Agnotology

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Agnotology is the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. The neologism was coined by Robert N. Proctor, a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology. More generally, the term also highlights the increasingly common condition where more knowledge of a subject leaves one more uncertain than before. Proctor studied 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.

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. 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.

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