Ignorance is bliss, or so the saying goes. Certainly it can be comforting to close your eyes to the unpleasant aspects of dwelling on planet Earth – and few of us are not guilty of it. However, living in ignorance isn’t always a choice. In fact, a new word has been invented for the study of deliberately produced ignorance: agnatology.

Let’s face it, there’s plenty of intentionally-created ignorance floating around. Whole industries and political groups devote themselves to sowing public misinformation and doubt. It has become a way the powerful hide dodgy policies, products and activities in plain sight. And the spreaders of nonsense seem to have got very good at their craft, especially on social media.

Perhaps the above sounds paranoid. After all, we are repeatedly told we have a ‘free’ press in the UK.

But take news stories. One of the biggest in recent months was the attempted murder of a former Soviet spy and his daughter in Salisbury using a rare nerve agent. For weeks the Skripal case was everywhere. Speculation filled the air waves as well as cast iron assertions of who was responsible. The government even took the matter to the UN and proceeded to expel a number of Russian diplomats. Then, quite suddenly, pouf, the story vanishes.

We can be sure the same powerful politicians who were so definitive about the crime must know far more after weeks of painstaking investigation. However they prefer, for whatever reason, to deliberately keep us in ignorance. As do the same newspapers and broadcasters who couldn’t print or utter the word ‘novichok’ often enough.

And what about the gas attack on Douma in Syria? You’ll recall that tragic incident was used by the government as a justification to bomb Syria. Again, despite there being on-going investigations on the ground, we hear nothing. A cynic might assume our once sabre-rattling politicians and media experts would prefer us to know as little as possible.

Deliberately produced ignorance can be a long and damaging game for the British people. And not just for us Brits. The Brexit negotiations are a classic example. It feels we are being deliberately kept in ignorance by the government on every major issue when we leave the EU in March 2019. Apart, that is, from the colour of our passports.

Meanwhile the unanswered questions pile up like a wobbly tower of brickbats threatening to collapse on top of us. Chief among the things we are not allowed to know are future customs arrangements and the Irish border problem. But that’s just the start of it. What about the situation for British immigrants who currently reside in EU countries? Or EU nationals living and working in the UK? What about aviation arrangements and environmental protections? What about our crucial financial services sector? What about nuclear standards? You guessed it, all we’re allowed is guesswork. You might suspect the government themselves are ignorant on those questions – or just horribly incompetent.

The ignorance that upsets me most concerns something far bigger than mere mankind. It’s a question we’re all guilty of avoiding, one way or another, through the wasteful way we live in our consumer society. Namely, the extent of the damage human activities are inflicting on the environment, not least climate change. From plastic to melting polar ice caps to deforestation and mass extinctions of species – huge and apparently insoluble problems – ignorance certainly can feel like bliss. Yet it threatens to paralyse us when urgent and radical environmental policies are desperately overdue.

All of which may suggest there is no defence against manufactured ignorance. However, according to a leading expert on agnatology, Professor Robert Proctor of Stanford University, the battle is far from lost: “There is opportunity to expose these things through good journalism, good pedagogy, good scholarship. You need an educated populace.”

As they say, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. We need to teach ourselves, and especially our young people, to always ask difficult questions of the powers-that-be. After all, knowledge is power.