Sunday, 23 November 2008

Misinformation packaged as fact

UFOs, miracle diets, astrology, satanic ritual abuse, recovered memory: a new book traces our irrational love of misinformation.

By Louis Bayard


The U.S. government blew up the twin towers. The AIDS virus was engineered by scientists to kill African-Americans. Chinese explorers landed on American shores in 1421. Crystals will heal you. Aliens landed at Roswell. The Priory of Sion is protecting the secrets of the Messianic bloodline. Barack Obama is a Muslim.

If you believe any of those propositions, you are ... well, let's tack toward charity. You have been swept along in a tide that the British polemicist Damian Thompson likes to call "Counterknowledge."

Moreover, you are legion. Millions of unwary souls from every quadrant of Earth are swallowing a daily diet of quackery, conspiracy theory, bogus history and faux science. We haven't just turned off our bullshit detectors, we've permanently disabled them. And in so doing, Thompson argues, we've made for ourselves "a thrilling universe in which Atlantis is buried underneath the Antarctic, the Ark of the Covenant is hidden in Ethiopia, aliens have manipulated our DNA, and there was once a civilization on Mars."

Thrilling but, of course, wrong. Demonstrably wrong in most cases. And yet we're ready to buy in, aren't we? Dear God, what won't we buy into? UFOs, miracle diets, astrology, Bible prophesy. Satanic ritual abuse, recovered memory. Aromatherapy, reflexology, craniosacral therapy.

What ties together all these ancient and not-so-ancient belief systems is, by Thompson's reckoning, simply this: They all purport to be knowledge without actually being knowledge. They are "misinformation packaged as fact"...

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