In his recent book, Agnotology, Robert Proctor (historian of Science at Stanford University) examines how ignorance is produced and maintained in our society. The ideas that Proctor presents in his book are gaining recognition, as the author was interviewed in Wired Magazine about the concept of agnotology.
Agnotology is defined as the study
of ignorance, according to Proctor. His book looks at a wide range of
intriguing intellectual concepts and fields of study which Proctor thinks have
faded into the background; from global climate change to military secrecy; from
female orgasm to Native American paleontology.
Clive Thompson’s article in Wired asks “What's going on?” Why is it that knowledge seems to be at a standstill these days? Proctor attributes it not only to a generally uniformed public, but to the suppression of truth as well.
"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."
Proctors book is filled with examples of the ignorance of society and the knowledge-suppressing clash of different points of view.
"As Proctor argues, when society doesn't know something, it's often because special interests work hard to create confusion. Anti-Obama groups likely 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."
Though these observations about society may seem cynical, Proctor remains optimistic. As he made clear in his interview, even though truths are being suppressed, as society advances mass media and the Web make “secrets harder to keep.”