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Confident assertion valued higher than uncertainty

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An article by Stéphane

Published on 22 February 2017

Short URL: http://nota-bene.org/1195

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There’s value in acknowledging you don’t know an answer: when you do know one, you’re more credible.

Jake Archibald writes:

We have a bit of a global problem right now: confident assertion without evidence (or even despite evidence to the contrary) is valued higher than qualified uncertainty. We must rise above this in the web community. The first step is admitting what we don’t know, then figuring that out before proceeding.

This excerpt has got to do with a current discussion about a new heading element, <h> that would complement the <h1>-<h6> mechanisms, and although the debate is interesting, intellectually, I fail to feel passionate about it.

Anyway.

I love what Jake says, and I don’t think it is “right now” that we have this problem. I feel it’s very common [1] for people to assert without evidence, rather than say “I don’t know”. I remember working with one of the first accessibility experts I met, and I remember vividly his telling me that being an expert is being able to say “I don’t know” when you don’t know, as it gives more weight to what you assert when you know what you’re talking about. I’ve tried ever since to apply this approach to my work and life so far.

So, out of context, here’s Jake’s thought as a maxim that could sit on the same shelf as the ability to say you don’t know: Confident assertion without evidence (or even despite evidence to the contrary) is valued higher than qualified uncertainty. Food for thought.


Footnotes

[1Perhaps it’s western-centric, I don’t know many foreign cultures enough to say if it’s shared worldwide.


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