LA Times Columnist Proclaims The 'Study of Ignorance' Leads to Big Tobacco, The Nazis, Fox News, and The Tea Party

Longtime Los Angeles Times reporter-turned-business columnist Michael Hiltzik let his liberal flag fly on the front of Sunday’s Business section. The online headline was “Cultural production of ignorance provides rich field for study.”

The protagonist of this story was academic Robert Proctor of Stanford, touted as “one of the world's leading experts in agnotology, a neologism signifying the study of the cultural production of ignorance.” As examples of propagated ignorance, Hiltzik discussed thinking smoking is safe, and vaccinations are deadly, and...."fabricating" Obamacare horror stories:

And all those fabricated Obamacare horror stories wholesaled by Republican and conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act and their aiders and abetters in the right-wing press? Their purpose is to sow doubt about the entire project of healthcare reform; if the aim were to identify specific shortcomings of the act, they'd have to accompany every story with a proposal about how to fix it.

Proctor came to the study of agnotology through his study of the Nazi scientific establishment and subsequently of the tobacco industry's defensive campaign.

Early in his career, he told me, he asked an advisor if Nazi science was an appropriate topic of research. "Of course," he was told. "Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship." As part of his scholarship, Proctor says he "watches Fox News all the time."

How easy is it for liberals to blur together Big Tobacco, the Nazis, and Fox News fans?

But the smearing wasn't done, not at all. Creationist Christians are spreading ignorance:

A second danger is that ignorance interferes with the creation of intelligent policy. Citing the results of a 2012 Gallup poll, Proctor asks, "If half the country thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old, how can you really develop an effective environmental policy? This sort of traditional or inertial ignorance bars us from being able to act responsibly on large social issues."

So is the Tea Party as they spread “free-market fundamentalism” along with cigarettes:

As Stanton A. Glantz of UC San Francisco documented last year, the tobacco industry was deeply involved in the evolution of the tea party movement, which promoted some of the industry's cherished aims, such as fighting tobacco taxes and anti-smoking laws.

"The Tea Party of the late 2000s has become the 'movement'" envisioned by a Reynolds executive 10 years earlier, Glantz concluded, "grounded in patriotic values of 'freedom' and 'choice' to change how people see the role of 'government' and 'big business' in their lives."

Given the torrent of misinformation washing about the public space and the multiplicity of pathways for its distribution, is there any hope for beating back the tide? Agnotologists are divided. "I don't see any easy out," says UCLA's Wise. "All of the forces are on the side of undermining public trust in science."

But Proctor has hope. "My whole career is devoted to pushing back," he told me. "There is opportunity to expose these things through good journalism, good pedagogy, good scholarship. You need an educated populace."

The effort needs to begin at a young age, he says. "You really need to be teaching third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-graders that some people lie. And why do they lie? Because some people are greedy."

How naturally does this liberal arrogance – we are all-knowing and compassionate, you are “cultural producers of ignorance” – fit with journalistic “pedagogues” and propaganda-spreading teachers? An “educated populace” is a secular progressive populace.

In a similar vein, Hiltzik concluded February by assaulting "stimulus deniers," because if you can't see Obama's "stimulus" worked economic wonders, then you've never looked at a chart, or wanted to:

[University of Wisconsin professor Menzie] Chinn observes (and shows his work via a series of telling slides) that the launch of ARRA coincides almost exactly with the bottoming out of the stock market, the reversal of a trend of increasing negative GDP growth and an almost unbroken record of positive growth since the end of the first quarter of 2009.

"The burden of proof," he writes, "lies on those who assert the beginning of the recovery is due to anything, anything (Fed balance sheet expansion, TARP -- both implemented six months earlier -- sunspots, or the return of Ancient Aliens) but the policies implemented by the Obama Administration."

....As we enter year six of the stimulus era, with yet another disappointing reading on GDP, it's important to keep all that in mind: The stimulus works, it should have been bigger, and the impulse to replace it with austerity measures has done nothing but hurt workers and businesses. Anyone who claims otherwise doesn't know how to read an economic chart, or doesn't want to.

[HT: Gary Hall]

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