They say ignorance is bliss but not when misinformation is a substitute for truth. Agnotology is the study of ignorance that is intentionally induced in society through the means of deception, propaganda, and erroneous data. It leads to an interesting condition where the more knowledge one gathers of a subject the less informed one becomes about the same. The concept of willful propaganda has survived the test of time and keeps manifesting in various dimensions of civilization. Faith of the general public inherited over a very long period without questioning the rationale and forgetfulness of any proven disagreement fuel the theme of ignorance (Proctor, 2008). It dates back to the infamous citation of the tobacco industry which through its fabricated campaigns installed doubts about the dangers of tobacco. The misinformation floating around climate change in the 21st century is a burning example of how powerfully a band of polarized views on its very actuality can be created. Another relevant example is the growing opposition by skeptics towards enforceable vaccination against communicable diseases like covid-19 that has claimed millions of lives.
A deeper understanding of how fallacies evolve and solidify as a proxy to facts shall broaden the inquisitiveness towards existing belief systems, in particular, and the inclination towards truth, in general. Studying several peer-reviewed research papers that are credited towards the end, this exploratory piece of writing shall dive deep into the systematic production of ignorance in society and how it is rendered as a fine slice of knowledge that shapes and misshapes humankind. It shall further demonstrate that the solution for the evils of fictitious ideas seems to lie not in being more informed but better informed and persistently finding means to it. Agnotology as a study of the manufacture and propagation of ignorance is a mighty tool towards the goal.
The deficit models of cognition that impair the ability to make the right decisions can be challenged by tools of the right education and making it accessible to the public. This comes with a warning that something being accessible need not necessarily mean that it is being accessed. The acts of deliberation when based on consciously acquired true data shall create a progressive world for all. Ignorance manifests itself in not just the absence of knowledge but in various forms such as delayed information, forgotten or misplaced scientific theories, disappeared research data, willfully wrongly constructed facts, or misperception of content (Proctor &
The branch of research methodology that studies ignorance, misconceptions, false data, and how they are culturally brought into existence is called agnotology. It studies the genesis of misinformation and how it is strategically circulated to mislead for calculated gains on an industry level, a cultural level, or a global level in some cases (Legates, Soon, & Briggs, 2013). The innovative understanding of the social and epistemological impact also simply called the intellectual impact has helped analyze the production of ignorance and the relationship between the wing of scientific research and the collective industry groups that influence the relationship (Fernandez Pinto, 2017). Most of the research that has happened post-industrialization has been in some way commercially directed. They in turn create a machinery of ignorance production through the pseudo-investigative labs. What one gains knowledge about is decided by what is expected of oneself to know or what is in the popular consensus of peers to be known. Ignorance could start with as simple of an act as disinterest in a fact, not because of its insignificance but because it was never channeled to be of any practical application either in the educational system or the cultural setup.
Technology in many ways furthers the widespread acceptance of unfounded principles. The first target of such a wrongful agenda is the social platforms through which within a short period, virtual communities initiate threads of erroneous data with socially justifiable and provocative ideology. Misguided media institutions fuel the conspiracies as favorable to the political groups in power. Also referred to as the “Era of intellectual darkness” (Rose & Bartoli, 2020), it offers favorable conditions for the extensive dismissal of empirical data. When unfounded content tends to reach virally to the consumers of social media and other news platforms, it reinforces the fictitious data in a powerfully exponential way. At sub-conscious levels of society ignorance breeds and flourishes through the pupil who engages in the dissemination of data, the very pupil who claims to be a seeker of true knowledge. The news industry creates volumes of doubts with numerous opinions, views, and biased arguments. When such a situation arises, genuine minds are also flooded with information both farce and valid and they often turn into victims of the media ecosystem. The doubt peddled by vested interests travels far and impacts deeply.
Ignorance in the form of misinformation shall be of not much harm beyond a certain measure if it limits to and wears out within a certain group. But ignorance is notoriously known to stay put without additional effort from its manufacturer once cemented in the minds of the audience culturally. The problem arises when the distorted true data is introduced to a generation, proved using a pseudo-scientific thesis, and socially circulated to misguide larger groups of interest. Ignorance successfully roots in and with time, the understanding that lies beneath the unfounded truth blurs out and it is adopted as a concept with no individual freshly joining the club questioning its credibility. The scientific literature has assumed a great deal of significance in providing supportive documentation and research analysis to the concepts popularly known and accepted. But, the scandalous, controversial, less popular yet involving keystone contribution in truth has been royally ignored. The basis of the production of ignorance rests on the neglect of a positive open-ended approach to the lesser-known aspects of all key theories.
It all interestingly came to the limelight when the tobacco company in 1969 declared doubt to be their product. The health adversities caused by smoking were thrown under disguise by planting obscure facts towards the consumers and the controversy was easily downloaded into the market. Even a well-founded fact of the ill impact of tobacco on the health of the consumer could be saved with the production and circulation of ignorance. It became clearer with the time that the magical weapon of ignorance used for materialistic gains has been in history long before the mentioned company existed and continues to manifest beyond its time. Seeding doubts against truth to lead public opinion in the desired direction has been extensively used in the world of politics, economy, and world metrics in general. Be it secrecy around critical information of public importance, suppression of rightful data, destruction of knowledge, or selective disbursement of scientific research documents, ignorance has more than one way of genesis. All of the above means directly influence the collective decisions of policy-making or a political framework which is an apparent threat to democracy.
Many critical debatable topics take refuge in single-sided theories driven by long-standing misconceptions and stifle the critical thinking of younger generations. Every concept especially the mass-impacting controversial concepts need to be studied from all possible dimensions. It then becomes imperative that one looks beyond what is already known and tries to seek answers to why it is known in a certain way and if there were limitations to its current understanding scientifically or socially. Ignorance stands to be among the least studied and explored concepts because the researchers of science are heavily invested in what we know and rather seldom involved in uncovering the impetus to what we have not known for long. Ignorance is barely considered to be a topic of research and that needs to change if there needs to be any advancement in the journey toward the undisclosed truth. Agnotology thus demands to be rendered the deserved importance in understanding complex debates on issues that impact globally like climate change (Legates, Soon, & Briggs, 2015).
The fossil fuel giants have introduced doubts about the theories of climate change. The manufacture of ignorance is assisted by the fear of risking acceptance among the scientific communities and standing out as an outright rebel to logic. Millions of pages run into proving the influence of human activities on increasing the greenhouse effect. Yet, there is a counterdepartment to prove the opposing theory and there are buyers of the created by the pool of ignorance (Cook, Bedford, & Mandia , 2014). The act of propaganda is powerful enough to create an opposing viewpoint as to whether humans have any role to play in climate change at all. Partisan presentations justifying a viewpoint from a biased stand shall thus have no significant place in education. Several such controversies remain strangely unanswered and agnotology holds fast to bring light to the darker aspects of it (Benestad, Hygen, van Dorland, Cook, & Nuccitelli, 2013). Agnotology-based climate literacy imparted to increasing social groups has helped the situation but has a long way to go.
Vaccination campaigns that are aimed to provide robust protection against communicable diseases are not safe from ignorant theories as well. There is a widespread misconception about the intentions of the campaigns owing to ignorance of genuine data among the public. This has led to mass opposition to accepting the vaccination for covid-19 as an enforced decision and thus many nations have opted for turning it into a voluntary activity. Governments are forced to do so because an otherwise decision would be violating the sentiment of democracy. Despite empirical data that proves the safety and need for vaccination, it is difficult for the true data to cut through the noise and reach the audience. What would help in this situation is the upper hand of right education and empowering the public to make the suitable decision which is possible only when one studies the influencing factors of prevalent ignorance about the topic to reduce the misperceptions. Agnotology-based teaching has helped educators deal with the challenges of poor decision-making due to underlying ignorance. It equips the people at large to understand how content is disseminated through mainstream media and social media platforms play an influential role in framing public opinion.
Only when education deals with not just the teaching of existing theories but also offering research scope for the unknown and the relevant misinformation that is attached to the theories, positive changes shall begin to happen (Bedford & Cook, 2013). This methodology is greatly helpful, especially in the realm of controversial topics like anthropological reasons for climate change or human genesis itself. Explicit exploration of the associated postulation forms the core of agnotology. Authoritarian science needs to be uprooted and holistic approaches have to be adopted in research and exploration. Agnotology needs to be included in various fields as a critical branch of science. All the peer-reviewed literature on a concept and all the proof theories should ideally be sent under intense scrutiny. The risk with this science however is that it is a double-edged sword wherein, the opposing party to a concept shall always blame the other to be based on ignorance. Scientific consensus provides comfort to a certain degree in the fact that human-induced climate change still weighs out in its proposition against the misguided ideology that saturates the need for proof (Pinto, 2015).
Interestingly, the absence of knowledge is not the only reason for the prevalence of ignorance but, it is the crippled methodology of explanation and inadequate means of representation that have a greater role to play (Croissant, 2014). The study of how we know has masked the dire attention that needs to be attributed to “How we do not know” (Proctor & Schiebinger, 2008). The deafening silence towards the dark world of ignorance is one decision away- The decision to use the power of educating oneself. The ultimate solution thus assumes to be a revolution in the science of seeking not on the shoulders of stagnant knowledge but under the brighter lights of fresh inquisitive minds powered by comprehensive holistic education.
Bedford, D., & Cook, J. (2013). Agnotology, scientific consensus, and the teaching and learning of climate change: A response to Legates, Soon and Briggs. Science & Education, 22(8), 2019-2030.
Benestad, R. E., Hygen, H. O., van Dorland, R., Cook, J., & Nuccitelli, D. (2013). Agnotology: learning from mistakes. Earth System Dynamics Discussions, 4(1), 451-505.
Cook, J., Bedford, D., & Mandia , S. (2014). Raising Climate Literacy Through Addressing Misinformation: Case Studies in Agnotology-Based Learning. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62:3, 296-306.
Croissant, J. L. (2014). Agnotology: Ignorance and Absence or Towards a Sociology of Things
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Fernandez Pinto, M. (2017). “To Know or Better Not to: Agnotology and the Social Construction of Ignorance in Commercially Driven Research”. Science & Technology Studies, 30(2), 53-72.
Legates, D. R., Soon, W., & Briggs, W. M. (2013). Learning and teaching climate science: The perils of consensus knowledge using agnotology. Science & Education, 22(8), 20072017.
Legates, D. R., Soon, W., & Briggs, W. M. (2015). Climate consensus and ‘misinformation’: A rejoinder to agnotology, scientific consensus, and the teaching and learning of climate change. Science & Education, 24(3), 299-318.
Pinto, M. F. (2015). Tensions in agnotology: Normativity in the studies of commercially driven ignorance. Social studies of science, 45(2), 294-315.
Proctor, R. N., & Schiebinger, L. (2008). Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance.
Stanford University Press: Stanford, California.
Rose, L., & Bartoli, T. (2020). Agnotology and the Epistemology of Ignorance: A Framework for the Propagation of Ignorance as a Consequence of Technology in a Balkanized Media
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