Expressing certainty

Be careful. Your choice of phrases when you express an opinion will often expose your lack of epistemic humility and/or your understanding of standards of evidence. For example, we all often hear…

“Y is proof of X.”

If Y is something understood inductively (by exploring its degree of regularity from a human perspective), it can only unconventionally be called a “proof”. Proofs are most commonly limited to the deductive domains mathematics and logic.  A better expression might be…

“Y is ((very) strong) evidence for X.”

Another abused expression is…

“X is a fact!”

While most often used conventionally to refer to a statement that is not currently very controversial, the word “fact” is sometimes attached to a notion as if anyone who would deny the notion must be stupid. 
Perhaps a better expression might be…

“There is ((very) strong) evidence for X.”


“Few experts in the relevant field dispute X.”

This will encourage your interlocutor to engage you with evidence and argumentation rather than having things degenerate into a shrill “‘Yes, it is”-“No, it ain’t” exchange. 

It also helps to, if at all possible, quantify your degree of certainty. Probabilities can be determined to a high degree of precision for a few scenarios such as coin flips, but for other multivariable and complex inquiries we can fairly accurately reflect our general degree of certainty by adding modifiers such as “quite”, “slightly”, “fairly” to the words “certain” or “confident”. 

This will make you appear less dogmatic and honestly committed to the evidence, as well as allow you to more easily engage in a productive discussion of the relevant evidence and arguments. 


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