Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour.

Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, says.

“Ignorance is not just the not-yet-known, it’s also a political ploy, a deliberate creation by powerful agents who want you ‘not to know’.”

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160105-the-man-who-studies-the-spread-of-ignorance

How do people or companies with vested interests spread ignorance and obfuscate knowledge? Georgina Kenyon finds there is a term which defines this phenomenon. Agnotology.

In 1979, a secret memo from the tobacco industry was revealed to the public.
Called the Smoking and Health Proposal, and written a decade earlier by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, it revealed many of the tactics employed by big tobacco to counter “anti-cigarette forces”.

In one of the paper’s most revealing sections, it looks at how to market cigarettes to the mass public: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

This revelation piqued the interest of Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, who started delving into the practices of tobacco firms and how they had spread confusion about whether smoking caused cancer.

Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.

It comes from agnosis, the neoclassical Greek word for ignorance or ‘not knowing’, and ontology, the branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being.

Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour.

“I was exploring how powerful industries could promote ignorance to sell their wares. Ignorance is power… and agnotology is about the deliberate creation of ignorance.

“In looking into agnotology, I discovered the secret world of classified science, and thought historians should be giving this more attention.”

The 1969 memo and the tactics used by the tobacco industry became the perfect example of agnotology, Proctor says.

“Ignorance is not just the not-yet-known, it’s also a political ploy, a deliberate creation by powerful agents who want you ‘not to know’.”

To help him in his search, Proctor enlisted the help of UC Berkeley linguist Iain Boal, and together they came up with the term – the neologism was coined in 1995, although much of Proctor’s analysis of the phenomenon had occurred in the previous decades.

Balancing act

Agnotology is as important today as it was back when Proctor studied the tobacco industry’s obfuscation of facts about cancer and smoking. For example, politically motivated doubt was sown over US President Barack Obama’s nationality for many months by opponents until he revealed his birth certificate in 2011. In another case, some political commentators in Australia attempted to stoke panic by likening the country’s credit rating to that of Greece, despite readily available public information from ratings agencies showing the two economies are very different.

(Credit: Thinkstock)

The spread of ignorance is as relevant today as it was when Proctor coined his term (Credit: Thinkstock)

Proctor explains that ignorance can often be propagated under the guise of balanced debate. For example, the common idea that there will always be two opposing views does not always result in a rational conclusion. This was behind how tobacco firms used science to make their products look harmless, and is used today by climate change deniers to argue against the scientific evidence.

“This ‘balance routine’ has allowed the cigarette men, or climate deniers today, to claim that there are two sides to every story, that ‘experts disagree’ – creating a false picture of the truth, hence ignorance.”

For example, says Proctor, many of the studies linking carcinogens in tobacco were conducted in mice initially, and the tobacco industry responded by saying that studies into mice did not mean that people were at risk, despite adverse health outcomes in many smokers.

A new era of ignorance

“We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,” says Proctor. Even though knowledge is ‘accessible’, it does not mean it is accessed, he warns.

“Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.”

(Credit: Thinkstock)

When people do not understand a concept or fact, they are prey for special interest groups who work hard to create confusion (Credit: Thinkstock)

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.

Consider climate change as an example. “The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it’s over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts,” says Proctor.

Making up our own minds

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, many will be misled into a false sense of expertise. My worry is not that we are losing the ability to make up our own minds, but that it’s becoming too easy to do so. We should consult with others much more than we imagine. Other people may be imperfect as well, but often their opinions go a long way toward correcting our own imperfections, as our own imperfect expertise helps to correct their errors,” warns Dunning.

Dunning and Proctor also warn that the wilful spread of ignorance is rampant throughout the US presidential primaries on both sides of the political spectrum.

“Donald Trump is the obvious current example in the US, suggesting easy solutions to followers that are either unworkable or unconstitutional,” says Dunning.

So while agnotology may have had its origins in the heyday of the tobacco industry, today the need for both a word and the study of human ignorance is as strong as ever.

Wilful acts to spread a narrative and obliterate competing interpretations – something that the social media echo chambers do, too. (But not even then very successfully).

There’s an idea – here demonstrated in a lecture by Adam Curtis – that brainwashing is not really achievable. https://vimeo.com/61089268

I don’t think Agnotology is quite the same as ‘brainwashing’. It’s more the creation of a ‘post-truth’ society, or “hyper-normalisation” as Curtis has titled his newest film.

Welcome to the post-truth world. You know it’s not real, but you accept it as normal.


Defeat device software

https://youtu.be/hOTKIZgppbs – Dan Carder, West Virginia University’s director of the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions, and Bloomberg Intelligence’s Kevin Tynan discuss the exposure of the Volkswagen vehicle-emission cheating scandal with Bloomberg’s Matt Miller and Mark Crumpton on “Bloomberg Markets.”


And yet TODAY – 24th October – there’s this…
Industry Lobbyists have won yet again.

“Petrol cars allowed to exceed pollution limits by 50% under draft EU laws”

https://gu.com/p/58fb4/stw  -Monday 24 October 2016

New European cars with petrol engines will be allowed to overshoot a limit on toxic particulates emissions by 50% under a draft EU regulation backed by the UK and most other EU states.

Campaigners say that a simple €25 (£22) filter could drastically cut the pollution, but the Guardian has learned that car-makers have instead mounted a successful push for loopholes and legislative delay.

Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP on the European parliament’s environment committee and dieselgate inquiry panel, promised action to ensure that the lessons of the VW scandal were learned.

“With this ridiculous proposal, the EU’s member states are again trying to dilute EU laws at a terrible cost to human health. We will call on the European commission to come to the European parliament and explain themselves on this issue,” he said.

Particulate matter (PM) is the largest single contributor to the estimated 600,000 premature deaths across Europe from pollution-related heart and lung diseases each year.

Children and the elderly are worst affected, and the associated health costs could be as high as €1.6 Trillion a year in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation.

Although exhaust fumes from diesel and petrol engines are one of the largest sources of particulates emissions, most EU member states support raising the EU’s pollution standard 50% above the legal limit set down in the Euro 6 regulation.

Behind the scenes, vehicle makers have pushed strongly for a staggering 300% over, according to material seen by the Guardian.

The draft regulation is still being discussed by EU member states and the auto industry has not given up hopes of wrenching further concessions on particulate emissions ahead of a final decision on 7 December.

One Powerpoint slide shown to EU expert groups by the European automobile manufacturers association (Acea) says that a 300% latitude in meeting the letter of the law would be “realistic” because of “measurement uncertainty” in emissions tests.

Florent Grelier, a clean vehicles engineer at the Transport and Environment (T&E) campaign group, told the Guardian he feared that EU attempts to improve air quality were being “bent to the will of the automotive industry”.

“This is a petrolgate scandal in the making,” he said.

“Unless the European commission and governments establish strict test procedures to protect the industry from its own short-sightedness, within a few years we will see continuing high levels of particles killing hundreds of thousands of citizens prematurely.”

Under EU law, car-manufacturers are already obliged to use filters for diesel engines, but not for the rapidly-growing 40% of the petrol engine market which is made up by uncontrolled gasoline direct injection engines.
These release more particulate matter than modern diesel cars.

Gasoline particulate filters could reduce these emissions by a factor of around 100, and would cost manufacturers just €25 per car, according to research by T&E.
But car manufacturers have argued this would violate the principle of technology neutrality.

A spokesman for Acea declined to comment on the issue.

Calls by the auto industry for a delay in implementing the new regulation have been well received by several car-producing EU countries.
Spain and Sweden argued for a one-year legislative delay that would push its introduction back to 2019, in minutes of a technical committee meeting earlier this month seen by the Guardian.

The UK took no formal position on when the new regulation should enter into force but warned of “unintended adverse effects” if pm limits were given a separate starting date to standards for another pollutant, nitrogen oxide (NOx) , which will now begin in 2019.

An EU group of national experts – the technical committee on motor vehicles – is now expected to sign off on the final proposal to amend the Euro 6 regulation for real world driving emissions, in December.

The issue of “conformity factors” – or compensating for uncertainties in emissions tests – last year led the committee to impose a NOx limit 110% higher than the one written into the Euro 6 regulations last year.


http://cumminseuro6.com/what-is-euro-6

Euro 6 is the latest diesel engine emission legislations being driven by the European Commission.

Since 1993, when the very first ‘Euro 1’ legislation was introduced for trucks and buses, the European Commission has regulated the amount of pollutants coming out of the tail-pipe of a diesel engine. In particular, the Commission identified two key constituents within the exhaust stream – Oxides of Nitrogen or ‘NOx’, and ‘Particulate Matter‘ (basically soot particles) – as being harmful, and which needed to be controlled and reduced… etc (see http://cumminseuro6.com/customise/upload/files/20_a.pdf )


Euro 6 regulations in detail

The Euro 6 European exhaust emission regulations have been implemented in two stages. The first, which applied to all ‘new type approval’ vehicles, came into force on 1 January 2013. As at 1 January 2014 all new trucks and buses registered from 1 January 2014 will be equipped with a Euro 6 certified engine.

The Euro 6 regulations see significant reductions in permitted tail-pipe emissions as well as other operational changes including:

  • All NOx emissions reduced to 0.46 grams-perkilowatt-hour (g/KWh)—that’s down by 75% compared to current Euro 5 limits Particulate Matter (PM) reduced to 0.01 gm/kWh – or a further 66% drop compared to Euro 5.
  • However, with the further introduction of a new ‘particle number limit’ as part of the legislation, the actual overall reduction in the permissible levels of PM will be closer to 95%.
  • The introduction of a lower ammonia emission limit – ammonia being a byproduct of the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) exhaust after-treatment process.
  • The inclusion of a crank-case emission limit if a closed system is not used. An enhanced emissions durability requirement for all Euro 6 engines of up to 700,000 km or seven years for the largest vehicles.
  • Further improvements to the engine’s On-Board-Diagnostic (OBD) system performance.
  • The adoption of new, world-wide ‘transient’ and ‘steady-state’ test cycles including cold-start and normal-running temperature components which are designed to more closely reflect what a vehicle does in real-life.

With the introduction of the Euro 6 regulation this is the first time a ‘World Harmonised Test Cycle’ has been used for engine certification.


Volkswagen’s Code of Conduct

highlights the Company’s responsibility for;

“continuous improvement of the environmental tolerability of our products” and for “making ecologically efficient technologies available throughout the world.”23

It is a Group-wide guideline that outlines the strategy for corporate global and local responsibility and for which each individual is equally responsible for compliance.

The Code of Conduct states that to achieve the goal of being number one among the world’s automobile manufacturers, they must:

  • Act responsibly, for the benefit of our customers, shareholders, and employees,
  • Consider compliance with international conventions, laws, and internal rules to be the basis for sustainable and successful economic activities,
  • Act in accordance with our declarations; and
  • Accept responsibility for our actions.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR VOLKSWAGEN?

(The Volkswagen Scandal  – Written by Britt Blackwelder, Katherine Coleman, Sara Colunga-Santoyo, Jeffrey S. Harrison and Danielle Wozniak at the Robins School of Business, University of Richmond. http://scholarship.richmond.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1016&context=robins-case-network)

The “Dieselgate” scandal exposed unethical and deceptive practices at Volkswagen, and hurt its brand image around the world.

New CEO Matthias Muller stated that his “most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group – by leaving no stone unturned and with maximum transparency.” 62

Among efforts to repair relationships with the key stakeholders affected by the scandal, the company has withdrawn its diesel cars from the market and is working through plans for recalling the affected vehicles that are already on the road.

The company has also undertaken a number of initiatives to repair important relationships with customers and dealers.

These attempts include reimbursement to dealers for holding inventory and new dealership incentives connected to sales of gasoline­ powered cars.v”

For customers affected by the scandal, Volkswagen has issued a “Goodwill Package” including gift cards, credits for services or products, and a three-year extension of roadside assistance. Perhaps this is enough.

Volkswagen’s major competitors have also been caught doing socially irresponsible or even reprehensible things in the past, and seem to have weathered their storms fairly well.

  • Should this current crisis, although unfortunate, be allowed to distract the company from other critical issues, such as rapidly advancing technologies?
  • What is the bigger picture with regard to the future of Volkswagen?
  • What should its strategic emphasis be moving forward?
  • And should the company completely abandon diesel technology?
  • In short, how can this highly successful company get back on the path towards becoming the best auto manufacturer in the world?

DEFEAT DEVICE SOFTWARE

Dan Carder, West Virginia University’s director of the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions said his lab first discovered anomalies in test correlations in early spring of 2013.

https://youtu.be/hOTKIZgppbs 

AUDI/VW PR advertising slogan was “Truth in Engineering”

Industry experts said the car industry faced a crisis similar to recent banking scandals.

Professor of Industry at Aston University, David Bailey, said;

“the government, manufacturers and regulators needed to act on the results of the study“.
“I liken this to the Libor crisis in banking. There is a fundamental question of confidence in the industry,” Bailey said.
“Clearly the testing regime needs to more accurately reflect the real world.
That is not happening at the moment, not just in terms of nitrogen oxide but fuel efficiency. There is also an issue of accountability and openness for manufacturers in terms of what they put into public domain.”


My conclusion

Of course emission standards should be as low as possible but they should also reflect economic and technical realities.
Under present standards car manufacturers have been able to exploit glaring loop holes in regulations, no doubt the extremely powerful Automotive lobby is active in ensuring the loop holes exist?
It’s clear that the VW tricks represent only the tip of the ice berg.
Other manufacturers have also exploited the same loop holes, BUT, for some reason they have not been punished by the media and authorities.
For example; the real emissions of many Ford, GM, Land rover, Volvo, Fiat and Renault cars are many times the permitted levels.

The first task therefore HAS to be European Court action and legislation to close all existing loop holes!
The result would be substantial reduction in emissions.

Lowering the emission limits will obviously also help but closing the loop holes will have a bigger impact.

Many (but not all) of the latest Euro 6 specification diesel engines will already meet the proposed emission standards.

The technology is already there but if, by exploiting loop holes, manufacturers can save a few hundred £ or € hand improve market share and a competitive edge – They will DEFINITELY do it. Especially in the EU as they won’t receive US level fines if their caught!

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