Do people understand the meaning of ‘possible’ and ‘probable’ ?

Since the IARC 2011 classification of cell phone, cell tower and wi-fi radiation as a possible carcinogen there is, from time to time, debated issue of the understanding of the meaning of the classification and distinguishing, in every day life,between the meanings of the ‘possible carcinogen’ and the ‘probable carcinogen’.

I am not native English speaker but, for me, it never was a problem to understand that the ‘possible’ means less than ‘probable’… However, some scientists, especially those who do not like IARC 2011 classification, continue to speak that the general public as well as scientists who made IARC 2011 classification, do not understand the meaning of classification because it is difficult to distinguish between meaning of ‘possible’ and ‘probable’.

Really? I do not think so and here is why – an example of a plain English language use…

Recently I traveled to India and, because the flight is long, I bought a book at the airport. The book is “The Governor’s Wife” by Mark Gimenez. It is an easy read about politics in USA… Reading this book I was startled by a short paragraph [blold text added by DL] that I quote here:

  • “...A Democrat beating Bode Bonner in Texas? That is not possible. Not now.
  • Not a Democrat… a Latino. Me and the national chairman, we think a Latino could beat him.
  • Not this election. Four years from now, possibly. Eight years from now, probably. Twelve years from now, absolutely…”

As the above simple text from a paperback copy of the easy-read book indicates – regular people do understand and do make distinction between what is possible and what is probable. It is scientists who over-interpret things and make problems there… where they are not…