Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Word for the Day

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Agnotology"

A commenter at Mark Thoma's blog brings my attention to a new word: "agnotology": "the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt".

Contrasted with "epistemology, the theory of knowledge, [which] questions how we know . . . [agnotology] questions why we do not know: "Ignorance is often not merely the absence of knowledge but an outcome of cultural and political struggle." -- a socially-constructed, "structured apathy".

Examples, apparently, abound, including the defensive public relations of the tobacco industry, defending its product and profits against awareness of the risk to life and health, but my immediate thoughts are on "climate-gate", the manufactured scandal around e-mails stolen from British scientists, charged with keeping and interpreting the global temperature record.

John Tierney, the right-wing hack pundit at the New York Times has a column, giving his spin on climate-gate, and both explains and (unintentionally) illustrates the problem. His article leaves the reader knowing less. It is a remarkable performance, really, full of pious nonsense and false equivalence, but effective as strategic political propaganda.

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