Culturally constructed ignorance: agnotology

I must say I think there’s something in this:

Is global warming caused by humans? Is Barack Obama a Christian? Is evolution a well-supported theory?

You might think these questions have been incontrovertibly answered in the affirmative, proven by settled facts. But for a lot of Americans, they haven’t. Among Republicans, belief in anthropogenic global warming declined from 52 percent to 42 percent between 2003 and 2008. Just days before the election, nearly aquarter of respondents in one Texas poll were convinced that Obama is a Muslim….

What’s going on? Normally, we expect society to progress, amassing deeper scientific understanding and basic facts every year. Knowledge only increases, right?

Robert Proctor doesn’t think so. A historian of science at Stanford, Proctor points out that when it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed: Ignorance increases.

This is not a totally new idea; you can think of similar warnings from Heidegger to people seeing decreasing attention spans in the Internet age and a general leveling down of intelligence. (In my field the favorite story is how many GPS users blindly follow the directions into lakes and off the ends of piers etc.)

I like the distinction between information and knowledge. I’d only add that Proctor’s approach is not dissimilar from power/knowledge; knowledge doesn’t exist and accumulate in isolation but typically has some political work it’s doing.

Via Continental Philosophy from Wired.


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