Tuesday 21 September 2010

Book review: Don't Get Fooled Again by Richard Wilson

On 23rd February 2010 Richard Wilson spoke at the second Winchester Skeptics in the Pub, and he was selling copies of his book. I had previously checked out the book on Amazon, so when his price on the night showed a considerable discount, plus the opportunity to have the authorial signature, I snapped it up.

I'm glad I did. The book's subtitle, The Sceptic's Guide to Life, may be a bit ambitious as an aim, but the content offers excellent advice on how to check if what you're being told can be believed.

He covers dubious advertising, news stories that are no more than uncritical rehashes of press releases, manufactured controversies and much else besides, all with examples and copious footnotes (so if you have any doubt you are free to check his sources — many of which are available for free on the web).

By way of example he goes into detail about Trofim Lysenko's bogus attempts to reform Soviet agriculture — a subject he dealt with in his SitP talk — as well as examining Clarence Cook Little's initially successful efforts in the 1950's to obfuscate the growing concern about a link between tobacco and lung cancer.

There's a chapter about AIDS denialism — the claim that there's no evidence HIV causes AIDS, and that anti-retroviral drugs actually cause AIDS. He deals with the tendency to invent neologisms to disguise and defuse serious problems, whether factual or ethical, and he even goes into some detail on the religious question, in response to the "new atheist" publishing phenomenon.

He touches on corruption in high places, mentioning the secrecy surrounding MP's expenses (the book was published before the recent widespread scandal — which is probably a good thing, else it would  be twice the length and dominated by a single issue).

This is a comprehensive overview of matters that should concern us all, by someone who appears to be of a generally liberal/left persuasion (something that he doesn't conceal — nor should he). It covers a selection of sceptical subjects, but gives the overall impression that these are but a fraction of what's going on, and with which we should be engaged. In the modern world he could probably write another book with entirely different examples, and we should therefore be eternally vigilant.

Richard Wilson's blog of the same name, Don't Get Fooled Again, can be found at http://richardwilsonauthor.wordpress.com/

Richard Wilson, Don't Get Fooled Again: The Sceptic's Guide to Life (Icon Books Ltd, 2008), Hardcover, £12.99
ISBN-10: 1848310145, ISBN-13: 978-1848310148