Thought for the month

“We may pass violets looking for roses. We may pass contentment looking for victory.” Bernard Williams, British philosopher (1929 – 2003).

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Behave like a lawyer?


Last month six scientists and one government official were found guilty on manslaughter charges relating to the 2009 earthquake that hit the Italian city of L'Aquila. The authorities who pursued the defendants stressed that the case was never about any failure to predict earthquakes - it was about what was interpreted to be an inadequate characterisation of the risks; of being misleadingly reassuring about the dangers that faced their city. I am not capable of commenting on the legal rights and wrongs of the case or the unpredictable nature of earthquakes but there is an issue here for us all, irrespective of our specific field of work. Within our chosen sphere we are experts familiar with the jargon, the caveats, the axioms and the unproven. We take much for granted as assumed knowledge. When interacting with others from outside of our sphere, particularly in this time of sound bites and limited attention spans, we must be doubly careful when explaining what we mean. Accurate transmission is insufficient; it must be received and understood as we intended.

There is always danger in life in assuming that other people think like ourselves. The way forward cannot be that we work in secret nor all think and behave like lawyers.

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