There are known knowns
"There are known knowns" is a phrase from a response United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave to a question at a US Department of Defense News Briefing in February 2002 about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.
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 that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.
The phrase became the subject of much commentary and derision.
As for the substance of his statement, Rumsfeld's defenders have included Canadian columnist Mark Steyn, who called it "in fact a brilliant distillation of quite a complex matter", and Australian economist and blogger John Quiggin, who wrote, "Although the language may be tortured, the basic point is both valid and important ... Having defended Rumsfeld, I'd point out that the considerations he refers to provide the case for being very cautious in going to war."
Psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Žižek extrapolates from these three categories a fourth, the unknown known, that which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know: "If Rumsfeld thinks that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the "unknown unknowns", that is, the threats from Saddam whose nature we cannot even suspect, then the Abu Ghraib scandal shows that the main dangers lie in the "unknown knowns" – the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values."
In his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb tells of a presentation on uncertainty he was requested to give to the United States Department of Defense shortly before Rumsfeld's speech. The core message of the Black Swan is that unknown unknowns are responsible for the greatest societal change.
Rumsfeld used the quote in the title of his autobiography Known and Unknown: A Memoir.
In popular culture
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (December 2013)|
Since Rumsfeld's speech, the full quote and the terms "known knowns" and "unknown unknowns" have appeared in popular culture:
- The title of The Unknown Knowns: A Novel by Jeffrey Rotter is an allusion to the quote, and the full quote appears in the book's inscription
- The quote is featured in the CD recording, The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld and Other Fresh American Art Songs
- Hart Seely's compilation of quotes by Rumsfeld is entitled Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld (2003)
- In The Boondocks animated series, the character Gin Rummy, a representation of Donald Rumsfeld, makes several references to unknown unknowns
- The band No Use for a Name used the entire aforementioned quote in their song Fields of Agony (Acoustic) on the record Rock Against Bush, Vol. 2
- In "Lil' George and Lil' Tony Blair", an episode of Lil' Bush, Lil' Rummy makes a reference to the unknown unknowns
- The Joan Jett song "Riddles" features the full unknown unknowns quote
- Belgian director Johan Grimonprez ends his film essay Double Take with the quote
- Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss uses the quote as opening to the second chapter of his book A Universe from Nothing
- In Zero Dark Thirty, the character Dan (played by Jason Clarke) utters the "unknown unknowns" part of the quote during an office meeting.
- Epistemic modal logic
- Dunning–Kruger effect
- I know that I know nothing
- Ignoramus et ignorabimus
- Ignotum per ignotius
- Johari window
- List of political catch phrases
- Ludic fallacy
- Outside Context Problem
- Relevance paradox
- "Defense.gov News Transcript: DoD News Briefing – Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, United States Department of Defense (defense.gov)".
- Girard, John; Girard, JoAnn (2009-06-01). A Leader's Guide to Knowledge Management: Drawing on the Past to Enhance Future Performance. Business Expert Press. pp. 55–. ISBN 9781606490198. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- "Rum remark wins Rumsfeld an award". BBC News. 2 December 2003. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
- Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2003-12-02). "Language Log: No foot in mouth". Penn: University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
- Steyn, Mark (December 9, 2003). "Rummy speaks the truth, not gobbledygook". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
- Quiggin, John (February 10, 2004). "In Defense of Rumsfeld".
- "What Rumsfeld Doesn't Know That He Knows About Abu Ghraib". Retrieved 2009-02-23.
- Neve, Geert de; Luetchford, Peter (2008). Hidden Hands in the Market: Ethnographies of Fair Trade, Ethical Consumption, and Corporate Social Responsibility. Emerald Group Publishing. pp. 252–. ISBN 9781848550582. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- "The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld". stuffedpenguin.com. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
February 12, 2002, Press conference The reporter asks the question that leads to the "known unknowns" response at approx. 37:19