Forbidden Knowledge

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Cheerful Illustration by Gustave Dore.


This is the industrial strength version of Compartmentalization of Knowledge. This occurs when knowing something is actually denied to a certain group of people under the threat of penalty. It’s worth it to mention that the Forbidden Knowledge pattern is almost always used a response to potentially damaging information against a product, organization, or group of beliefs.

How it Works

Taking a type of knowledge “off the table,” can have a variety of benefits. If you have a product that some people criticize or otherwise speak out against it may be beneficial to utilize this pattern to at least minimize some of the backlash against your product that you might receive otherwise. In the case of gun violence being denied status as a public health hazard, there are likely lobbyists for the NRA involved in petitioning government officials to forbid the CDC from calling guns a public health hazard. Having lots of money and/or power helps.


One recent example is when the Centers for Disease Control in the US was forbidden by the US Congress to study gun violence as a "public health hazard.' According to Wikipedia, "In 2010, there were 19,392 firearm-related suicide deaths, and 11,078 firearm-related homicide deaths in the United States."(Citation needed) In early 2013, the US Congress passed a new law that the National Science Foundation could not fund Political Science research.[1]

in 2013 Edward Snowden, a former contracted National Securty Administration employee, released classified documents to the press. The leaked documents contained details of global NSA surveillance programs.[2] The full contents of the documents is still unknown as the release of information is still ongoing. These documents revealed that the NSA routinely performs phone tapping and obtains phone records on millions of people around the world, including phone records from US citizens. Edward snowden was charged with espionage by US federal prosecutes for releasing this information,[3] showing that this is a case of forbidden knowledge.


Compartmentalization of Knowledge, Opacity, Professional Obfuscation

Resources and References

See also: Photography banned from agricultural settings

  2. Greenwald, Glenn and Ewen MacAskill. "Boundless Informant: the NSA's secret tool to track global surveillance data". The Guardian. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
  3. Finn, Peter; Horwitz, Sari (June 21, 2013). "U.S. charges Snowden with espionage". The Washington Post.