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Keywords:

  • Sociology of ignorance;
  • knowledge alibis;
  • regulatory failure;
  • pharmaceuticals;
  • power

Abstract

Ignorance and knowledge are often thought of as opposite phenomena. Knowledge is seen as a source of power, and ignorance as a barrier to consolidating authority in political and corporate arenas. This article disputes this, exploring the ways that ignorance serves as a productive asset, helping individuals and institutions to command resources, deny liability in the aftermath of crises, and to assert expertise in the face of unpredictable outcomes. Through a focus on the Food and Drug Administration's licensing of Ketek, an antibiotic drug manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis and linked to liver failure, I suggest that in drug regulation, different actors, from physicians to regulators to manufacturers, often battle over who can attest to the least knowledge of the efficacy and safety of different drugs – a finding that raises new insights about the value of ignorance as an organizational resource.