Yesterdays Daily Telegraph had a fascinating article by Damian Thompson on the rise of quack theories.
Thompson sets out strongly the spread of gibberish on any number of issues - from 9/11 through to religion and even medicine. He complains rightly that the line between fact and fiction is now harder than ever to draw - what else needs to be said about the Da Vinci Code?
Weaknesses are however apparent. The term conspiracy theory is a highly pejorative one, and one that needs to be used far more sparingly than it is (and we count ourselves in that criticism). If used as a bludgeon, it will stifle debate on major political issues. In part conspiracy theories exist because so much is hidden by the political class, and decided in secret. It is hardly a surprise when ill-informed speculation emerges, as we have a system where the majority - even in Western democracies - are further away from the decision making process than ever before.
Also people and organisations do conspire. How would Thompson describe a highly complicated process such as Iraqi WMD's - where virtually all the players were conspiring against each other, for years? When the music eventually stopped, there were no victors - America's international standing ended up lower than ever before, whilst Saddam not only lost power, but ultimately lost his life.
In the end the only victors appear to be Iraq's resurgent Islamists, and Iran, who now have more influence across the border than ever before. Perhaps the biggest failing of Western advocates of 'counterknowledge' though, is that they utterly refuse to count Islamist organisations such as the Al Sadr Brigade - or for that matter Shia Iran - as players in the big game. Everything is always the fault of the USA, or the old whipping boys - Israel.
Taken initially, Thompson's concept of 'counterknowledge', if anything appears over generous to many pushing alternative theories on issues like HIV, 9/11, 7/7 or vaccination. Many in these fields appear to think less than they believe, and study less than they speculate. Their 'counterknowledge' is all too often without any base in research, save for access to google and Youtube. If you don't believe us, take a look at the UK and Ireland 9/11 Truth Forum.