Agnotology

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Agnotology is a branch of science which looks at the ways in which doubt or ignorance about certain subjects is created. A very good example of how this happens is the publication of scientific studies that rely on data that is inaccurate or misleading. More generally, the term also highlights the increasingly common condition where more knowledge of a subject leaves one more uncertain than before.

The neologism was coined by Robert N. Proctor,[1][2] a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology.[3] Proctor cites the tobacco industry's conspiracy to manufacture doubt about the cancer risks of tobacco use as a very good example of how this can be done. Under the banner of science, the industry produced research about everything except tobacco hazards to exploit public uncertainty.[4]

The way in which media attention works can be exploited to produce ignorance. Other factors that influence it are that corporations or governments do not reveal cerain facts. At times, they force these facts to be removed if they have been revealed. The methods they use include censorship, destroying documents, putting the weight of certain facts differently, or being inattentive or forgetful.[5]

Agnotology also focuses on how and why diverse forms of knowledge do not "come to be," or are ignored or delayed. For example, knowledge about plate tectonics was censored and delayed for at least a decade because key evidence was classified military information related to underseas warfare.[4]

References[change | edit source]

  1. Arenson, Karen W. (2006-08-22). "What Organizations Don't Want to Know Can Hurt". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/business/22mistakes.html?ex=1313899200&en=e687ef6c5786717f&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss. "'there is a lot more protectiveness than there used to be,' said Dr. Proctor, who is shaping a new field, the study of ignorance, which he calls agnotology. 'It is often safer not to know.'"
  2. Kreye, Andrian (2007). "We Will Overcome Agnotology (The Cultural Production Of Ignorance)". The Edge World Question Center 2007. Edge Foundation. p. 6. Archived from the original on 18 August 2007. http://www.edge.org/q2007/q07_6.html. Retrieved 2007-08-12. "This is about a society's choice between listening to science and falling prey to what Stanford science historian Robert N. Proctor calls agnotology (the cultural production of ignorance)"
  3. "Stanford History Department : Robert N. Proctor". Stanford University. Archived from the original on 2007-03-19. http://web.archive.org/web/20070319025655/http://www.stanford.edu/dept/history/Faculty/proctor.html. Retrieved 2007-08-12.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Palmer, Barbara (2005-10-04). "Conference to explore the social construction of ignorance". Stanford News Service. Archived from the original on 24 July 2007. http://news-service.stanford.edu/pr/2005/pr-agno-100505.html. Retrieved 2007-08-12. "Proctor uses the term "agnotology" – a word coined from agnosis, meaning "not knowing" – to describe a new approach to looking at knowledge through the study of ignorance."
  5. "Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance". http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPST/AgnotologyConference.html. Retrieved 2007-08-12.