Agnotology problem? I think I know a remedy…

I’m a little behind in reading this month’s edition of Wired Magazine.  But now I’m wide awake at 2 AM EST (Midnight in Denver) and restless and reading.  And I find an article entitled Manufacturing Confusion (subtitle: How more information leads to less knowledge).

As the article says, the historian Robert Proctor has come up with a new word for our language:

“He has developed a word inspired by this trend: agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is “the study of culturally constructed ignorance.”

The idea is that in this world in which we are awash with information, special interest groups (for example) are easily able to stir up the proverbial sand and make the factual water very murky.  We are becoming an increasingly ignorant society according to Proctor because we don’t seek out truths – we wait for them to fed to us via that information pipeline called the web.  What’s that quote…We’re drowning in information but starving for knowledge.  Oh yes, we are.

The author of the article wraps up by saying this:

“Can we fight off these attempts to foster ignorance? Despite his fears about the Internet’s combative culture, Proctor is optimistic. During last year’s election, campaign-trail lies were quickly exposed via YouTube and transcripts. The Web makes secrets harder to keep.

We need to fashion information tools that are designed to combat agnotological rot. Like Wikipedia: It encourages users to build real knowledge through consensus, and the result manages to (mostly) satisfy even people who hate each other’s guts. Because the most important thing these days might just be knowing what we know.”

Huh, we need to fashion information tools huh?  Gee, where, oh where, would we get these tools?  Who will guide us through this information?  Hmmm.  I dunno, maybe a potential remedy to this situation is…a world wide network of damn good librarians.  Let’s step up to the plate, before Wikipedia becomes the answer for everything.  And if it must be the answer for many things, if it is the place that people go to for answers, then let’s make sure that we’re the ones editing it.  Because information is our business and we can’t be bit players.

Just something to think about.

I’m going to try to go to bed.  Again.


2 responses to “Agnotology problem? I think I know a remedy…

  1. I shudder to think that Wikipedia is the end-all of knowledge. Very scary. It builds real knowledge through consensus? What the hell does that mean? If I *think* I know the answer and you *think* so too, that makes it right? I think not…


    Not just another bit player

  2. Love the word!

    Makes me think of two of the four conservative members of my family who insist on educating me with republican / religious / conservative ideas that don’t hold water. When researched counter arguments are offered by my liberal brother, sister, wife and myself, somehow these thoughts get dismissed because we were “intellectually” talking down to them.

    If only I was slow enough and disinterested in the world enough to want to believe that things could just explained away with intelligent design and simplistic explanations of how things should work.

    While I think consensus is a great way for good and bad ideas to get sorted out, it unfortunately requires a desire for the members who have differing thoughts about things to want to take part in the process. Furthermore, how do you get someone who is comfortably stuck in their bad ideas with their “bad ideas” support group close at hand to want to change? This is perhaps the bigger challenge?

    Sadly, I think my other brother and mother may be lost causes in this department.

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