The spectrum of certainty
A good friend and colleague who teaches biology teaches his students about the spectrum of certainty. He tries to get them to that all the ideas they’re studying in class, consider the evidence, and put them somewhere along that spectrum of certainty, from no certainty whatsoever to well-established fact. This turned out to be a great lens to look at ideas like global warming and evolution. But all of this was pretty hypothetical. My friend described the spectrum in fairly vague terms, and students were only to consider how certain they were of particular measurements or ideas.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon a blog post that reminded me of this. A blogger was taking ideas like string theory, and placing them along a very well defined spectrum of certainty along a number line that he had created. Unfortunately, a half hour of searching has turned up nothing, and so now I’m thinking of recreating this myself.
So this is where I’d like to turn to you for help. Some questions to think about if you were trying to describe the spectrum of certainty.
- What are the various classifications along this range (completely uncertain, somewhat uncertain, well established…). I’d like to avoid putting in a category for well established fact, and instead think of a way of describing those things are well accepted from the point of having a very small uncertainty.
- What ideas would you place on this spectrum? Where would they go?
- What about measurement uncertainty? Could you match up various percent uncertainties with different categories (that would seem to be not idea). How should the spectrum of certainty apply to measured and calculated quantities?
Ultimately, I’d like to turn this into some sort of poster for the front of the room, so please send me your ideas.