Agnotology might be the most important word of our times. It was introduced in a big way by the political economist Philip Mirowski in his 2013 book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown. The word means the "intentional manufacturing of doubt." How it works in the media is this: When it's reported that, say, evidence shows climate change is anthropogenic, the media market soon provides another report that says there are many scientists who see flaws and miscalculations in the research that supports the claim made by such and such a scientist. The idea is not to convince the reader that the one report is correct and other is not. What is wanted is nothing more than to place the clear evidence into a situation of doubt. At this fuzzy point, the reader feels that he/she is a citizen of a democratic society and so must consider all sides of the argument fairly before arriving at a sound conclusion. The result? Nothing gets done. Democracy becomes an enemy of democracy.


But the practice of agnotology that has long-term consequences operates at a much deeper level of intellectual activity. It ventures far beyond the discrediting of this or that individual; it seeks to destabilize the things we were predisposed to take for granted, and insinuate a sharply targeted narrative explanation as one of those default presumptions. This does not appear to the public as overt strident propaganda; rather, it presents itself as liberating, expanding the cloistered space of sanctioned explanation in an era of wrangling and indecision.

We see this sort of thing with the gun control issue: It's not guns that are the problem but Hollywood or video games. And we are seeing agnotology at work with Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st century, a book with data that shows inequality has the tendency to grow in a capitalist economy. Recently in the Financial Times: "Data problems with Capital in the 21st century." What the media market wants is to place Piketty's obvious findings (look at the world around you) into a mist of doubt; and it is there, in this place of uncertainty, the democratic citizen enters and suffocates the democracy of action with their empty mulling.