To this point, I have usually grouped the historical study of ignorance under the genus of Richard Hofstadter’s term, ‘anti-intellectualism’. Why? Because the term has been around for a long time—since 1909 according to the OED, or even 1821 if you accept a related noun. As such, it seemed easier think about purposed and accidental ignorance as species of the same genus—namely, the refusal to engage the real terms of a situation, whether concrete or abstract. One could resist or avoid intellectuals or ideas, but the result was the same: anti-thoughtfulness. This seemed close enough to anti-intellectualism to keep the term. Increasingly, however, I’ve noticed the use of the term ‘agnotology’ to describe studies of ignorance.
The last link, a Wikipedia entry, relays that… a Stanford University historian of science, Robert Proctor, came up with agnotology. He meant it to denote topics which are “victim[s] of scientific disinterest,” or a “structured apathy” he called “the social construction of ignorance.” Proctor has since co-chaired two events to explore his topic: a 2003 workshop titled “Agnatology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance” (no link available) and a 2005 conference titled “Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance.” [Aside: I have no idea why the spellings for the conferences are different.] To the right is a book Proctor co-edited with a Stanford colleague Londa Schiebinger, titled Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance (Stanford U. Press, 2008).
But then Wikipedia also notes that a similar term, “agnoiology,” coined in the nineteenth-century by Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier (1808-1864), means (a) “the science or study of ignorance, which determines its quality and conditions” or (b) “the doctrine concerning those things of which we are necessarily ignorant.” I’ve also discovered that Keith Lehrer (emeritus philosophy professor, University of Arizona) used the term in a 1971 article, “Why Not Skepticism?” that appeared in The Philosophical Forum (2.3, 283–298, citation here, at bottom).
Based on these notes and little entries, it seems to me that scientists and philosophers have an affinity for the term agnotology because it implies (a) science (or more accurately anti-science), (b) the living present, (c) a repository for things that do not fit comfortably into epistemology, and (d) sources of ignorance (purposed and otherwise) that range beyond the individual (i.e. sociology of ignorance).
Despite the relation to science and philosophy, both Proctor and Schiebinger are both historians of science. Go figure. As such, I sense the potential for a future USIH conference that is friendly to scientists and philosophers. The conference’s goal could be a reconciliation of the notions of anti-intellectualism and agnotology.