Knowledge in Society

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 7–27

When ignorance is adaptive: Not knowing about the nuclear threat

  • Joseph P. Reser
  • Michael J. Smithson

DOI: 10.1007/BF02737056

Cite this article as:
Reser, J.P. & Smithson, M.J. Knowledge in Society (1988) 1: 7. doi:10.1007/BF02737056


The objective of this article is to examine the nature of individual and social responses to the nuclear threat from psychological and sociological perspectives on ignorance. It is argued that a constructed and managed ignorance concerning the nuclear threat serves many functions, structuring an individual and social reality which is reassuring, meaningful, and both individually and collectively self-serving. A sociology of ignorance framework is employed to articulate the possible benefits of “not knowing about” and collaboratively “not dealing with” the nuclear threat, as well as to define the longer-term costs of ignoring this threat. The distinctive roles played by various kinds of ignorance regarding this important issue are investigated, and the conventional wisdom that knowledge of the consequences of a nuclear war is the only way to prevent its occurrence is challenged.

Copyright information

© Winter 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph P. Reser
    • 1
  • Michael J. Smithson
    • 1
  1. 1.James Cook University of North Queensland TownsvilleAustralia

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