Transforming your staff's potential

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Finds: Agnotology

Stanford historian of science Robert Proctor has created a new word: "agnotology."

Agnotology: The study of culturally constructed ignorance, purposefully created by special interest groups working to create confusion and suppress the truth.

The word is derived from the Greek root agnosis ("gnosis", meaning knowledge , and "a-" indicating an absence).

From Wired Magazine's article, "Clive Thompson on How More Info Leads to Less Knowledge:"

As Proctor argues, when society doesn't know something, it's often because special interests work hard to create confusion. Anti-Obama groups likely spent millions insisting he's a Muslim; church groups have shelled out even more pushing creationism. The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before.

"People always assume that if someone doesn't know something, it's because they haven't paid attention or haven't yet figured it out," Proctor says. "But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth—or drowning it out—or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what's true and what's not."

After years of celebrating the information revolution, we need to focus on the countervailing force: The disinformation revolution. The ur-example of what Proctor calls an agnotological campaign is the funding of bogus studies by cigarette companies trying to link lung cancer to baldness, viruses—anything but their product.

Naming a thing (concept, emotion, idea) is empowering. It is easier to identify it when you see it. That awareness makes us less apt to be unconsciously influenced/manipulated by it. Now, how do we teach the critical thinking skill of agnotological literacy? What can be done to counter disinformation campaigns?

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