Tolerance for Ambiguity

Tolerance for ambiguity+ is used to regulate the amount of evidence being gathered. It’s a trait that if used judiciously can increase productivity. The goal is to make researchers understand that risk and uncertainty are inherent in the work and that educated guesses are okay. Tolerance for Ambiguity is not subjectivity. Tolerance means we want you to tolerate decisions made about your baby made in the face of ambiguity. Ambiguity is merely the absence of a complete set of facts: it is not fact-free. We desire each and every scientist to give us the facts as they best understand them and not to add in personal bias or preferences to fill in gaps. We recognize the value of tacit or implicit knowledge+. Statements of fact in the absence of experimental data are acceptable. Tolerance for ambiguity is therefore acceptance of decisions made in the face of incomplete evidence. The unproductive behavior we’re looking to eliminate is indelicately called Cover-Your-Backside (CYA+); gathering of evidence simply as a prophylactic for one’s reputation. Consider these as two sides of the same coin.

Often researchers have a very low tolerance for ambiguity. Replication of results is one of the cornerstones of the scientific method but replication is an expensive means towards certainty. For stage one researchers+ that can be okay. Level two researchers must develop a much higher tolerance for what constitutes acceptable evidence. We can’t take the time to dot all the i's and cross all the t’s on every piece of evidence. We’re looking for a skinny path from beginning to the end. We use our best technical experts to find that path, but we want to raise their tolerance for ambiguity. Give us your best guess based on your many years of experience. If you get it wrong there are no consequences. Just learn to get it better the next time.

For view of this from the medical profession see: Tolerating the Uncertainty Principle.