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The three wise monkeys (from left to right: hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil) an icon used by Proctor and Schiebinger in their 2005 conference “Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance”.

Agnotology, formerly agnatology, is a neologism for the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. The term was coined by Robert N. Proctor,[1][2] a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology.[3] Its name derives from the Greek word ἀγνῶσις, agnōsis, "not knowing"; and -λογία, -logia.[4] More generally, the term also highlights the increasingly common condition where more knowledge of a subject leaves one more uncertain than before.

A prime example of the deliberate production of ignorance cited by Proctor is the tobacco industry's conspiracy to manufacture doubt about the cancer risks of tobacco use. Under the banner of science, the industry produced research about everything except tobacco hazards to exploit public uncertainty.[4][5] Some of the root causes for culturally-induced ignorance are media neglect, corporate or governmental secrecy and suppression, document destruction, and myriad forms of inherent or avoidable culturopolitical selectivity, inattention, and forgetfulness.[6]

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 delayed for at least a decade because key evidence was classified military information related to underseas warfare.[4]


[edit] History

Dr. Proctor was quoted using the term to describe his research "only half jokingly," as "agnatology" in a 2001 interview about his lapidary work with the colorful rock agate. He connected the two seemingly unrelated 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, all of which have much higher commercial value. He said agate was a "victim of scientific disinterest," the same "structured apathy" he called "the social construction of ignorance."[7]

He was later quoted as calling it "agnotology, the study of ignorance," in a 2003 New York Times story on medical historians testifying as expert witnesses.[8] In 2004, his wife, Londa Schiebinger,[9] also a science history professor, gave a more precise definition of agnotology in a paper on eighteenth-century voyages of scientific discovery and gender relations, and contrasted it with epistemology, the theory of knowledge, saying that the latter questions how we know while the former questions why we do not know: "Ignorance is often not merely the absence of knowledge but an outcome of cultural and political struggle."[10]

The couple co-organized a pair of events, first a workshop at the Pennsylvania State University in 2003 titled “Agnatology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance”,[11] and later a conference at Stanford University in 2005 titled “Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance”.[6]

[edit] Agnoiology

A similar word from the same Greek roots, agnoiology, meaning "the science or study of ignorance, which determines its quality and conditions"[12] or "the doctrine concerning those things of which we are necessarily ignorant"[13] describes a branch of philosophy studied by James Frederick Ferrier in the 19th century.[14]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Arenson, Karen W. (2006-08-22). "What Organizations Don't Want to Know Can Hurt". New York Times. "'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. 6. Retrieved on 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. Retrieved on 2007-08-12. 
  4. ^ a b c Palmer, Barbara (2005-10-04). "Conference to explore the social construction of ignorance". Stanford News Service. Retrieved on 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. ^ Kreye, Andrian (2006-04-12). "Polonium in Zigaretten : Müll in der Kippe (Polonium in cigarettes : Garbage in the butt)". Sueddeutsche Zeitung.,Ple3Lhp/wissen/artikel/710/93617/. Retrieved on 2007-08-12. "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.)" 
  6. ^ a b "Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance". Retrieved on 2007-08-12. 
  7. ^ Brown, Nancy Marie (2001-09). "The Agateer". Research Penn State. Retrieved on 2007-08-12. 
  8. ^ Cohen, Particia (2003-06-14). "History for Hire in Industry Lawsuits". New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-08-12. "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."" 
  9. ^ "IRWG director hopes to create 'go to' center for gender studies". Stanford News Service. 2004-10-13. Retrieved on 2007-08-12. 
  10. ^ Schiebinger, L. (2004). "Feminist History of Colonial Science". Hypatia 19 (1): 233. doi:10.2979/HYP.2004.19.1.233. Retrieved on 2007-08-12. "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 cultural and political struggle.". 
  11. ^ "Rock Ethics Institute - SMTC". Retrieved on 2007-08-12. ""Agnatology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance", Department of History, Penn State, Spring 2003, Organized by Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger" 
  12. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (11th edition ed.). 1910. 
  13. ^ Porter, Noah, ed (1913). Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. G & C. Merriam Co.. 
  14. ^ "James Frederick Ferrier". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved on 2007-08-12. 

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