When We Use the Word FACT(S)


If you were to ask any of my former students at the University of Connecticut for something they remember me saying, I believe one that would be offered frequently is this one: “The only thing that’s certain is the existence of uncertainty.” Yes, I know the same is true of death and either taxes or jail. But I’d suggest that the most understood / acknowledged certainty is indeed uncertainty.

Which brings me to my response on Facebook to the “Agreed?” question that accompanied the posting of the photo shown above on Facebook. Here is my response, copied directly from Facebook:

Yes, know the differences between ‘FACTS’ and FEELINGS … BUT also know that most ‘FACTS’ are not facts (hence the single quotes on FACTS) … Using the word, facts, means there is certainty in the statement. There are only TWO ways to have certainty: (1) Defining it to be so (e.g., “My name is John because my parents named (defined) me that” or “2+2=4 because of the definitions of 2, +, =, and 4”); and (2) something has been measured often enough that the uncertainty is zero —> there is certainty (e.g., the acceleration due to gravity at a particular point on the earth’s surface). OTHERWISE, everything has uncertainty and thus is NOT CERTAIN!!!

Wasn’t initially thinking about this … But I would suggest that there CAN BE (maybe, honestly, there ALWAYS IS) uncertainty in our FEELINGS as well. What’s your thinking on this suggestion from me?

Bottom line: There is NO ROOM FOR DISAGREEMENT about FACTS. Understood???

We educators must work with our students to understand that most ‘facts’ are indeed not facts. When they they overlook the reality that uncertainty is rarely negligible, they make their significant efforts to reach outcomes possibly worthless. They must understand that changes in procedures used / materials used / outcomes deemed acceptable quite frequently must be Considered. 

I can ‘hear’ some of you reading this now: “He’s an engineer and thus his students were studying engineering … That’s where uncertainty is important.” Balderdash!!! One reality I would hope everyone reading this post would accept is this: Uncertainty is a reality for everyone and everything!