Identifying Agnotological Ploys: How to Stay Clear of Unjustified Dissent

  • Martin Carrier
Part of the European Studies in Philosophy of Science book series (ESPS, volume 9)


Agnotology concerns the creation and preservation of confusion and ignorance. Certain positions are advocated in science in order to promote sociopolitical interests with the result of launching mock controversies or epistemically unjustified dissent. I propose to identify agnotological ploys by the discrepancy between the conclusions suggested by the design of a study and the conclusions actually drawn or intimated. This mechanism of “false advertising” serves to implement agnotological endeavors and helps identify them without having to invoke the intentions of the relevant agents. I discuss three agnotological cases, i.e., studies on bisphenol A, Bt-maize/Roundup, and Oslo’s airport Gardermoen. Pinpointing agnotological endeavors is a means for weeding out approaches that look fitting at first glance, but are blatantly inappropriate, in fact.


Agnotology Ignorance Unjustified dissent Bias Epistemic and non-epistemic values 


  1. Andalo, Ch., et al. 2012. Science et Conscience. Le Monde, Nov. 16, 2012. Accessed 8 Apr 2016.
  2. Biddle, J.B., and A. Leuschner. 2015. Climate skepticism and the manufacture of doubt: Can dissent in science be epistemically detrimental? European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5: 261–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carrier, M. 2013. Values and objectivity in science: Value-Ladenness, pluralism and the epistemic attitude. Science & Education 22: 2547–2568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. ———. forthcoming. Agnotological challenges. How to capture the production of ignorance in science. Under review.Google Scholar
  5. de Souza, L., and L.M. Oda. 2013. Letter to the editor. Food and Chemical Toxicology 53: 440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Driessen, P. 2009. Disclosing climate change risks. Accessed 13 Apr 2015.
  7. Droste-Franke, B., M. Carrier, M. Kaiser, M. Schreurs, Ch. Weber, and Th. Ziesemer. 2015. Improving energy decisions. Towards better scientific policy advice for a safe and secure future energy system. Heidelberg: Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Hacking, I. 1999. Weapons research. In The social construction of what? 163–185. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 2000. How inevitable are the results of successful science? Philosophy of Science 67 (Proceedings): S58–S71.Google Scholar
  10. Kitcher, Ph. 2001. Science, truth, democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. ———. 2011. Science in a democratic society. Amherst: Prometheus.Google Scholar
  12. Kuhlen, I. 2009. Die Haftungsfrage, Deutsches Ärzteblatt 106(49), 4 Dezember 2009, 103. Accessed 5 Apr 2016.
  13. Longino, H. 1990. Science as social knowledge: Values and objectivity in scientific inquiry. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Magnus, D. 2008. Risk management versus the precautionary principle. Agnotology as a strategy in the debate over genetically engineered organisms. In Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance, ed. R.N. Proctor and L. Schiebinger, 250–265. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Merton, R.K. 1942. The normative structure of science. In The sociology of science. Theoretical and empirical investigations, 267–278. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1973.Google Scholar
  16. Michaels, D. 2008. Manufactured uncertainty: Contested science and the protection of the Public’s health and environment. In Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance, ed. R.N. Proctor and L. Schiebinger, 90–107. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Oreskes, N. 2015. From nuclear winter to climate change: The political uses of scientific dissent. In Wissenschaftliche Politikberatung im Praxistest, ed. P. Weingart and G.G. Wagner, 35–50. Weilerswist: Velbrück.Google Scholar
  18. Oreskes, N., and E.M. Conway. 2010. Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. New York: Bloomsbury Press.Google Scholar
  19. Popper, K.R. 1966. The open society and its enemies II. The high tide of prophecy. 5th rev ed. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Proctor, R.N. 2008. Agnotology: A missing term to describe the cultural production of ignorance (and its study). In Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance, ed. R.N. Proctor and L. Schiebinger, 1–33. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Proctor, R. 2012. Golden holocaust. Origins of the cigarette catastrophe and the case for abolition. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  22. Schlitt, R. 2013. Ein Piks mit finanziellen Folgen. Deutsches Ärzteblatt 110 (8): 22. Februar 2013, A 304. Accessed 5 Apr 2016.
  23. Séralini, G.-E., et al. 2012. Long term toxicity of a roundup herbicide and a roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology 50: 4221–4231. Retracted by the editor.
  24. Séralini, G.-E., et al. 2014. Republished study: Long-term toxicity of a roundup herbicide and a roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environmental Sciences Europe 26: 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. TAZ. 2011. „Riskant für Kinder und Jugendliche“, 9.9.2011.!5112434/. Accessed 5 Apr 2016.
  26. Wilholt, T. 2009. Bias and values in scientific research. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40: 92–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wise, N.M. 2011. Thoughts on politicization of science through commercialization. In Science in the context of application. Methodological change, conceptual transformation, cultural reorientation, ed. M. Carrier and A. Nordmann, 283–299. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany

Personalised recommendations