yeah, I guess that pretty well solves the problem, doesn't it?
IDIOT PROOF is less than its cover suggests, but also more than the puffery displayed in the cover design. Buy this book for its depth of thought on some complex intellectual topics and its deft puncturing of cults, spiritualism, self-help, and a host of left-wing shibboleths. But don't buy this book as a trashing of pop culture, and definitely don't buy it as a companion piece to Michael Moore.
on August 7, 2007
How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World isn't your book if you're a true believer in the common wisdom of the moment. Wheen has done his homework and has exposed the nonsense that poses as conventional truth.
We often accept various experts version of things without really checking their facts or track records. Wheen has checked and make considerable fun of much of what we take for granted.
We are indeed fortunate that we have rational minds that can help us differentiate between coincidence and cause and effect. Yet even the most rational person probably has some superstitions, some beliefs that are not scientifically proven and some gut instincts that are just plain wrong.
Harkening back to the ideals of the Enlightenment, Mr. Francis Wheen points out the nonrational follies of the powerful, the rich, the media and the ordinary person. As he suggests in the book, this will be humorous . . . when it's someone else's folly . . . and not so humorous when it is your own.
Those who do not care for Senator Hillary Clinton, Mrs. John Major and Deepak Chopra will probably find this book the most amusing. They come in for frequent ribbing about their "spiritual" beliefs.
Now that free market economics are so popular, many people will feel gored by the analyses in the book describing how free market economics aren't the solution to all world problems.
Mr. Wheen seems to be most outraged when such bad decisions are allowed to harm others (a sentiment I'm sure you share) . . . and when people make money from peddling their unproven solutions (a sentiment that you may or may not agree with).
Why, by the way, did I rate the book at 4 stars rather than 5? It's pretty simple. Mr. Wheen didn't do his homework in many areas. For example, he condemns all forms of alternative medicine . . . even though some obviously work well. For instance, in China acupuncture is used in many forms of painful surgery. Although no one has done (to my knowledge) a double-blind test costing $100+ million to prove this, I think we can safely assume that acupuncture can reduce pain. You can even do the experiment yourself for very little money by getting a treatment.
As another example, Mr. Wheen doesn't seem to like any management theory that sells a lot of books (including those by Dr. Stephen Covey and Tom Peters), yet many people will tell you they have learned important lessons from those books. I know that I have. What he seems to miss is that many of these books contain case histories of successes that we can model ourselves after. That's helpful information. I agree that it would be better if business book authors did research on which to base their findings . . . but most will not do that. They will simply repackage other resources.
At the end of the book, if you are like me, you will have had quite a few good laughs . . . and a few sobering thoughts that will serve you well in being more rational.
on February 12, 2016
This book isn't bad, in the same way that an uninspired opinion piece in a second rate newspaper (say, the Washington Post) isn't bad. But it's nothing insightful, and clearly dedicated solely to delivering the author's sermon to people who agree with him.
A friend lumps works like this together with a phrase I find perfectly suited: "Easy-reading books designed to help people of middling critical capacity feel smart by explaining a bunch of stuff the reader already knows, and parroting the unchallenging positions with which the reader already sympathizes, in combination with one or two trivial details and a small handful of flimsy interconnections."
There is no doubt that, despite the huge advances which have been brought by reason and science, an alarming number of people, many of them highly educated, have turned away from reason in favour of new age nonsense or the most simplistic forms of old-established religions. Although Francis Wheen's book has some very serious flaws, it does provoke a great deal of thought about why.
Let's get the negative comment out of the way first. Francis Wheen was a journalist on The Guardian, the main left-wing/liberal newspaper in the UK. In certain parts of the book he allows his left/liberal prejudices an inappropriate degree of latitude given the sort of book this is advertised as being.
The book completely fails to make any distinction whatsoever between mainstream views which the author does not happen to agree with and the genuine 24-carat nonsense which the title, dust jacket, and advertising claim it to be about. Almost everyone to the right of Michael Moore in the States or Roy Hattersley in the UK - including New Democrats such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, and New Labour figures like Tony Blair - is presented as irrational. Sometimes Wheen can give chapter and verse to justify this, but at other times he is just venting his own irrational prejudices.
For example, the entire first chapter of the book is a left-liberal polemic against Thatcherism and Reaganism, during which he attacks Nobel prizewinning academics like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek in similar terms to those which he uses to dismiss the views of the American presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.
My problem with this is not that Wheen disagrees with Friedman and Hayek - I don't share all their views myself. My problem is that, in a book which is supposed to be about the flight from rationality, he writes about rational people who arrived at their views by scientific sifting of the evidence on subjects which they have studied far more intensively than he has, as if they were in the same league as the nutters, fraudsters and snake oil salesmen of whom his criticisms are much more justified.
At a risk of labouring the point, Friedman's study of the economic causes of the Great Depression which won him the Nobel Prize, and his speech in 1967 correctly predicting that the Phillips Curve relationship between unemployment and inflation which had worked for the previous century was about to collapse, are recognised as brilliant by many economists including plenty of left-wing or Keynsian views.
Friedman had previously said that "we are all Keynsians now" and one of the world's leading economists, who was a prominent Keynsian, meant it as a complement to Milton Friedman when he said in response "we are all monetarists now." My first economics tutor, a left-wing Keynsian, once qualified a critique of Friedman - the rest of which Francis Wheen would almost certainly have agreed with - by emphasising that although he was about to strongly disagree with some of Friedman's views he considered him a brilliant economist who richly deserved his Nobel prize.
The point I am making is not whether Friedman is right or wrong, it is that he has no place in a book on the flight from reason. For Francis Wheen to write of Friedman and Hayek in the same way as he writes of anti-rational religious fanatics like William Jennings Bryan does not enhance his case. I would make exactly the same criticisms if a right-wing author were to write a book like this one, start it with a first chapter accusing all left-wingers of being irrational, and include equivalent misplaced criticism of the late John Kenneth Galbraith.
I am not sure why Francis Wheen does not present any distinction between views that a rational person could hold but he doesn't, and views which could only be held by someone seriously adrift from reality. I hope it is because he did not think it necessary.
I came very close to throwing this book in the bin towards the end of the first chapter, which gave me the impression that I can been conned into wasting money on a bog-standard left-wing denunciation of all views to the right of Michael Moore and Roy Hattersley rather than the critique of new age irrationalism promised on the cover.
However, I am glad I persevered, because after the first chapter Mr Wheen starts to cover a much wider range of subjects, present a more balanced approach and produce evidence to back up his views which I found significantly more convincing. From chapter 2 onwards he does make a serious attempt to chart some of the irrational views which have emerged or re-emerged over the past 20 years on both left and right. Subjects covered by the book include fundamentalist attempts to prevent the teaching of evolution, management gobbledegook, astrology, academic fads like "deconstructionism," flying saucers and Alien abduction, and quack medicinal ideas such as Homeopathy.
An example of one of the many good sections in the book is that which considers the development and influence of "The X files". Apparently this TV programme is frequently quoted as a source by American university students, and when their tutors point out that it is fiction they reply "Yes, but it's based on fact." The programme's creator, Chris Carter, is quoted as saying that he originally intended that the programme would have episodes that exposed hoaxes and that "I wanted Agent Scully to be right as much as agent Mulder." But going with the paranormal explanation every time got better ratings.
As Richard Dawkins pointed out, if you had a detective series which had a white suspect and a black one every time, and the black person always turned out to be the guilty party, if would be totally unacceptable, and you could not excuse by saying this was just entertainment and that result produced better ratings.
If Scooby-Doo, a humorous cartoon show, can be a big hit with children when the "supernatural" events always get exposed as a hoax, why can't the X files ? Are the people who make that show less talented than the creators of Scooby Doo ? Do the adults who watch it have critical faculties which are less developed than the children who watch Scooby Doo ? I have to wonder.
Taken as a whole I would recommend this book to anyone interested in trying to understand why so many people have turned away from reason. Readers from Howard Dean or Gordon Brown and leftwards will enjoy the beginning of the book, readers from Al Gore or Tony Blair and rightwards will lose nothing but a boost to your blood pressure by starting at Chapter Two.