The more an ideology pretends to give answers to all questions, the more attractive it is; here may lie the reason why irrational or even plainly insane thought systems can so easily attract the minds of men. Erich Fromm
Agnotology (formerly agnatology) is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. The neologism was coined by Robert N. Proctor, a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology. Its name derives from the Neoclassical Greek word ἄγνωσις, agnōsis, "not knowing" (confer Attic Greek ἄγνωτος "unknown"), and -λογία, -logia. More generally, the term also highlights the increasingly common condition where more knowledge of a subject leaves one more uncertain than before.
A prime example of the deliberate production of ignorance cited by Proctor is the tobacco industry's conspiracy to manufacture doubt about the cancer risks of tobacco use. Under the banner of science, the industry produced research about everything except tobacco hazards to exploit public uncertainty. Some causes of culturally induced ignorance are media neglect, corporate or governmental secrecy and suppression, document destruction, and myriad forms of inherent or avoidable culturopolitical selectivity, inattention, and forgetfulness.
Behavior is traditionally attributed to animals only. Recently, evidence for plant behavior is accumulating, mostly from plant physiological studies. Here, we provide ecological evidence for complex plant behavior in the form of seed abortion decisions conditional on internal and external cues. We analyzed seed abortion patterns of barberry plants exposed to seed parasitism and different environmental conditions. Without abortion, parasite infestation of seeds can lead to loss of all seeds in a fruit. We statistically tested a series of null models with Monte Carlo simulations to establish selectivity and adaptiveness of the observed seed abortion patterns. Seed abortion was more frequent in parasitized fruits and fruits from dry habitats. Surprisingly, seed abortion occurred with significantly greater probability if there was a second intact seed in the fruit. This strategy provides a fitness benefit if abortion can prevent a sibling seed from coinfestation and if nonabortion of an infested but surviving single seed saves resources invested in the fruit coat. Ecological evidence for complex decision making in plants thus includes a structural memory (the second seed), simple reasoning (integration of inner and outer conditions), conditional behavior (abortion), and anticipation of future risks (seed predation).
For nature, the “ruin” is ecocide: an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet.
Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs fall squarely under [the precautionary principle, i.e. the rule that we should err on the side of caution if something is really dangerous] not because of the harm to the consumer because of their systemic risk on the system.
Top-down modifications to the system (through GMOs) are categorically and statistically different from bottom up ones (regular farming, progressive tinkering with crops, etc.) There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of arbitrarily taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another. Saying that such a product is natural misses the statistical process by which things become ”natural”. [i.e. evolving over thousands of years in a natural ecosystem, or at least breeding over several generations.]
What people miss is that the modification of crops impacts everyone and exports the error from the local to the global. I do not wish to pay—or have my descendants pay—for errors by executives of Monsanto. We should exert the precautionary principle there—our non-naive version—simply because we would only discover errors after considerable and irreversible environmental damage.
In addition, the United Nations actually says that small organic farms are the only way to feed the world.
This comment, in my opinion, is worth a re-posting. The commenter, "Grebulocities", indirectly addresses one of the mysteries of our time: "Why do so many smart individuals back dumb ideas, concepts, and products?"
To expand on my point a bit, I didn't think you thought that paid shills were behind apocalypse believers and conspiracy theorists. What I mean to say is that a substantial portion, probably most, of the posts you have to deal with that look like comments by corporate or political shills are likely to actually be real, unpaid opinions by people who have been convinced by propaganda of one sort or another. I'm going to use an example from something I know well (I studied molecular biology as a grad student for a couple of years), but this sort of process is going on in a number of political and economic arguments.
Take, for instance, a molecular biologist who has never read your blog before and whose views are scientifically mainstream. Suppose the post s/he comments on somehow involves genetic engineering of crops. His or her response is likely to be indistinguishable from that of a comment by a paid shill for a large biotech company - it will be articulate, it will come from a new user, and it will likely start by dispelling common misconceptions it thinks "anti-GM" activists have and conclude by saying that a biotech-driven Second Green Revolution is the key to feeding humanity.
Of course, the reality is more complicated - genetic engineering has shown quite limited promise at engineering better food crops, and it is mostly used as a way for a few corporations to gain intellectual property rights over large parts of the world's food supply. The actual innovations, such as inserting glyphosate resistance or production of Bt toxin, are being easily defeated by evolution. Numerous glyphosate-resistant weeds and Bt-resistant corn borers have appeared all over the Midwest and are defeating efforts to combat them with biochemical tools.
Now of course molecular biologists should know what's really going on - anyone who understands evolution would know that the techniques that have been used are guaranteed to fail as resistance evolves. In reality, though, they often side wholeheartedly with biotech firms and would make a post like this, assuming anti-GM activists are scientifically illiterate.
Some of them receive corporate grants and are biased for obvious reasons. But - this is the important point - most such people are not receiving corporate grants. Their sense of purpose and meaning in life is built around improving humanity scientifically, and they imagine that further scientific progress in agriculture can solve future world food supply problems. This happens to be exactly the view biotech firms are pushing - so you'll never know if such a post is originated by a truly (financially) disinterested scientist or a paid spokesperson of Monsanto et al.
This same process occurs in political issues as well, or anywhere else where educated people have personally identified with exactly the beliefs that certain interests are pushing. The situation from last week where someone falsely appeared to be a paid shill of the Democratic Party or its allies is a classic example - I know many highly educated types who would have made exactly the same sorts of arguments. A person who believes in Progress, and who believes that the Democratic Party is advancing Progress, would make arguments that sound like (and are in some cases taken from) the Democratic platform or Obama's slogans. Successful propaganda propagates itself.
When Motorola Mobility lined up a Silicon Valley candidate a few months ago for a VP-level role, the phone maker was hopeful he'd accept. After all, the company offered the chance to develop products at a subsidiary of Google Inc.
The engineer declined. His reason: the prospect of relocating to Libertyville, Ill., about 35 miles from downtown Chicago, said Scott Sullivan, Motorola's head of human resources.
Mr. Sullivan expects recruiting to get a lot easier next February when the company moves into a new space in the storied Merchandise Mart building in downtown Chicago.
Motorola will join United Continental Holdings Inc., Hillshire Brands Co.—the successor to Sara Lee Corp.— and other corporate giants abandoning vast suburban campuses for urban offices nearer to the young, educated and hyper-connected workers who will lead their businesses into the digital age. Archer Daniels Midland Co. recently said it would move its headquarters from Decatur, Ill., and in the Bay Area, startups like Pinterest Inc. are departing Silicon Valley for San Francisco.
After decades of big businesses leaving the city for the suburbs, U.S. firms have begun a new era of corporate urbanism. Nearly 200 Fortune 500 companies are currently headquartered in the top 50 cities. Many others are staying put in the suburbs but opening high-profile satellite offices in nearby cities, sometimes aided by tax breaks and a recession that tempered downtown rents. And upstart companies are following suit, according to urban planners. The bottom line: companies are under pressure to establish an urban presence that projects an image of dynamism and innovation.
"The showcase headquarters of the past, the beautiful suburban campuses—that's a very obsolete model now," said Patrick Phillips, CEO of the Urban Land Institute, a land-use think tank.
Nationwide, commercial vacancy rates in central business districts have gone down faster than those in suburbs since the real-estate market began to recover in 2011, with 13.9% of urban space empty in the third quarter of 2013 versus 18.5% in the suburbs, according to research firm Reis Inc. At the end of 2010, the figures were 14.8% and 19.1%, respectively.
"There's increasing evidence that this represents a broad trend among large and middle-size companies," said Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of "The New Geography of Jobs."
Cheap real estate, tax incentives, and easy automobile access once lured companies to the suburbs, but companies now want urban amenities, proximity to public transit and sense of community—the same qualities young workers prize when deciding where to live and work, said Robert Lang, an urban planning expert and director of Brookings Mountain West.
And highly educated workers are clustering in a small number of cities. In 2010, more than 43% of Americans with bachelor's degrees chose to live in 20 metropolitan areas, primarily tech hubs such as Seattle, San Francisco and Raleigh, N.C., according to research from the Brookings Institution. And as younger graduates marry and start families later than previous generations—often with both spouses pursuing careers—they're delaying moves to the suburbs, sometimes indefinitely.
For longtime employees, however, corporate moves to the city mean longer commutes and disrupted schedules and family life. And the corporate quest for youth and innovation can leave some workers feeling slightly unwelcome.
"We joked about the older suburbanites being excluded from the new [business] model," said Jon Scherf, age 42, a marketing professional who left Hillshire shortly before its December 2012 move to downtown Chicago. "They would've been happy to have me but they're also happy to bring in new blood."
Companies say some attrition is normal. Motorola is offering full relocation packages for employees who choose to sell their suburban homes and move closer to the new office. Still, management expects 2% of its staff to depart and about 75% to stay after the relocation. The remainder, said Mr. Sullivan, will likely be "on the fence."
The shift to urban headquarters favors cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, destinations of choice for recent college graduates, while aging cities like Cleveland and Detroit struggle with corporate flight and economic decline.
Even when headquarters stay put, more companies are opening or expanding urban satellite offices, especially for technology and research staff working on product development and innovation, according to Mr. Moretti.
Silicon Valley giant Yahoo Inc. signed a big lease this year to expand its San Francisco offices so it can recruit top engineers unwilling to make the long commute on Highway 101. And Coca-Cola Co. in June said it would open a 2,000-person information-technology office near its headquarters in downtown Atlanta, relocating some tech staff that had been based in the suburbs.
Overall demand for commercial real estate in the suburbs is strong in metro areas like Sacramento and Dallas, and in regions rebounding from the worst of the housing collapse, said Walter Page, director of research at real-estate data firm CoStar. However, almost no large firms have left cities for the suburbs recently, CoStar has found.
As United Airlines planned its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, the company chose a neutral space for the two cultures to meld. That meant leaving the "bubble" of its immense campus in Elk Grove Village, a suburb about 20 miles from Chicago, said Kate Gebo, vice president of corporate real estate.
The carrier shifted a small group of employees to Chicago in 2007 and in 2009 announced that it would move all corporate operations downtown. It was an opportune moment; the real-estate market was sagging and landlords were slashing rents, and the city offered the company incentives worth up to $35 million over 10 years. About 4,600 United employees now work in 16 floors of the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower.
The new downtown offices—decorated with murals and lights that mimic the shape of an airplanewing—have proved a magnet for M.B.A.s from top-tier schools as well as new staffers in digital advertising and social media. In the last two years, more than a third of all hires have been under the age of 30, said a spokeswoman. Before that, the figure was closer to 25%.
United has also revived its college internship program, which had been largely dormant for years because the commute from area colleges to Elk Grove Village was too arduous for those without a car.
The airline declined to detail the cost of its relocation or its current real-estate expenses, but Ms. Gebo said the alternative was an extensive upgrade of its old facility.
For Hillshire, which changed its name from Sara Lee after spinning off its European coffee and tea business in 2012, the move downtown was part of a total reorganization that included emulating the culture of a startup, and hiring a workforce to match.
The maker of Jimmy Dean sausage and Ball Park franks now calls itself an "innovative meat-centric company" and a "$4 billion startup." The slimmed-down Hillshire—which now employs around 550 people at headquarters, down from 1,100 before the split—vacated its suburban campus in December 2012 for Chicago's West Loop.
In the city, Hillshire is finding "the type of employees we wanted—externally focused and agile" with a " 'refuse to lose' attitude," said Mary Oleksiuk, Hillshire's head of HR.
One of them, Ryan Rouse, age 33, directs the company's innovation group. He owns a home in the West Loop and joined Hillshire in June from a marketing role at Newell Rubbermaid in Oak Brook, Ill. Now, instead of a car commute that could stretch to almost two hours, he's got a 15-minute walk or a five-minute bike ride to the office. Dining options near the office have been a plus, he said, adding that "access to really wonderful food experiences" helps him think more creatively about possible Hillshire products.
For longtime employees, it has been a more complicated switch. Melissa Napier, treasurer and senior VP of investor relations at Hillshire, bought a house in Downers Grove in 2007 and lives there with her husband and two sons. While she now attends more social and networking events downtown, her commute, once a 10-minute drive, now gets her home at 7:30, an hour later than before.
The kids' dinner-and-homework routine now falls to her husband, a consultant.
Mr. Scherf, who was a manager of shopper insights at Hillshire and now works at Pfizer Inc.'s Itasca, Ill. office, said the company's move was "the tipping point" in his decision to leave, largely because he didn't want to be beholden to train schedules. He also felt unnerved by layoffs and an accelerating "cycle of change."
As young workers start families, they may care more about soccer fields and good schools than sushi restaurants and bike paths, priorities that may send them out of the urban core.
But the employers that sought them out in the city are unlikely to follow them back to the suburbs, said Mr. Phillips of the Urban Land Institute.
"Given energy prices and traffic conditions, it'll be a long time before we see another wave of suburbanization."