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Agnotology

Agnotology is the study of culturally induced ignorance.

Agnotology refocuses questions about “how we know” to include questions about what we do not know, and why not.

Londa Schiebinger, in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1 Sep. 2005.

Historians of science have tended to focus on the processes by which scientific knowledge gets accepted. In recent decades, some scholars have come to see that processes that impede or prevent acceptance of scientific findings are also important. Such processes include the very human desire to ignore unpleasant facts, media neglect of topics, corporate or government secrecy, and misrepresentation for a commercial or political end. They often generate controversy, much of it ill-informed. Examples include the health implications of tobacco and of genetically modified plants, the safety of nuclear power, the environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the existence or extent of man-made climate change.

The word’s earliest appearance seems to have been in a book of 1995, The Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don’t Know About Cancer. This was by Robert Proctor, a historian of science at Stanford University in California. He coined it from the classical Greek agnōsis, not knowing, plus the suffix -(o)logy, a subject of study, from Greek logos, word or speech.

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Last modified: 12 October 2013.