The Sin of Certainty

Screen capture from wikileaks video, Iraq

Lane Wallace wrote a recent article in The Atlantic about bias in journalism, and how it influences the questions that one asks. As journalists are human beings, I think we can reasonably assume that they, like everyone else, have biases. What resonated with me was Wallace’s use of the phrase ‘the sin of certainty,’ coined by the science writer Jonah Lehrer. I think this phrase has great utility and should humble us when we consider how much we don’t know. As an example, chemists have just observed for the first time a new yet-to-be-named element (#117). It took until the late 1990s for physicists to recognize that perhaps up to 95% of the universe is actually comprised of dark matter and dark energy. These are far from trivial matters, yet they have eluded us until now.

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