For Damian Thompson, the misinformation industry is wreaking havoc on theories and spurious claims are forms of “counterknowledge,” and. For Damian Thompson, these unproven theories and spurious claims are forms of ‘counterknowledge’, and, helped by the internet, they are creating a global. Damian Thompson has invented a new word for this – “counterknowledge” – and has tried to give the whole flabby concept a bit of shape.

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Stonehenge was a control tower for prehistoric spaceships. A US missile demolished the Twin Towers in a deliberate own goal.


Princess Di was killed by a death-ray fired by the Duke of Edinburgh. So much spurious rubbish is fly-tipped into the public domain that it would overflow an intellectual landfill site the size of the Pyramids, the Mayan ruins, Atlantis and other sites constructed by aliens.

In Counterknowledge, Damian Thompson has a lot of fish to shoot in a very big barrel. Unlike, say, The Book of Mormon, which Mark Twain described as “chloroform in print”, there is not a dull sentence in the book of Thompson, which should go on your shelf next to How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, Francis Wheen’s excellent demolition job on fantasies and conspiracy theories peddled to the credulous.

A creationist car founterknowledge has been allowed to run a school in Gateshead.


Lies, damn lies and ‘counterknowledge’

The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied the Holocaust, although his denial was later denied.

The president of South Africa is virtually an Aids denier, which cannot inspire much confidence counterlnowledge his country’s health service. The next president of the US might be creationist Mike Huckabee, or, before he stood down, could have been Mitt Romney, who as a Mormon presumably believes that in BC the American continent was colonised by folk from the suburbs of the Tower of Babel; the proof is in gold tablets revealed in by the Angel Moroni.

Unfortunately, Thompson gets the above date wrong and in other ways shows he might usefully have devoted more time to this fairly slim volume. In his last chapter, he wonders how the vice-chancellor of a named university can allow the teaching of “voodoo science” and “untruths”.

To which the answer is: Similarly, he names the publishing executive behind a “bogus history” claiming that it was the Chinese who discovered America and calls upon others to shame her; when really he should be showing beyond doubt that the remains of a 15th-century Chinese takeaway in Massachusetts, or whatever is cited as hhompson, were a forgery.

Instead, Thompson devotes considerable space to denigrating homeopathy, the “voodoo science” referred to above.

: Counterknowledge (): Damian Thompson: Books

This leads to my personal problem with Counterknowledge. Without defending some of its wilder claims, I have for many years found homeopathic treatment to be helpful and effective. Does that make me counter-ignorant? Thompeon “bad science” also introduces another kind of difficulty.


This “batty private theory” of anti-MMR campaigner Andrew Wakefield was publicised by, thompsno others, “journalists who failed to expose [his] terrible methodology”. But Dr Wakefield has been stoutly defended by Private Eye – whose deputy editor has provided an admiring endorsement on the cover of Counterknowledge and whose book is rightly praised in Thompson’s very next paragraph: One person’s counterknowledge is another person’s knowledge. Then there is “gospel truth”.

Thompson makes the reasonable point that religion counts as counterknowledge only when it strays away from God, whose existence cannot be proved or disproved, and denies scientific verities that can be rigorously tested. He points out that it was not until that Daian received the thumbs-up from the Pope, and even then the approval was somewhat qualified. All credit to Thompson for making this point: But when push comes to theological shove, he knows where he stands: Alternatively, common sense might not distinguish between the two.

The snag about counterknowledge is that it depends on who’s counting.