When in Doubt, Claim Certainty

Is it possible to have absolute certainty about something that is unclear? Is it possible to have absolute certainty that something “bore almost no resemblance” to something? Is absolute certainty about something so vague even a meaningful notion? I would have thought not, but some opinion-mongers apparently (I’m not absolutely certain about this, mind) have easier access to absolute certainty than I do. Witness this remark in an article about anthropology, blood sample collection, indigenous people, and the Yanomami, along with James Neel, Patrick Tierney’s Darkness at El Dorado, and Tierney’s accusations that Neel deliberately sowed measles among the Yanomami:

“What exactly Neel told his subjects is unclear, but we can be absolutely certain that it bore almost no resemblance to contemporary notions of informed consent,” said M. Susan Lindee, associate professor of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania.

So that’s how it’s done. When you don’t know and don’t have the evidence, just announce that you have absolute certainty anyway. No doubt some innocents will be convinced.

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