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Uncertainty in Science Communication

Uncertainty is endemic to science. Even when scientists have strong confidence in a particular research finding, that result is always open to revision in light of new evidence. What we think we know using the powerful tools of science is not absolute, but probabilistic. No single study ever proves anything. Conclusions are contingent, dependent on populations studied, measures taken, instrumentation used, and many other factors. Absolute “proof” is elusive.

Scientists make room for uncertainties when they report their findings to one another in journal articles and conference presentations. Even though many express personal confidence in the findings, they are obligated by the norms of communication within the scientific community to point out at least some of the ways their conclusions may be premature. This means that ...

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