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Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance Paperback – May 12, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"Anyone who thinks ignorance is nobodys business has a lot to learn from these provocative essays. The distinguished authors offer compelling evidence that what we do not know is every bit as much a product of human choice and ingenuity as what we choose to know. Agnotology rescues ignorance from the no-mans-land of unexamined social phenomena. It makes us ask what is at stake when we dont know things that are plainly before our eyes. This is a book for every thinking citizen."
—Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard University

"In the past years there have been few new fields of research as timely as agnotology. Many a time one is puzzled by the widespread ignorance of some of the greatest challenges mankind faces today, be it global warming, the way to the Iraq war, or the global tobacco epidemic. Agnotology might very well be the tool to delve into the great black holes of modern knowledge and also find a way out." —Andrian Kreye, arts and ideas editor, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany

About the Author

Robert N. Proctor is Professor of the History of Science at Stanford University and the author of The Nazi War on Cancer (1999) and Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don't Know (1995). Londa Schiebinger is the John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science and the Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. Her recent books include Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (2004) and Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering (forthcoming from Stanford).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (May 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804759014
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804759014
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Francesc on July 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
While epistemology is related to the creation and justification of knowledge, agnotology is the study of the mechanisms which lead to the lack of particular knowledge in different cultures. This book answers the question why we don't know, and still more important, why we don't know that we don't know. The book includes brilliant articles covering a relatively large period in history. This is an enormous contribution to a little studied, but exciting, field.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Still Singin' on May 24, 2014
Format: Paperback
It's past time to talk about the phenomenon of cultural ignorance, aka agnotology. Ignorance has been honed to a fine point by self-serving powers, but the writers presenting these essays also point out that from a scholarly viewpoint, ignorance serves many purposes, some of them oddly beneficial to social structure. The latter are discussed at length in some chapters.

That aside, the emphasis in these short essays is on ignorance purposefully produced. This is usually in order to conceal controversial information and misdirect public opinion into narrow channels of influence for the benefit of select groups interested in their own welfare, public-be-damned. Big Tobacco, military secrecy, and climate science manipulation (with special emphasis on the conservative Marshall Institute) -- all are addressed here with multiple documented examples of conscious attempts to persuade the public, even, and sometimes especially, via the sins of omission.

Many of us have asked ourselves "How can common sense and obvious data be so subverted as to create a "through the looking-glass" world in which mass opinion seems upside-down . . . the opposite of what any reasonable, questioning and thinking person would conclude? Some of the answers lie here, in examples of profound manipulation and obvious distortion in presenting such information to the citizenry.

How could Big Tobacco morph so easily from a protestation that tobacco smoke doesn't harm, to a tacit acknowledgment that it does, but so-what? Buy it anyway! No apologies here! And the public accepts that?

How can climate deniers refuse to see that pumping so much carbon into the atmosphere will inevitably change the natural balance?
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on November 29, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book is a 5 star book. It would have a five star rating if not for a couple of people suffering from their own brand of ignorance. The Bartolo 2 star critique is one of complaint about form or language. As one of the college professors of english that I had said "If you can talk to someone and they understand what you say you are using good language". This person's critique is "form over content" which is admitted to. The other 2 star critique by Carolast2013 is blatantly political. The quote from this critique "A small, politically-connected clique deliberately uses defective studies to falsely blame tobacco for diseases that are really caused by infection" is one of the reasons we need this book about IGNORANCE. Ayn Rand, the hero of the right wing, railed on the federal government saying that they had a conspiracy against the tobacco companies. She eventually died of lung cancer from her two pack a day habit. She ended up of Social Security & Medicare, two programs that she also railed on all her life. If you are interested
in the GOP war on science I suggest you read this book.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful By born rich on April 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
You always knew that vested interests made sure you got the story they wanted you to hear.Unfortunately,even more examples than you were aware of are out there.Here they are.This book is a good place to start if you want to be even more upset than you already are.
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31 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Bartolo on June 11, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
On the whole, more pain than pleasure. Yes, the subject matter, an attempt to identify and promote a new discipline, is worthy, though this study of the science of ignorance purports to cover so much ground--the corporate denial of scientific data, the legal (and sometimes justifiable) enforcement of secrecy, social support for certain kinds of ignorance--that the concept's viability is called into question. But the book itself is an interesting slant on many recent and historic influences on public consciousness, from the mechanics of sexual arousal, to the tobacco lobby's duplicity, to the ongoing denial of global warming.

It is the level of writing that is atrocious. Maybe I should have waited for the Bill Bryson version, or for anyone who could use these materials to fashion a book that doesn't insult the language and waste one's time. These writers, to a person, are academics, and almost all should be soundly thrashed with a hardbound copy of Strunk & White. This is a compendium of every fault scholarly writing is heir to: wordiness, redundancy, needless complexity of sentence structure (often designed to mask or extend mundane observations), pointless jargon, infelicitous phraseology, obscurantism, even lame humor (as per the double entendres in the essay on the clitoris, by a feminist no less!) that probably plays better in the senior seminar than in a book intended for mature adults. These scholars write as though being paid by the word--and for a nonexistent editor. The book could have been half its length with no sacrifice whatever to the content.

My advice, if you are intent on owning this insult, is to skim or speed-read the essays as fast as possible, gleaning the ideas without having to indulge the authors in their padding and verbal ineptitude.
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