You know sometimes words have two meanings

This image (via Jess Zimmerman at Grist) is making the rounds among science bloggers.

Some additional ones, from the point of view of chemistry, are here

It might be useful to collect more of these. I suspect the surface is only being scratched here.

Some obvious ones:

  • variance (exception to a rule) (measure of scatter of a quantity)
  • constraint (device reducing freedom) (information reducing uncertainty)


image: Stairway to Heaven by FlyNutAA is in the Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0)


  1. I disagree with trying to change uncertainty to 'range'. The only problem with the term comes from denialist FUD: the vast majority of people are quite capable of understanding that it doesn't mean 'so we might as well just do anything'. If you're uncertain whether it's going to rain, you generally take a brolley or a waterproof. If you've checked the forecast and it's pretty certainly going to be dry, you don't. Or maybe people with more changeable weather (like in the UK) are better with uncertainty...!

    I've got a thought experiment involving a boat, some random drift, a big rock and some mines - 'range' does not work, uncertainty does!

  2. In many cases "uncertainty" means the same thing as "confidence" though; consider how distinct they are in informal language, almost exact opposites, yet statistically they mean exactly the same thing!

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