Within the sociology of knowledge, agnotology (formerly agnatology) is the study of deliberate, culturally induced ignorance or doubt, typically to sell a product, influence opinion, or win favour, particularly through the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data (disinformation). More generally, the term includes the condition where more knowledge of a subject creates greater uncertainty.
Stanford University professor Robert N. Proctor cites the tobacco industry's public relations campaign to manufacture doubt about the adverse health effects of tobacco use as a prime example. David Dunning of Cornell University warns that powerful interests exploit the internet to "propagate ignorance".
Agents of culturally induced ignorance include the media, corporations, and government agencies, through secrecy and suppression of information, document destruction, and selective memory. Passive causes include structural information bubbles, including those that reflect racial and class differences, based on access to information.
Agnotology also focuses on how and why diverse knowledge does not "come to be", or is ignored or delayed. For example, knowledge about plate tectonics was censored and delayed for at least a decade because some evidence remained classified military information related to undersea warfare.
The availability of large amounts of knowledge may allow people to cherry-pick information (whether or not factual) that reinforces their beliefs and ignore inconvenient knowledge by consuming repetitive or fact-free entertainment. Evidence conflicts on how television affects viewers.
The term was coined in 1992 by linguist and social historian Iain Boal at the request of Stanford University professor Robert N. Proctor. The word is based on the Neoclassical Greek word agnōsis (ἄγνωσις, 'not knowing'; cf. Attic Greek ἄγνωτος, 'unknown' and -logia (-λογία).
The term "agnotology" first appeared in print in a footnote in Stanford University professor Proctor's 1995 book, The Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don't Know About Cancer:
Historians and philosophers of science have tended to treat ignorance as an ever-expanding vacuum into which knowledge is sucked – or even, as Johannes Kepler once put it, as the mother who must die for science to be born. Ignorance, though, is more complex than this. It has a distinct and changing political geography that is often an excellent indicator of the politics of knowledge. We need a political agnotology to complement our political epistemologies.
In a 2001 interview about his lapidary work with agate, Proctor used the term to describe his research "only half jokingly" as "agnotology". He connected the topics by noting the lack of geologic knowledge and study of agate since its first known description by Theophrastus in 300 BC, relative to the extensive research on other rocks and minerals such as diamonds, asbestos, granite, and coal. He said agate was a "victim of scientific disinterest," the same "structured apathy" he called "the social construction of ignorance".
In 2004, Schiebinger offered a more precise definition in a paper on 18th-century voyages of scientific discovery and gender relations, and contrasted it with epistemology, the theory of knowledge, saying that the latter questions how humans know while the former questions why humans do not know: "Ignorance is often not merely the absence of knowledge but an outcome of cultural and political struggle."
Proctor co-organized events with Londa Schiebinger, his wife and fellow professor of science history. In 2008, they published an anthology entitled Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance, which "provides a new theoretical perspective to broaden traditional questions about 'how we know' to ask: Why don't we know what we don't know?" They locate agnotology within the field of epistemology.
The fossil fuel industry used the technique in its campaign against the scientific consensus on climate change. It became the focus of the 2010 book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Oil companies paid teams of scientists to downplay its effects.
Michael Betancourt used agnotology in a critical assessment of political economy in a 2010 article and book. His analysis focused on the housing bubble as well as the 1980 to 2008 period. Betancourt argued that this political economy should be termed "agnotologic capitalism", claiming that the systematic production and maintenance of ignorance enabled a "bubble economy" that allowed the economy to function. In his view, the role of affective labor is to create/maintain agnotologic views that enable the maintenance of the capitalist status quo. This is done by proffering counters to every fact, creating contention and confusion that is difficult to resolve. This confusion reduces dissent by deenergizing its motivating alienation and thus its potential to address weaknesses that may trigger collapse.
From the same Greek roots, agnoiology refers either to "the science or study of ignorance, which determines its quality and conditions" or "the doctrine concerning those things of which we are necessarily ignorant," describing a branch of philosophy studied by James Frederick Ferrier in the 19th century.
Anthropologist Glenn Stone points out that some examples of agnotology (such as work promoting tobacco use) do not actually create a lack of knowledge so much as they create confusion. As a more accurate term Stone suggested "ainigmology", from the Greek root ainigma (as in 'enigma'), referring to riddles or to language that obscures the true meaning of a story.
An emerging scientific discipline that connects to agnotology is cognitronics, which aims to explain distortions in perception caused by the information society and globalization and cope with these distortions.
Irvin C. Schick distinguishes unknowledge from ignorance, using the example of "terra incognita" in early maps in which mapmakers marked unexplored territories with that or similar labels, which provided "potential objects of Western political and economic attention."
- Antiscience – Attitudes that reject science and the scientific method
- Anti-intellectualism – Hostility to and mistrust of education, philosophy, art, literature, and science
- Cancer Wars – Documentary , a six-part documentary that aired on PBS in 1997, based on Robert N. Proctor's 1995 book, Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What we Know and Don't Know About Cancer
- Cognitive dissonance – Stress from contradictory beliefs, a social psychology theory that may explain the ease of maintaining ignorance (because people are driven to ignore conflicting evidence) and which also provides clues to how to bring about knowledge (perhaps by forcing the learner to reconcile reality with long-held, though inaccurate beliefs; see Socratic method)
- Cognitive inertia – Lack of motivation to mentally tackle a problem or issue
- Confirmation bias – Bias confirming existing attitudes
- Creationism – Belief that nature originated through supernatural acts, systematic denial of scientific biological realities by misrepresenting them in terms of various dogmatic tenets
- Denialism – Person's choice to deny psychologically uncomfortable truth
- Doubt Is Their Product – 2008 book by David Michaels
- The Dunning–Kruger effect, a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability at a task overestimate their skill level, and people with high ability at a task underestimate their skill level.
- Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) – Tactic used to influence opinion , a disinformation technique using the appeal to fear
- Intelligent design – Pseudoscientific argument for the existence of God, a class of creationism that attempts to support assorted topics in biological denialism by misrepresenting them and related junk science as scientific research
- Japanese commercial whaling – Commercial hunting of whales by the Japanese fishing industry, an attempt at obfuscation of the culpability of commercial whaling by misrepresenting its junk-scientific rationale as scientific research.
- Junk science – Scientific data considered to be spurious
- Merchants of Doubt – 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
- Historical negationism – Illegitimate distortion of the historical record
- Neo-Luddism – Philosophy opposing modern technology
- Obscurantism – Practice of obscuring information
- Sociology of scientific ignorance – Study of ignorance in science, or Ignorance Studies, the study of ignorance as something relevant.
- Subvertising – Parody advertising
- The Republican War on Science – 2005 book by Chris Mooney
- Vaccine controversies – Reluctance or refusal to be vaccinated or have one's children vaccinated , based on assorted junk-scientific strategies to misrepresent life- and health-saving technologies as harmful rather than beneficial.
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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)
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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.
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Proctor:...Die Tabakindustrie hat ... verlangt, dass mehr geforscht wird. Das ist reine Ablenkungsforschung. Wir untersuchen in Stanford inzwischen, wie Unwissen hergestellt wird. Es ist eine Kunst – wir nennen sie Agnotologie. (Proctor:...The tobacco industry has ... called for further study. That is pure distraction research. At Stanford, we study how ignorance is manufactured. It is an art we call agnotology.)
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- "My hope for devising a new term was to suggest the opposite, namely, the historicity and artifactuality of non-knowing and the non-known-and the potential fruitfulness of studying such things. In 1992, I posed this challenge to the linguist Iain Boal, and it was he who came up with the term agnotology, in the spring of that year.” Robert N. Proctor, "Postscript on the Coining of the Term 'Agnotology'", in "Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance", Eds. Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, 2008, Stanford University Press, page 27.
- Agnotology: understanding our ignorance, 15 December 2016, retrieved 31 January 2017 interview with Robert Proctor "So I asked a linguist colleague of mine, Iain Boal, if he could coin a term that would designate the production of ignorance and the study of ignorance, and we came up with a number of different possibilities."
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'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.'
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Mr. Proctor, who describes his specialty as "agnotology, the study of ignorance", argues that the tobacco industry has tried to give the impression that the hazards of cigarette smoking are still an open question even when the scientific evidence is indisputable. "The tobacco industry is famous for having seen itself as a manufacturer of two different products," he said, "tobacco and doubt".
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I develop a methodological tool that historian of science Robert Proctor has called "agnotology"—the study of culturally-induced ignorances—that serves as a counterweight to more traditional concerns for epistemology, refocusing questions about "how we know" to include questions about what we do not know, and why not. Ignorance is often not merely the absence of knowledge but an outcome of the cultural and political struggle.
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Science, Medicine, and Technology in Culture Pennsylvania University Presents a Workshop: ... Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, co-organizers
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