Talk:There are known knowns

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Origin of phrase[edit]

Somebody report this piece of crap info. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:45, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

Did Rumsfeld coin this phrase, or was there a precedent?

Have any philosophers said what he said more precisely? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:03, 11 December 2006‎

I believe it was a concept identified a long time before Rumsfeld used it; it's part of a basic 2x2 decision matrix. Saga City 12:58, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
Thanks. Do you know a reference? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:37, 15 December 2006‎

I saw this in a recent journal article (European Journal of Information Systems (2006) 15, 453–456. doi:10.1057/palgrave.ejis.3000636): Also in Nucleic Acids Research

R.D. Laing put to words a useful set of distinctions, which I paraphrase and extend here:

   * We know what we know (good, because we are aware and confident).
   * We don't know that we know (bad, because we lack awareness and confidence).
   * We know what we don't know (good, because we are humble and motivated).
   * We don't know what we don't know (bad, because we are ignorant and vulnerable).

Sounds a lot like Rumsfield's quote. Here's the cite. I haven't looked up the book: Laing RD (1970) Knots. Random House, New York, p 55. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:08, 19 April 2007‎

This quote may illicit the philosophical origins if the expression. "We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either" Wittgenstein: Tractatus Logico-philosophicus 5.61 Tjmssbp (talk) 15:42, 8 February 2009 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure the phrase "unknown unknowns" appears at least once in the book "A Global Warming Forum" (1992; CRC Press, Geyer, R. (Ed.)). We used the phrase quite often in discussions and writing with respect to surprise in the nonlinear feedbacks associated with global environmental change and integrated risk analysis, between 1989 and 1994. User:Jlancaster

I had an ethics professor discuss this as being part of the Cynefin Framework. Hopefully a more experienced editor can work it in to the article. It was presented in class as known knowns/simple/use best practices, known unknowns/complicated/use good practice-research, unknown unknowns/complex/use experts-emergent practice/probe, and unknowable/act-the rules will be created as things happen. Here are links on it

 — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:16, 31 October 2016 (UTC) 

Accuracy of Quotation[edit]

The quotation is actually inaccurate. It may be from the official transcript, but if you compare it with a recording of Rumsfeld, you'll see it's been edited. The essential meaning isn't changed, but shouldn't the quote be word-for-word accurate? See for a recording of Rumsfeld; there are quite a few differences. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:56, 27 September 2013 (UTC)

BCameron54 12:52, 13 September 2014 (UTC)

no, we do not do our own transcriptions WP:OR . we follow what the reliable sources have published as his words. WP:V -- TRPoD aka The Red Pen of Doom 13:35, 13 September 2014 (UTC)

Removed Black Swan References[edit]

I have some problems with putting NNT's Black Swan references on this page:

  1. An unknown unknown isn't a black swan event. Black Swan events are specifically high-impact, in fact you say that yourself in the next section. An unknown unknown is anything not known.
  2. Second Black Swans aren't hard to predict, they can not be predicted. Grey Swans are hard to predict (September 11).
  3. Third, The High Impact of the unexpected section should be on the Black Swan book page (And corrected. Reread the Ludic Fallacy chapter, or the wikipedia entry).
  4. Fourth, it's fine if decision analysis wants to quote Donald Rumsfeld for the names of their procedures to make decisions (a highly ironic idea in the first place considering the man's decision making track record), but that hardly means that the theory that NNT laid out in The Black Swan should be attached to the man's drivel.
  5. Fifth, NNT describes theories as "like medicine: often useless, sometimes necessary, always self-serving, and on occasion lethal". Therefore creating a page called Black Swan Theory, or linking black swan theory to this page, seems to be an invitation for scorn from the man himself.--Herda050 09:12, 6 September 2007 (UTC)

I removed The Black Swan (book) and Black swan theory references because the topics are not the same. Besides the critiques above, I'm not even sure Black swan theory should be a page. Not that I think this page makes much sense either, as it is defining a phrase that was invented or stolen by Rumsfeld (or his PR hack) merely to get out of answering questions, but I'll leave that fight to someone else. The Black Swan (book) however is about randomness and not Unknown unknown. The book is about all uncertainty not an instance of uncertainty, which I gather is what this page is poorly attempting to refer to. Specifically the book is an essay by a man who is attempting, in the vein of the empirical skeptics, to claim that the world we live in is dominated by randomness and that we underestimate this randomness in our daily lives.--Herda050 07:16, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

So that is what the book is about, but what is the concept of black swan theory about if not uncertainty? The page doesn't make it clear. Should the page just be merged into the article on the book? - Grumpyyoungman01 04:34, 8 September 2007 (UTC)
Grumpyyoungman01 I'm working on the book page at the moment. I will then turn to the Black Swan Theory and refactor that as well. The theory page should describe Taleb's arguments and any criticisims.Herda050 02:53, 13 November 2007 (UTC)
All references to Taleb's Black swan theory are now gone. However, the entry for N.N.Taleb's colleague, Daniel Goldstein discusses Ludic Fallacy at some length. I followed along, and read the Ludic Fallacy page, which links here, using the phrase unknown unknowns. So I included Ludic Fallacy in the categories section. I hope I haven't subverted what was so carefully laid out by Herda050. It was not my intent to do so.--FeralOink (talk) 04:10, 3 February 2012 (UTC)

A direct link between NNT's work and this page would detract from the credibility, or even "invite the scorn" of NNT and/ or advocates of his ideas. I believe that some of NNT's work is rather overwrought (remember, it is five years later since Herda050's comment, with numerous sequel Swan bboks by NNT). However, NNT is a tenured professor and Ph.D. academician, writing about concepts in his field of expertise, and it doesn't make sense to inline link an entry about his work to what is clearly not Donald Rumsfeld's finest moment. (No disparagement intended about Rumsfeld, I don't know enough about his track record or anything else he did. But the quotation at the beginning of this page was spoken as a muddled mess. It would have been different if he had laid it out coherently like that 13th century Persian poet/ philosopher that is cited in a later section... but Rumsfeld didn't do that).--FeralOink (talk) 04:28, 3 February 2012 (UTC)


I looked for mentions of the King of Norway disrupting an election campaign in Oxford newspapers. While he did visit in 2006 [1], I can find no mention of electoral campaigns. Reliable sources needed. Grouse (talk) 14:43, 11 December 2007 (UTC)

Still no source, so I've removed it. (talk) 11:38, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

Move Donald Rumsfeld section to popular culture[edit]

It is a nice quote, but it does not merit having an entire section to itself.

Include more about decision sciences. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Cook503 (talkcontribs) 23:28, 27 January 2008 (UTC)

Inappropriate dedicating this concept to Rumsfeld[edit]

Don Rumsfeld did not originate this notion. His words were jumped on by critics too focused on the apparent inconsistency of the words without attempting to understand the underlying meaning.

In my doctoral dissertation completed in 1990, I postulated 4 groupings of information: 1. Quantitative data 2. Qualitative data 3. Known unknowns 4. Unknown unknowns

Without bothering to quote my original words, the first group was data to which quantifiable metrics could be associated. The second group was data that could be described only in qualitative terms, as quantifiable data was not available. The third group was data that we knew existed, but on which we knew too little knowledge to describe even qualitatively. This is the beginning stages of awareness of a concept. The final group was data associated with aspects of the universe or environment of which we were not yet even aware.

The general idea is that our knowledge starts out at the bottom in catagory 4, and as we continue to learn about our environment, we progressively work our way up from categories 4 to 3 to 2 to 1. At one point in time, the existence of the solar system was in category 4 (unknown unknowns) as related to planetary objects. Now we can describe their orbits with great precision (category 1).

As noted above, the term "unknown unknowns" is a term I used in a doctoral dissertation in 1990, but I doubt very much that I coined the term. I seem to recall having heard the concept in earlier years. I simply borrowed it to place it into a hierarchy of knowledge exploration and learning. Donald Rumsfeld did not invent the term, and this discussion is mistakenly focused on his inability to explain the term rather than on the actual meaning and context of the term. While interesting commentary, it is unrelated to the underlying meaning of the term. This listing should either be appropriately explained or deleted in its current form. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Businessdr (talkcontribs) 20:29, 21 July 2008 (UTC)

The tone of this article is *silly*[edit]

That's my main objection. There seems to be a rather excessive amount of fanboyism around Rumsfeld, rather than a serious discussion of the subject, and/or the popular culture phenomenon. I suggest the article be broken into distinct sections, one discussing the philosophical implications, and another describing the popularization of the phenomenon. RayAYang (talk) 19:41, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

Recent vandalism[edit]

Obviously, this page has been undergoing some vandalism recently. I'm unsure which state to revert it back to - include Rumsfeld, or not? How far back should I go? I'd appreciate input. --Ericdn (talk) 23:15, 7 February 2009 (UTC)


I don't understand why this should be a separate article. The "unknown unknown" concept is one example that could be cited under epistemology in the category of philosophy. Given the public hubbub created by Rumsfeld's comment, there should be a reference to him in that epistemology article (along the lines of "Donald Rumfeld's reference to 'unknown unknown' [reference] exemplifies the philosophical issue of ..."), but he (or the concept) doesn't deserve a separate article. --Molare (talk) 08:17, 5 April 2009 (UTC)


Can anyone provide a citation that "Unknown unknowns" is a term "in epistemology and decision theory"? I'm a little sceptical, but happy to be proved wrong.

If not, then I would suggest the lead be changed to reflect that this is actually an article about a Donald Rumsfeld quote and also move an more appropriate page per WP:COMMONNAME. I would suggest something like "There are known knowns", which is the opening of the quote.

Cheers. --FormerIP (talk) 01:07, 15 January 2011 (UTC)

Double negative[edit]

An "unknown unknown" = "not known not known" is a double negative, and resolves to simply "known". Rumsfeld was no measure of Bertrand Russell, whose paradox is of a similar vein. User:danshawen 23:30, 27 January 2011 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

Language isn't always resolved as an equation. And unknown unknown means the unknown that we are unaware of, as opposed to a known issue that one lacks information/insight of. Indeed, I'd suggest that Žižek consider his premise of the "intentional unknown unknown" as a known unknown by intent, as his concept and unknown unknown in current context are completely different, but well observed. An example of unknown unknown was the year without a summer, where it was unknown that a volcanic eruption could cause short term climatic issues.Wzrd1 (talk) 13:43, 16 August 2012 (UTC)

King of Norway factor?[edit]

There is no mention of a "King of Norway factor" in the present version of this article. Nor could I find a source for this topic by a general google search. Yet a redirect remains to this article if one enters "King of Norway factor" as a search term. Could someone please explain the connection? Garth of the Forest (talk) 15:35, 24 August 2013 (UTC)

There used to be a description of something called King of Norway factor in this article. However it was removed in May 2008 (see diff), as no source was found to substantiate the incident described (see discussion). I guess, King of Norway factor either needs to be flagged for deletion or redirected somewhere more appropriate. --Vwm (talk) 14:11, 31 October 2013 (UTC)

Another reference to the "Rumsfeldian speak"[edit]

I just found another reference of "Rumsfeldian speak" in a scientific article from Scott J. Bultman published in Carcinogenesis vol. 35 n2, pp249-255, 2014. The authors uses the terms unknown-unknowns and unknown-knowns to discuss our appreciation of the influence of environmental factors (in particular the gut microflora) in carcinogenesis.

Earliest source of which I am aware[edit]

This term has been in informal use among engineers and decision theorists at least since the early 1980s. I've cited a New Yorker article mentioning it in 1982 - I first saw it in an economics journal article the following year. (I wasn't logged in when I made the change, sorry). JQ (talk) 00:43, 25 July 2015 (UTC)

Looking through the history, I found another cite going back to 1979. Like mine, this reference was immediately deleted by a user User:RedPenOfDoom (who appears to have been banned subsequently). I've reinserted it. JQ (talk) 00:53, 25 July 2015 (UTC)