Bad things happen when we treat the uncertain as certain
Thank you for this interesting, thoughtful article. I agree with your criticism of Rasmussen. I don't believe with their statement that they thought their question, "should be uncontroversial.” They had to know this would result in divided results, and their use of the word "should" suggests bias by itself.
I also don't know why Adams would sabotage his career. Maybe he has plenty of money and decided to let his a long-hidden racist attitude out. I hope the public turns away from his work and gives him what he deserves.
Excellent article. The ironic thing is that being overly certain *looks* confident, but it can easily signify insecurity. But being able to admit "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" or "I need to learn more" often requires a different kind of confidence.
Hi Dan, I myself directly applied a WYSINATI to the story of Adams. I am not particularly interested in his comments, he is just a great cartoonist and author of the office life. I try not to take a persons most recent comments or actions to colour my view of them, rather stick to the whole story.
With regard to the lab leak hypothesis, the issue is not whether it is true, false, or uncertain. The issue is that even raising it as a possibility during the ~2020-2022 timeframe was enough to get one banned, condemned, and/or ignored. The basic question under dispute was free speech, not epistemic uncertainty.
Dan, first, thank you for this thoughtful column.
In my more than seventy years about the only thing that I have learned with certainty is that I don't know much of anything and, as a result, the daily news never fails to amuse and surprise me (in both the negative but also the positive). My point is that I continue to learn about the world and the people who live in it. Sometimes those people live down to my already low expectations and sometimes the wildly exceed expectations but always they find ways to surprise me.
Have you bumped into Russell’s paradox with your prediction that no prediction is 0% likely and no prediction is 100% likely to be accurate?
In my early youth I was confronted with so many clear statements of adults. Every time I expressed my feeling that there were some gray areas I was « comforted « with ‘yes there are some exceptions’. I concluded that exceptions were giving adults the excuses they needed to be always right. Later, in my professional career I started to spend my time in maybe- and most likely- and less likely-land. I love your pictures of a dial. This should be applied to every report on laboratory analytical results e.g. blood analysis or blood pressure, rather than giving you ranges of ‘normal’. More like that dial on my stove: I turn it up too high and my eggs burn, set it too low they never get to the necessary firmness.
I wonder whether pundits and politicians have over the past ten to twenty years found a way to use these traits. It strikes me that in the past there was greater attention paid to the need to be truthful. Or at least time was spent crafting statements in a manner that made them more nuanced, even when trying to bend the truth. For example, in the US we have heard constant statements hammering home the idea that its southern border is open. Any subtlety about what that means is lost as those citizens who are supporters or concerned about illegal immigration adopt the belief that this is true. Yet, even minuted later the same commentators will note (negatively) the large increase in drug seizures at the border which should lead to at least a tweaking of the view that the border is complete open.
Similarly, politicians and the media offer little context when describing situations with nuance and doubt built in. The use of the term ‘broken’ with respect to Canada, can lead to a view that the country is well on its way to being a failed state. Or recent references to Canada never having been more ‘divided’ leaves the impression that we have somehow been equally split between those supporting and opposing vaccines and pubic health measures to address the pandemic. Politicians have certainly always tried to argue that a majority of Canadians support their point of view even when that cannot demonstrably be true but it is easier now to get away with if we base such contentions on ill-defined terms in polls about Canada being ‘broken’.
That you start off with an attack on Scott Adams was only to be expected.