Monday, April 25, 2011

Time to brush up on our Agnotology.

Apparently the lies in the mediasphere are flying so fast and furiously someone invented a science to try and make sense of it all.

From an interview with Stanford science historian Robert Proctor posted by Jay Kernis on CNN blog.

"Just what is "agnotology?"

Agnotology is the science of ignorance. You can think of it as an effort to understand why there is so much ignorance in the world: how ignorance is created, the conditions helping it to flourish, what might help it be destroyed.

We live in a world full of ignorance, and this is not just a natural thing. There are institutions and movements that flourish by virtue of creating ignorance: ignorance is not entirely innocent.

CNN polling shows that 74 percent of independent voters believe that President Obama was born in the United States. But there are still those who question where he was born, and recently, Donald Trump has given numerous interviews defending his belief that President Obama may not have been born here. Would this be an example of the concept?

It certainly is. "Birther" ignorance is politically-twinged: Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to hold to this illusion, that Obama is not a U.S. citizen or, according to a NYT/CBS poll from just this week, only 33 percent of Republicans thought Obama was born in this country, vs. 45 percent believing he was not.

Democrats on this point are less in the dark. Political motivations can cloud what we believe to be true, and in this sense, too, ignorance is not innocent.

What causes culturally-induced ignorance—and is the truth—facts—an antidote?

Ignorance has many causes–and not all ignorance is even bad. We all know about TMI (too much information); there are things we would rather not know, that are better not to know. Forgetting can be a virtue.

But for things that we should know, there are unfortunately powerful political and economic forces trying to keep us in the dark. The tobacco industry for many years tried to undercut knowledge of the hazards of smoking; "doubt is our product" reads the secret internal industry memo.

Knowledge can be a dangerous thing, as powerful governments and corporations have long realized. Truth can be an antidote, but it must be fought for, the truth often encounters powerful resistance.

Do you have evidence that Americans may be becoming more ignorant?

It depends of course on the issue. Far more people know how to use computers, but far fewer people, I imagine, know how to make a fire from scratch in the woods. Our brains are only so big, and knowledge gained in one area often means squeezing out knowledge in some area.

The democratization of knowledge via the Internet has this double edge: it is easier to learn about many things, but many of those things are not true.

What are some other examples of ignorance that you are studying now or that concern you the most?

I am particularly interested in the power of governments and industry to create ignorance. We live in a world where there is a great deal of secret science–there are things people don't want you to know.

I'm interested in how polluters keep people ignorant of the dangers of their effluents (or products), and how governments hide the truth to maintain power.

I'm interested in the persistence of myths like creationism–the denial of evolutionary biology and the political allies that has both in the U.S. and abroad (Islamic creationism, for example).

I'm interested in the ignorance created by overspecialization, and by apathy amongst educators.

I'm interested in what I like to call "virtuous ignorance," which is the idea that governments or powerful industries should not have the right to know everything about you all the time.

Our whole "right to privacy" is a kind of virtuous, legally-respected sanction of ignorance, one could say: we all have things we would rather others not know–and that is a good thing.

What role do media play in all of this, and what could we do better?

Courage and devotion to the truth are key. The media has to challenge orthodoxy from whatever source, and to challenge ignorance, even when it comes from the powerful. Otherwise we (and they) they are just trumpets of darkness. "

"Trumpets of darkness"?

I LIKE it!

"Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance," is now in paperback.

And as it's Easter Monday, and I've just spend part of a day, like many people endeavoring to think outside the magical thinking box, discussing the whole Jesus, Resurrection, religion thing, here's a worthy quote from someone out there who's using their noodle. Simple, yet a truth that seems to elude most church going Republicans these days:

“The Gospels are incredibly short on issues we associate with modern 'values voting' — abortion and homosexuality, mostly — and incredibly long on reverence for the poor and disdain for the wealthy. Of course, that hasn't made much of a difference to the United States, which through its history, has combined religious piety with stunning accumulations of wealth.”
Jamelle Bouie,Christianity and Capitalism, American Prospect, April 20, 2011

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