For the "Organization of Ignorance" File

News reports (e.g., Daily Journal, alas, by subscription) and blogs today mention the lawsuit brought by UCLA economist and law professor Richard Sander and others (including the California First Amendment Coalition) against the State Bar of California to obtain race tagged info on bar exam results. He wants the data for a research project testing his hypothesis that minorities who are admitted to elite law schools because of preferences are done a disservice and that they’d be better off going to mid-tier schools where they were admitted without preferences.

Why mention it here? Chances are most readers of the story will have strong opinions one way or another based on their political position on affirmative action. Well enough, me too. The story is filed here under “the organization of ignorance,” though, as an example of information that exists and that could enlighten society about itself but that one group or another has specifically organized to keep “unknown.” Debates about what data the census should or should not collect are another example.

Ironically, some of the players in the debate over this particular issue were also active in the so-called “racial privacy initiative” campaigns of a few years back. That proposal, which failed, would have made the collection of race-based data illegal. What all these efforts have in common is the fact that they are attempts to deliberately create blindspots in the information order. The motives may differ in each case (and may appeal to different political positions), but the form is the same: for one reason or another, we think we’d be better off if we did not know.

Note that this is an entirely different issue from when we decide that something would be too expensive and not cost-effective to find out (as when legislators decide not to spend money on a big physics experiment that might uncover the nature of the universe).

Background Links

September 2007 article on

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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