Thursday, September 14, 2017

Expressing Uncertainty in Language

I am currently working on an incident and during the lessons learned phase one person asked me how we use language to express uncertainty. It is something that is obvious once you know about it but it is something worth sharing :

  • 100% = certain (NL: zeker, FR: certain)
  • 93% with 6% deviation up and down = almost certain (NL: bijna zeker, FR: presque certain)
  • 75% with 12% deviation up and down = probable (NL: waarschijnlijk, FR: probable)
  • 50% with 10% deviation up and down = chances are even that ... (NL: de kansen zijn gelijk ..., FR: les chances sont aussi probable que ...)
  • 30% with 10% deviation up and down = probably not (NL: onwaarschijnlijk , FR: improbable)
  • 7% with 5% deviation up and down = almost certainly not (NL: zeer onwaarschijnlijk, FR: très improbable)
  • 0% = impossible (NL: onmogenlijk, FR: impossible)

An example of use is the discussion we were having about the user-agent and how good it is as a piece of evidence. Since the user-agent string can be manipulated and the machine is not under our control, we can't do forensics on it. This gives us a 50% chance that the user-agent string was manipulated and thus the right wording is : "chances are even that the user-agent is ...".

I am not mentioning the user-agent string since I don't want to discuss the case as such.

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