Thursday, January 22, 2009

Because it's not all that Funny

Robert Proctor, historian of science at Stanford, has coined a new term: Agnotology, for the study of "culturally constructed ignorance." The term is derived from the greek agnosis, "without" or "against" "knowledge" (more familiarly used in "agnostic".)
"[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."
Funny, sad, and, dare I say it, truth.

(h/t Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture)

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