Selective ignorance in environmental research

Authored by: Kevin C. Elliott

Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415718967
eBook ISBN: 9781315867762
Adobe ISBN: 9781317964674


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Scholars from a number of different academic disciplines have recently drawn attention to the ways in which ignorance about socially significant topics can be generated and maintained (Frickel et al. 2010; Mills 1997; Proctor and Schiebinger 2008; Tuana 2006). This chapter focuses on a particular form or type of ignorance—namely, selective ignorance. It occurs when people produce or disseminate specific sorts of information about a topic or entity while failing to produce or emphasize other information about it. Defined in this way, selective ignorance is unavoidable; investigators do not have the time or energy to study every aspect of every topic. Nevertheless, in some cases this selective emphasis on particular sorts of information about a topic can be highly socially significant, because it can influence major public policy decisions or cultural forces. Thus, powerful interest groups often have a great deal of incentive to promote selective ignorance about socially relevant topics, which means that it is important for society to recognize this phenomenon and develop strategies for responding to it.

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