There are people in the world who study the spread of ignorance... it's a thing. Agnotology is "the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour."
Originating from agnosis - the neoclassical Greek word for ignorance or "not knowing" - the term was coined by Stamford academic, Robert Proctor, who was looking in the '80s and '90s into how major tobacco firmshad sought to spread deliberate confusion and misinformation about whether or not smoking caused cancer.
And according to this fascinating read from Georgina Kenyon, writing last year for BBC Future, agnotology is as relevant today as it was back then. She describes modern examples of obfuscation and confusion around social and political debates these days.
Remember, for instance, the profusion of conjecture and rumour around President Barack Obama's nationality until he was forced by opponents to publicly reveal his birth certificate. There's also the seemingly constant ebb and flow of science and counter-science regarding climate change and its impact on our world, framed as a balanced debate, but believed by Proctor to be illustrative of the perpetuation of ignorance by those who it best serves.
Cornell University's David Dunning, studying in the same area, believes that the spread of ignorance has been exacerbated by the availability of "news" via the Internet. He warns that through the web, we now have access to unqualified information and unadulterated knowledge - for better or worse; this makes it a place where everyone has a chance to be their own expert, and yet, also to fall prey to powerful interests wishing to deliberately spread ignorance.
So, what responsibility does that confer on those of us that write online?
This whole question puts me in mind of an article from 2013, by the wise and candid Jonathon Colman: “We can do better than this”. Sick of the much over-used phrase (at that time) "remarkable content", he challenged the marketing world back then to ensure that in publishing online content they stop creating the banal and the expected, and instead, create work that challenges, inspires, stimulates and generates conversation.
As an inbound marketer, I believe that we owe a duty of care to our readers. A duty to inform, educate, question and debate those issues that matter to our audiences. To that end, and in the context of their consumption of other content, we should assume that our writing should be one of a number of useful sources that they can consult and digest in order to help their understanding of a particular subject.
Rather than ignorance, let clarity and wisdom be our harvest.
Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth. Another academic studying ignorance is David Dunning, from Cornell University. Dunning warns that the internet is helping propagate ignorance – it is a place where everyone has a chance to be their own expert, he says, which makes them prey for powerful interests wishing to deliberately spread ignorance. "While some smart people will profit from all the information now just a click away...