Monday, May 16, 2005

Agnotology: Cultural Stupification

Knowledge Note from C.B.:

Here's a new term to add to our lexicon:

agnotology: culturally induced scientific ignorance.

“Ignorance is often not merely the absence of knowledge,” Schiebinger argues, “but an outcome of cultural and political struggle.”

Term, definition and quote from:

"HISTORY OF SCIENCE: Lost in Translation?" A review by Stuart McCook* (Science, Volume 307, Number 5707, Issue of 14 Jan 2005, pp. 210-211. (Journal from The American Association for the Advancement of Science.) Now provided online by blogger PolPop here:

Book Reviewed:
Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World by Londa Schiebinger (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

The context was placed in a discussion of birth control botanicals known to West Indians and slaves, and to European scientists who studied the region, but kept from the general population in Europe.

*The reviewer is in the Department of History, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1 CANADA

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This is interesting too because many students today wonder out loud how pre-modern peoples practiced birth control -- as if this was suddenly invented in our own day. I suggest to them that birth control is as old as the hills but that such traditional knowledge was suppressed in our own time. Quite the reverse of their assumptions that we know everything and that our ancestors knew nothing.

For more about agnotology see:

"Agnotology and Exotic Abortifacients: The Cultural Production of Ignorance in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World" by Londa Schiebinge, available online at


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