WOTD: Agnotology

It means “the study of the intentional spreading of ignorance” and it’s getting new usage more and more often in our times by people that Naomi Oreskes has called “the Merchants of Doubt.” Now there’s a name for what they do so well.

From the BBC.com article “The Man Who Studies the Spread of Ignorance.

tomato“Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.

It comes from agnosis, the neoclassical Greek word for ignorance or ‘not knowing’, and ontology, the branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being. Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour.”

This is snake oil at its most sophisticated–sweet, slippery, pernicious and deadly to objective thinking.  Follow the money to find the lexicographers of this language, now obfuscating climate chaos, neonicotinoids, fracking, alternative fuels and more.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Neonicotinoids–now there’s a nasty product! If it kills sap-sucking insects like aphids, it must also kill bees! This seems to me the most urgent of the issues you address. Our agrarian civilization simply can’t exist without these beneficial insects. I think this issue is gathering some steam.