Uncertainty is a favorite word — of scientists, politicians, and journalists. But here's the thing about uncertainty in science: It is quantifiable. Scientists know how certain they are when they say "A very likely led to B."
For example: When physicists announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, there was a numerical definition behind that declaration: a 1 in 3.5 million chance that they were seeing a fluke. That stringency isn't used for every field or paper, but they all have a number that captures uncertainty — and we should all get to know it.
Carnegie Mellon's Byron Yu says, "Probability is a way of viewing the world." And, it may be how our brain makes sense of the world. One working model for the brain is that neurons represent different probabilistic outcomes for the information they're presented.
Why it matters: Science is becoming increasingly complex. Experiments are highly specialized and in some cases not reproducible. Often, they generate massive amounts of data. We're probing reality deeper than ever and the numerical tools to make sense of it all will become even more important if everyone is to understand.
Remember this: "Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain," physicist Richard Feynman once said.
Bottom line: Scientists need to rigorously measure uncertainty, journalists need to responsibly convey it, and we all need to make an effort to understand and embrace it.