To Know or Better Not to
Agnotology and the Social Construction of Ignorance in Commercially Driven Research
With an innovative perspective on the social character of ignorance production, agnotology has been a fruitful approach for understanding the social and epistemological consequences of the interaction between industry and scientific research. In this paper, I argue that agnotology, or the study of ignorance, contributes to a better understanding of commercially driven research and its societal impact, showing the ways in which industrial interests have reshaped the epistemic aims of traditional scientific practices, turning them into mechanisms of ignorance production. To do so, I examine some of the main contributions to agnotology and provide a taxonomy of practices of ignorance construction common in commercially driven research today. In particular, I present the tobacco industry’s campaign against the health hazards of smoking as a paradigmatic case of ignorance production, identifying five central strategies. I then argue that the same strategies have been used in three other cases—global warming, pharmaceuticals, and the 2008 financial crisis.