n. The study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.
Other Forms
The leaders of corporations and other institutions, it turns out, are not always hungry for more information.

Investigations can be costly. They can assign blame. They can uncover things that might give ammunition for lawsuits.

They may delve deep into assumptions made when a system was put together, which may be outdated or expensive to change.

Some technology watchers, such as Robert Proctor, a Stanford professor who specializes in the history of science and technology, said there is increasing resistance to investigating, even as instances that warrant digging seem to be climbing.

"There is a lot more protectiveness than there used to be," said Proctor, who is shaping a new field, the study of ignorance, which he calls agnotology. "It is often safer not to know."
—“What you don't want to know can hurt,” Grand Rapids Press, August 27, 2006
Agnotology serves as a counterweight to traditional concerns for epistemology, refocusing questions about "how we know" to include questions about what we do not know, and why not. Ignorance is often not merely the absence of knowledge but an outcome of cultural and political struggle.
—Londa Schiebinger, “Feminist History of Colonial Science,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, January 31, 2004
2003 (earliest)
In public health cases, historians are often asked to determine what industry officials knew and when did they knew it. That can mean assessing whether a particular hazard is "common knowledge." For example, how widespread is the knowledge that cigarette smoking is dangerous? Historians also provide evidence on whether a particular scientific claim is still an "open controversy." Whether the Atkins diet is healthful is today an open controversy; that is not the case with the dangers of tobacco or asbestos.

Mr. Proctor, who describes his specialty as "agnotology, the study of ignorance," argues that the tobacco industry has tried to give the impression that the hazards of cigarette smoking are still an open question even when the scientific evidence is indisputable. "The tobacco industry is famous for having seen itself as a manufacturer of two different products," he said, "tobacco and doubt."
—Patricia Cohen, “History for Hire In Industry Lawsuits,” The New York Times, June 14, 2003
This term was invented by science historian Robert Proctor and first appeared in his book Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don't Know About Cancer, which was published by Basic Books in March, 1995.
Filed Under