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Letters: Ignorance amplified

March 12, 2014

Re "Sowing doubt about science," Column, March 9

Michael Hiltzik makes an excellent argument about the widespread and vast dissemination of ignorance today, from many sources, corporate and government alike, currently pushed by the social-networking phenomena whereby ignorance, propaganda and anti-social movements are amplified.

That has been obvious since the self-creation of the Fourth Estate during the latter part of the 18th century.

Hiltzik's extended complaint about Big Tobacco seems, however, to suppose our ignorance commenced in the mid-20th century. In fact, cigarettes were well-known as "coffin nails" as early as 1888. King James I of England wrote about his distaste of tobacco in the early 17th century.

As for booze? Rum and slave-trading were becoming powerful commercial enterprises around that time. Later on in the mid-1700s, one might have heard regarding gin: "Drunk for a penny. Dead drunk for two pence."

Jascha Kessler

Santa Monica

Hiltzik's account of Stanford professor Robert Proctor's study of the cultural production of ignorance portends a future wherein grade school students, as Proctor suggests, are taught who is lying about science.

There are, Proctor warns, forces "undermining trust in science," including the tobacco industry. He links lying to greed, and since greed is the motive for profit, profit-making corporations must be lying — as our students would be told, presumably.

Exposing lies regarding scientific evidence is an important journalistic and educational function provided, of course, that an unbiased view is presented.

Proctor acknowledges the need for an educated populace, but I would suggest that the education focus on teaching students how to detect lies and bias in published works rather than simply allowing someone's particular view about who is lying to be the standard.

We all could benefit from a better understanding of how opinions are presented as facts.

Scott Perley


I'd like to say thanks to Hiltzik for his outstanding column in Sunday's Times. Articles like his are worth the price of the subscription.

Bob Marsh



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