In a world full of knowledge, there is no more excuse for ignorance!

Friday food for thought:  I think a lot of people didn’t really need a university study to tell them that some people are just wilfully ignorant. But just in case you needed proof, here is an article from last month:

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.

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

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.

Maybe the Internet itself has inherently agnotological side effects. People graze all day on information tailored to their existing worldview. And when bloggers or talking heads actually engage in debate, it often consists of pelting one another with mutually contradictory studies they’ve Googled: “Greenland’s ice shield is melting 10 years ahead of schedule!” vs. “The sun is cooling down and Earth is getting colder!”

I notice this all the time. On the one hand, Wikipedia has effectively made asking people questions obsolete — for any given factual question, Wiki is almost always going to give you a more reliable answer (with sources!) than any of your friends. And Google Maps and the like have destroyed the art of giving directions.

But at the same time, the human mind has an instinct to filter out unnecessary information. Sometimes you just have to ignore stuff you don’t care about, but at other times, for example, I find myself subconsciously avoiding looking up the history of bands, and the only reason I can think of is that I like believing in the image of the band better than I would knowing the actual facts.