Book Review: How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pure science nerd. My second blog Illuminati, Lizard People and Pharma Shills (yes I changed the title from 2012 And All That a little while ago) is dedicated to to the take down of the nonsense that pervades our daily existence. Therefore I am always drawn to books like this for blogging material as much as to learn stuff that I don’t know about. Lured with promises of a thorough takedown of such crackpottery as astrology, the Princess Diana “inside job” conspiracy theory, Deepak Chopra and Osama Bin Laden, I eagerly grabbed at this as a kind of natural follow on from Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories.

*Huff* I am sad to say that this book did not really live up to being fodder for my second blog. Sure, these things were in there but I felt that Wheen did little more than pay lip service to the promises on the back cover. It is not so much a summary of the pseudoscientific nonsense that pervades our world or a summary of the stupid crap that people believe these days as it is a political commentary for why both the political left and political right are not immune from believing stupid shit.

This is all well and good of course, I am politically slightly left but I know all too well the pseudoscience that affect people of my political persuasion. I am pro-science and consider myself a rational person with rational views so I am not under any illusion that poor science and pseudoscience is limited to any one side. People believe nonsense, that’s all there is to say about that and there are many fascinating books on this subject, even Derren Brown tries to make sense of the politics behind the nonsense.

Sadly, it isn’t even that most of the time. This is a political critique, an economic evaluation of Ronald Reagan’s, Margaret Thatcher’s and Tony Blair’s economics that draws on big world events such as the return to Iran of the Ayatollah Khomenei in 1979 – the same year that Thatcher was elected. Pointing to the relative nonsense that these people believe as well as the rise of politically-based superstition, even comparing free market philosophy to religion and a flawed science (something also explored in Economyths), it doesn’t focus on what it promises to focus on anywhere near as much as you would have liked. The criticism of Reaganomics, Bushnomics, Thatchernomics, Blairnomics and Brownomics are things we will be talking about for decades, I’m not sure we needed another one.

This could and should have been better but it feels more like a political rant with a few token references to pseudoscience dropped in. It was ok, but not what I expected and not really what I was looking for from the title or the blurb.


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