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Counter-knowledge

I have now read more of Damian Thompson’s book. There is also a website.

Most of the book is about specific examples of junk knowledge. Chapter 2 deals with Creationism. Chapter 3 on pseudo-history focuses particularly on Graham Hancock (ISBN 0099416352, 0712679065 and many others) and the aftermath of the DaVinci Code (ISBN 0552149519 and many other editions). Chapter 4 is about alternative medicine. He is strongest on pseudo-history, which makes me suspect that his background is in history or theology.

However, I must admit to be fairly taken aback by the material on 9/11. The video Loose Change (available on google video) had completely passed me by. I was aware of the theories that the Twin Towers had been blown up by US special forces in order to soften up public opinion for the invasion of Iraq, but I had not investigated them at all carefully. That kind of plot would involve a large number of people and it is hard to believe that some of them would not have broken ranks to tell all to the New York Times. The other difficulty is well put by Laura Miller (quoted by Damian Thompson)

A preposterous idea will first be floated as a guess (it is “not inconceivable” that the Knights Templar found documentation of Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s marriage in Jerusalem), then later presented as a tentative hypothesis, then still later treated as a fact that must be accounted for (the knights had to take those documents somewhere, so it must have been the south of France!).

Each detail requires extensive effort to track down and verify, but anyone who succeeds in proving it false comes across as a mere nitpicker — and still has a blizzard of other pseudofacts to contend with. The miasma of bogus authenticity that the authors of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” create becomes impenetrable; you might as well use a rifle to fight off a thick fog.

The editors of Popular Mechanics wrote a book in 2006 (Debunking 9/11 Myths, ISBN 158816635X) to debunk the conspiracy theory. It did no good. The theory just morphed slightly and we soon had Debunking 9/11 Debunking, An Answer to the Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory, 2007 ISBN 1844370690. Apparently polls now show that a substantial proportion of the US population believe the Loose Change story.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I think a lot of this is the fault of those in authority. You have to be careful about holding official enquiries and publishing official reports, whilst falsifying important details (or misleading by omitting important details) in order to minimize embarrassment. If you are nailed, large numbers of people will disbelieve the whole report.

But what does the individual do when faced with things like Loose Change? I think I will defer comment on that until I have read the rest of the book.

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