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'Hidden Behind a Smokescreen'

In the Guardian, Stéphane Foucart says some scientists foster public ignorance even as they aim to further public debate on a controversial subject. In 1992, Stanford University professor Robert Proctor coined the term "agnotology" to mean that society is much more interested in producing knowledge than learning the way ignorance is propagated. While it may seem abstract, Foucart says, this concept addresses many of the problems between science and society. A good example is research that is often paid for by the US tobacco industry in fields such as virology, immunology, or genetics. But such work is only encouraged in order to build up a body of work that could then be used as a distraction by the companies to explain the origins of diseases which can be attributed to smoking, Foucart says. "So, strange as it may seem, increasing the amount of available knowledge may foster public ignorance," he adds.

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