On 29 November 2010 23:34, Denenberg, Ray <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> (second of two messages)
> unknown/questionable/uncertain/approximate
> These all have distinct meanings.

Different nuances of meaning, if you like. The question to me is, are they
different enough to be reliably understood and used? If not (as I suspect)
then it would be a bad idea to have them in a spec. The very fact that
people question these distinctions should be a caution.

> unknown
> It means just that, "unknown". So for 199u, the 'u' may be replaced by any
> single digit.
> [Note: we have not settled on 'u' as the "unknown" character. We just
> haven't found a  better one yet.]

The only reason I can think of for this comes from a damaged record. In any
case we can rephrase this as [1990 ... 1999] - one value chosen from the set
of values ranging from 1990 to 1999, which has the great advantage of being
far more flexible, covering other sources of similar uncertainty, as below.

> uncertain
> it means "known to be one of a set".  So 2004-[01,02,03] means "January,
> February, or march of 2004, we don't know which but we know it's one of
> those".

So what distinguishes something that is unknown from something that is
uncertain? It doesn't seem to pass my test. There is a nuance of difference,
but I suggest no operational or pragmatic difference, and therefore people
would confuse them.

> questionable
> A strict value, but this value may be wrong.   2004-06? means "it may be
> June 2004, but then, it might not."

OK, I haven't seen any questioning of this.

> approximate
> It means just that, "approximate".
> There has been discussion about whether and how (1) precision might be
> assigned to "approximate", and (2) probability might be assigned to
> "questionable. I hope we agree that qualification is not necessary for
> "unknown" and "uncertain".
> If indeed there is a need to assign precision and probability to
> approximate and questionable then I propose the following basic approach.
> First let's agree, can we,  that most, in fact the vast majority, of
> approximate and questionable, will not need to assign precision or
> probability, they will be happy to simply assert that the value is
> approximate or questionable. Therefore we want an approach that allows this
> assertion in the simplest possible way without the burden of any complexity
> imposed by the qualification syntax. In other words if you simply want to
> assert  june of 2004, approximately" it's '2004-06~' as currently in the
> draft spec

However, in this supposed vast majority of cases, where unqualified, there
seems to me no pragmatic or operational difference between the two. If one
says that "questionable" is more vague than "approximate", then one is
comparing something like precision, which is contrary (at least in spirit)
to the premise that there is no need to assign any precision or probability.

> I propose an extension mechanism, whereby whenever a '?' or '~' is
> encountered, it may be followed by an extension. The extension would be
> delimited in some fashion, and I am not proposing how at this point, but
> let's say for now we use ampersand.  Then
> 2004-06~    means "june of 2004, approximately"
> 2004-06~&123abc&  means "june of 2004, approximately, with a precision of
> '123abc'"
> So whenever ~ is encountered, if followed by & then a precision extension
> follows, terminated by the next & (and I have no idea what '123abc' means,
> someone will have to come up with a framework for these extensions)

In this case, surely we are (operationally and pragmatically, as always)
back with something like the  "uncertain" case. Using the central
approximate date and the precision, calculate the start and end points of
the interval of possibility. Then give it as a value chosen from that

Similarly for questionable, whenever a ? is encountered, if followed by &
> then a probability extension follows

Perhaps this is too complex for separate standardized treatment. One
approach would be to decide what your level of probability is for  effective
certainly, and to give the value as a value chosen from the appropriate

I fear that further repetition of these arguments will be futile. However,
nothing said so far persuades me away from the view that it would be useful
to represent two kinds of uncertainty:
1. the one where there is no estimate of any degree of error, imprecision or
2. the one where limits are given. This can be subdivided into two cases:
2(a) a value chosen from a time interval (whether or not using "/")
2(b) a value chosen from a set or range of values (given discretely or using
a range notation like "...")
and that other representations add nothing useful.

Simon Grant
+44 7710031657