What you don’t know won’t hurt you – Agnotology in anti-doping

Keywords: agnotology, science & technology studies, sociology, sports policy, anti-doping


When studying the production of knowledge for policy, focus is typically on science that is being done and taken up. This paper looks at the other side of the coin: science that remains undone or unseen. We analyse sports policies through the prism of ‘agnotology’, using the case of anti-doping as a ‘regulatory science’ (Jasanoff, 2011).

Theoretical framework

Agnotology refers to social production of ignorance (Proctor, 2008). Science may be suppressed, or otherwise not undertaken, or remain invisible (Boudia & Henry, 2022). Ignorance can range from deliberate hindrance to structural impediments (power to put issues onto the research agenda; resource allocation). Framing matters in policy, since any problem representation manages complexity by simplifying, and leaving gaps (Bacchi, 2009).

Undone science may reproduce social inequality structures (Boudia & Henry, 2022). Connections can be made with sociology frameworks, such as Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and field theory (Bourdieu, 1976). Scientific habitus is an incarnated form of being a scientist, which shapes issue selection and treatment (Jeon, 2019). Scientists self-censor for their career; certain research areas, or methods, are frowned upon. Ignorance is intrinsic to the construction of science: some statements may never be fortified into facts, e.g. if no scientist takes them up or challenges them (Latour & Woolgar, 1976).

Various typologies exist of how organisations react to ignorance (Boswell & Badenhoop, 2019: elucidation, denial, resignation), or keep uncomfortable knowledge at bay (Rayner, 2012: denial, dismissal, diversion and displacement).

Research questions

How is ignorance created or maintained in anti-doping science?

  • Research emphasis and gaps: what is (not) researched? What issues/methods are favoured/considered invalid?
  • Policy uptake: what research is made visible or kept invisible? What actors are influential in the process?
  • Influence of structures and power: who is authorised to do science? What is the role of the the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its regulatory framework? What strategies are developed in the face of ignorance?


i.) Analysis of the regulatory framework and other documents (Minutes of WADA Committees 2000-2022); ii.) semi-structured interviews with scientists (researchers with a record in publishing on doping related science) & decision-makers (officials at WADA & anti-doping organisations). We perform a content and discourse analysis, combining an inductive approach based on our experience in the field and the above frameworks.

Preliminary Results

The document analysis shows that scientists congregate into a community in which WADA authorizes who provide valid science. The most obvious aspect is accreditation by WADA of laboratories to perform doping analyses.

Science predominantly involves these laboratories, based on their specialised expertise, but also privileged access to samples. WADA issues yearly research grants, selected through its expert committees. What science is then brought to the decision-making table also depends on WADA’s expert groups and science department. Through control of access to resources (samples, funding), coupled with regulation, WADA has a strong hold on the science produced. Next we identify, through interviews, specific areas of science that were/are unexplored or invisible, and can be furthered as case studies.


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How to Cite
Viret, M., & Ohl, F. (2023). What you don’t know won’t hurt you – Agnotology in anti-doping. Current Issues in Sport Science (CISS), 8(2), 080. https://doi.org/10.36950/2023.2ciss080