A Comment About the Culture Gap

J R Woodman comments on an article at the Guardian:

If you ask any man in the street whether you’ll be killed if you walk across all six lanes of the MI motorway in the rush hour, he’ll say, “yes, too right!” But ask the same question of a scientist, with his scientific hat on in the presence of other scientists, and he might well answer, correctly — from a purely scientific perspective — “I don’t have enough information at this moment to calculate the probability of you being killed.” So does that mean that scientist wants to get you killed? Is he being deliberately obtuse? No, he’s afraid that his fellow scientists will accuse him of providing an unscientific answer.

Of course the problem is that in both cases the scientist is putting his scientific integrity ahead of a requirement to make his true meaning understood by the person in the street. Can he do both? I believe he can; and should.

After all, in experimental jargon “uncertainty interval” and “confidence interval” have the same meaning, right? So why is the public discourse endlessly about “uncertainty” rather than “confidence”? Could it be that we are being manipulated?

However, Woodman’s reading of the article to which he links is too sanguine.


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