Tuesday March 11, 2014
Word of the Day: Agnotology
Agnotology (n.): The study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt.
I came across it in Michael Hiltzik's article about Robert Proctor, “Cultural production of ignorance provides rich field for study,” in The LA Times.
Proctor's field of research has taken him from the Nazis to Big Tobacco to Climate-change deniers to ACA opponents. I like this quote:
Early in his career ... he asked an advisor if Nazi science was an appropriate topic of research. “Of course,” he was told. “Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship.” As part of his scholarship, Proctor says he “watches Fox News all the time.”
The big questions, for our Age of Misinformation, are at the end:
Given the torrent of misinformation washing about the public space and the multiplicity of pathways for its distribution, is there any hope for beating back the tide? Agnotologists are divided. “I don't see any easy out,” says UCLA's Wise. “All of the forces are on the side of undermining public trust in science.”
But Proctor has hope. “My whole career is devoted to pushing back,” he told me. “There is opportunity to expose these things through good journalism, good pedagogy, good scholarship. You need an educated populace.”
The effort needs to begin at a young age, he says. “You really need to be teaching third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-graders that some people lie. And why do they lie? Because some people are greedy.”
The History of Nonsense, Chapter 1,472.