Thursday, January 07, 2016

Recently, Michael Hurd put out a list of "Eleven Go-To Words of the Hostile Leftist." He may soon need to add a twelfth: "Agnotist."

There is an article in the BBC about a man who studies "the spread of ignorance," such as the short-sighted efforts of tobacco companies to sow doubt about tobacco causing cancer. That's fair enough, and can be an interesting subject of study, but the article almost predictably uses "climate change deniers" as an example, hence my speculation.

Interestingly, the article demonstrates exactly why it could be easy to sow doubt in the minds of of the general populace and why such a term could become popular among those not interested in arguing for a point so much as shouting down any and all opposition, regardless of merit. Consider the following, which is mostly taken verbatim from Robert Proctor, the subject of the piece:

"We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise," says Proctor. Even though knowledge is 'accessible', it does not mean it is accessed, he warns.

"Although for most things this is trivial -- like, for example, the boiling point of mercury -- but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else." [bold added]
Call me an agnotist if you must, but if something someone calls "knowledge" comes from faith (i.e., blind acceptance), that person does not actually possess knowledge. The same is true for any other undigested notion anyone might have, regardless of the soundness of its source. The problem isn't so much that it is easy to spread ignorance so much as that there is so much of it out there masquerading as knowledge. (And, now that I think of it, knowing that one is ignorant is far preferable to what too many people actually are, which is "not even wrong.")

To be fair, Proctor does note that better scientific literacy might help, although he doesn't go far enough on that score:
Consider climate change as an example. "The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it's over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It's not just about the facts, it's about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts," says Proctor. [bold added]
So says a proponent of "scientific literacy" who evidently thinks there is no similarly objective basis in fact for what we ought to do with the information we have. That's too bad, because it permits those who accept the non-sequitur that massive government regulation is "the" answer to the supposed global warming crisis, to paint all dissenters as opponents of knowledge regardless of whether they agree, disagree, or don't know that global warming is a problem.

The attractiveness of labeling opponents as enemies of truth won't end there. Michelle Malkin, for example, recently detailed collusion between leftist politicians and media in the form of planted "town hall" questions. The spread of ignorance need not take the form of unwarranted uncertainty; it can also take the form of a preemption of debate. Thus the deliberate misuse of a term like "agnotology" (which has the added bonus of sounding erudite) sounds like it is right up the left's alley to me: When one has snake oil to sell, why not paint people honestly seeking the truth with the same brush as those who wish to obscure it? Such a charge can distract from other malfeasance while also discrediting people who might actually deserve to be heard.

Honest doubt, far from being the enemy of knowledge, is a prerequisite. This is because the admission to oneself that one does not know something will motivate a search for the correct answer if and when a self-interested person with integrity sees a need to rectify the deficiency. Until then, it will prevent such a person from spreading falsehoods.

-- CAV


Vigilis said...

"Honest doubt, far from being the enemy of knowledge, is a prerequisite."

Interestingly, honest doubt is also an enemy of intellectual and professional (including scientific) integrity and it remains an all-too familiar tool of trial attorneys seeking acquittals for reasonable doubt.

The juries on "climate change" both scientific and legal, remain in deliberation. How can it be fair and honest to halt deliberations because a predetermined verdict has not been reached? Only politically, and that is exactly the boondoggle that climate change remediation will be --- a huge pool of $$$$ that will evaporate unaccountably.

The IPCC, Al Gore, U.N. and Pope have sent the public a giant "trial balloon" to which a fairer judge than this administration would long ago have declared a "mistrial".

Gus Van Horn said...


I have to disagree that honest doubt is an enemy of any kind of knowledge.

Regarding what some shady attorney might call "reasonable" doubt, we might have something to discuss.


Vigilis said...

Thank you for catching the error, Gus. In a hasty attempt to underscore the quoted principle with familiar example, my first paragraph contained both the flaw to which you objected but a lack of clarity. I should have written ...

Interestingly, ABSENCE of honest doubt is also an enemy of intellectual and professional (including scientific) integrity. Has not REASONABLE DOUBT been a totally acceptable and longstanding hallmark of American JUSTICE?

Gus Van Horn said...

You're welcome. I was a bit confused there!