Doubt, ignorance and trust

On the unwarranted fears raised by the doubt-mongers

Authored by: Albert Ogien

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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About ignorance in itself, there is little to say, as the word only states a matter of fact: knowing something or not knowing something. But ignorance is a concept each use of which implies a particular value judgment. One form of such a judgment derives from the mere existence of rationalized and literate modern societies. In such a context, ignorance can be contrasted with scientific knowledge to elicit a discrediting effect. This is what happens in the current debate about “doubt-mongers” who challenge the reality of the facts established by science concerning, for example, climate change, GMOs or the health effects caused by tobacco or bisphenol A (BPA). This defiance has been dubbed “agnotology,” that is the social construction of ignorance through the strategic and systematic expression of suspicion about scientific truths. This debate raises two questions: (1) does doubt in science foster ignorance; (2) does dispelling doubt in science require a proper command of scientific knowledge? These are the questions I will deal with in this chapter, first by analysing the relationship between doubt and ignorance as understood in relation to science, then by considering whether trust may serve, as often professed, as an antidote to doubt in science and with respect to scientists.

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