Agnotology is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. It was coined in 1995 by Robert N. Proctor, a Stanford University professor, and linguist Iain Boal. The word is based on the Neoclassical Greek word ἄγνωσις, agnōsis, "not knowing", and -λογία, -logia. Proctor cites as a prime example the tobacco industrys advertising campaign to manufacture doubt about the cancerous and other health effects of tobacco use. More generally, the term also highlights the condition where more knowledge of a subject leaves one more uncertain than before.
David Dunning of Cornell University warns that "the internet is helping propagate ignorance. which makes prey for powerful interests wishing to deliberately spread ignorance". Irvin C. Schick refers to unknowledge "to distinguish it from ignorance. He uses the example of "terra incognita" in early maps, noting that "The reconstruction of parts of the globe as uncharted territory is. the production of unknowledge, the transformation of those parts into potential objects of Western political and economic attention. It is the enabling of colonialism".
The causes of culturally induced ignorance include the influence of the media, Corporations, and governmental agencies, through secrecy and suppression of information, document destruction, and selective memory. Another example is climate denial, where oil companies paid teams of scientists to downplay the effects of climate change.
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 censored and delayed for at least a decade because some evidence remained classified military information related to undersea warfare.
1.1. History Origins
The term "agnotology" was first coined in a footnote in Proctors 1995 book, The Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Dont 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".
Proctor was quoted using the term to describe his research "only half jokingly", as "agnotology" 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".
He was later quoted as calling it "agnotology, the study of ignorance", in a 2003 The New York Times story on medical historians testifying as expert witnesses.
Proctor co-organized a pair of events with Londa Schiebinger, his wife, who is also a science history professor: the first was a workshop at the Pennsylvania State University in 2003 titled "Agnatology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance", and later a conference at Stanford University in 2005 titled "Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance".
1.2. History Political economy
In 2004, Londa Schiebinger gave a more precise definition of agnotology 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 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".
Its use as a critical description of the political economy has been expanded upon by Michael Betancourt in a 2010 article titled "Immaterial Value and Scarcity in Digital Capitalism" and expanded in the book The Critique of Digital Capitalism. His analysis is focused on the housing bubble as well as the bubble economy of the period from 1980 to 2008. Betancourt argues that this political economy should be termed "agnotologic capitalism" because the systemic production and maintenance of ignorance is a major feature that enables the economy to function as it allows the creation of a "bubble economy".
Betancourts argument is posed in relation to the idea of affective labor. He states that
The creation of systemic unknowns where any potential "fact" is always already countered by an alternative of apparently equal weight and value renders engagement with the conditions of reality – the very situations affective labor seeks to assuage – contentious and a source of confusion, reflected by the inability of participants in bubbles to be aware of the imminent collapse until after it has happened. The biopolitical paradigm of distraction, what Prada calls "life to enjoy", can only be maintained if the underlying strictures remain hidden from view. If affective labor works to reduce alienation, agnotology works to eliminate the potential for dissent.
In his view, the role of affective labor is to enable the continuation of the agnotologic effects that enable the maintenance of the capitalist status quo.
A similar word from the same Greek roots, agnoiology, meaning "the science or study of ignorance, which determines its quality and conditions" or "the doctrine concerning those things of which we are necessarily ignorant" describes a branch of philosophy studied by James Frederick Ferrier in the 19th century.
Anthropologist Glenn Stone points out that most of the examples of agnotology such as work promoting tobacco use do not actually create a lack of knowledge so much as they create confusion. A more accurate term for such writing would be "ainigmology", from the root ainigma as in "enigma"; in Greek this refers to riddles or to language that obscures the true meaning of a story.
4. Media influence
The availability of such large amounts of knowledge in this information age may not necessarily be producing a knowledgeable citizenry. Instead it may be allowing many people to cherry-pick information in blogs or news that reinforces their existing beliefs. and to be distracted from new knowledge by repetitive or base entertainments. There is conflicting evidence on how television viewing affects value formation and intelligence.
An emerging new scientific discipline that has connections to agnotology is cognitronics:cognitronics aims a at explicating the distortions in the perception of the world caused by the information society and globalization and b at coping with these distortions in different fields. Cognitronics is studying and looking for the ways of improving cognitive mechanisms of processing information and developing emotional sphere of the personality - the ways aiming at compensating three mentioned shifts in the systems of values and, as an indirect consequence, for the ways of developing symbolic information processing skills of the learners, linguistic mechanisms, associative and reasoning abilities, broad mental outlook being important preconditions of successful work practically in every sphere of professional activity in information society.
The field of cognitronics appears to be growing as international conferences have centered on the topic. The 2013 conference was held in Slovenia.