Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dare to be naive

R. Buckminster Fuller

Agnotology is derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is “the study of culturally constructed ignorance.” When dealing with contentious subjects, our usual relationship with information (more information leads to better understanding) is reversed: Ignorance actually increases.

Fairly amazing, and when it comes to certain issues, its dead on.

The following is exerpted from Clive Thompson on How More Info Leads to Less Knowledge

Agnotology: Culturally constructed ignorance, purposefully created by special interest groups working hard to create confusion and suppress the truth.

Proctor argues that when society is ignorant about a subject or fact, it's often because special interests work hard to create confusion.
Anti-Obama groups may have spent millions insisting he's a Muslim; church groups have shelled out even more pushing creationism. The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before.

[QN: And a band of companies have seeded the debate about global warming to develop new markets and profit from it see for the list of members]

"People always assume that if someone doesn't know something, it's because they haven't paid attention or haven't yet figured it out," Proctor says. "But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth—or drowning it out—or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what's true and what's not."

After years of celebrating the information revolution, we need to focus on the countervailing force: The disinformation revolution. The example of what Proctor calls an agnotological campaign is the funding of bogus studies by cigarette companies trying to link lung cancer to baldness, viruses—anything but their product.

...the financial meltdown was driven by ignorance. Credit-default swaps were designed not merely to dilute risk but to dilute knowledge; after they'd changed hands and been serially securitized, no one knew what they were worth.

Maybe the Internet itself has inherently agnotological side effects. People graze all day on information tailored to their existing worldview. And when bloggers or talking heads actually engage in debate, it often consists of pelting one another with mutually contradictory studies they've Googled: "Greenland's ice shield is melting 10 years ahead of schedule!" vs. "The sun is cooling down and Earth is getting colder!"

As Farhad Manjoo notes in True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, if we argue about what a fact means, we're having a debate. If we argue about what the facts are, it's agnotological Armageddon, where reality dies screaming.

You can read the whole article here:

1 comment:

  1. Reality dies screaming seems like a good bet here. I know, lets appoint someone who cheats on their taxes to run the Internal Revenue Service! My wife got so made she was pounding on the table. A moment of clarity? For all the "O"-promises it looks like business as usual in DC. God help President Obama.


You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Harlan Ellison