Fritze, Ronald H. Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions

Reaktion, $34.95

A frequent frustration amongst those with a rational, scientific approach to knowledge is the willingness of some to blithely swallow falsehoods, “urban myths”, or charismatic theories despite their being disproved by scholars. The apparent irrationality of climate change denial in the face of scientifically accepted, empirically assured consensus is a prime example.

In Invented Knowledge, Fritze does not discuss climate change, but he does wield a wide broom. The enduring legend of Atlantis; the Nation of Islam; Christian Identity white supremacists; the theory that the Chinese discovered the entire world in the mid-fifteenth century; catastrophist Immanuel Velikovsky; and the founder of the Theosophical Society, Madame Helena Blavatsky – they all get an airing, and ultimately, a shredding.

An able tool to aid students’ critical thinking, Invented Knowledge is not just for history buffs. It’d also be put to effective use debunking annoying dinner-party conspiracy theorists.

Fritze writes in a mostly unimpassioned voice, although the final chapter sees some fanning of the fire. Martin Bernal’s Black Athena volumes really seem to get his gander up. Pseudohistory may make for a good yarn, but as Fritze asserts, it can also aid racism and fanaticism. And poor scholarship. He states “in popular culture many people cannot distinguish good evidence from bad, or logical and empirical argumentation from seemingly impressive but ultimately empty rhetoric.” Which can’t be clever.


Reviewed July 2011