The idea that ignorance is the outcome of a deficit of correct information is persistent, especially for academics working in an environment where learning and the acquisition of new knowledge are highly valued. Daniel Williams argues that to understand how research and evidence are strongly resisted by certain groups, we need to reflect on how motivated ignorance is deeply embedded in our identities and social connections.
Successful decision-making within a democracy depends on an informed electorate. It is both depressing and alarming, then, that studies of political knowledge among the general population reveal a consistent lesson: The public is often ignorant and misinformed when it comes to basic matters of fact and issues of scientific consensus.
Of course, this problem is not new. Plato famously claimed that the ignorance and irrationality that accompany democracies will inevitably push them towards tyranny. Few people today are this pessimistic, but the problem cannot be brushed aside or minimised: Collective decision-making based on ignorance and illusion can be extremely costly and sometimes catastrophic.
It is tempting to search for simple answers to this problem. If people are ignorant, the solution is to provide them with more information. If people are misinformed, the solution is to combat this with accurate information and rational persuasion.
Read more: Academic’s ultimate inversion: People resist knowledge because of how it affects them. Okay, yes. But what is your definition of ‘knowledge’, mate? Well, the establishment narrative called the ‘scientific consensus’. EXACTLY