What do you know?

We had a speaker at our Madison South Rotary club meeting yesterday refer to Don Rumsfeld's famous quote about what we know and don't know. Honestly, I couldn't quite follow his point because there were just too many "knowns" and "unknowns" rapidly thrown into his sentences! In any case, take a look at the Rumsfeld quote below or watch it here: 

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - - the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones."

Donald H. Rumsfeld, Department of Defense news briefing, February 12, 2002

Wouldn't it have been easier for Rumsfeld to say there are things we know about and things we do not know about? And, there are things we cannot predict (unknown unknowns). This last one is the phrase I have the most trouble with, but the whole quote is a complete disaster in my opinion.

The British Plain English Campaign agreed with me, having awarded the Defense Secretary its Foot in Mouth award. 

A better twist on this is something I read that describes four kinds of people who live in the world: 

1. Those who know and know they know. (experts)

2. Those who know, but don't know they know. (They rely on good evidence and experts but don't personally gather it or have such expertise). 

3. Those who don't know, and know they don't know. (liars) 

4. Those who don't know, and don't know they don't know.  (gullible, lazy people)

#4 is the scariest of all. 


Posted on November 5, 2013 .