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I was watching a breakfast show the other day and a reporter was at a museum where they had an exhibition that the lady said was:

Exactly like what the scientists think the surface of Mars is probably like

Is this possible? Can something be exactly like something that's probable?

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7 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The exhibition is an explicit demonstration of an idea. It can be exactly like the physical expression of the idea.

Since scientists have good data about the martian surface, it can also be "probably" correct.

As Hilaire Belloc once wrote about microbes, "Oh! let us never, never doubt What nobody is sure about!".

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The exhibition is exactly like what the scientists think the surface of Mars is probably like

The exhibition is exact. What the scientists think is unconfirmed as true. The exhibition, however, faithfully represents what the scientists are claiming to be true.

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In this case, where there is evidence, but not everything is known, such as Mars, the models are educated guesses. So yes it can be exactly like the model that is presented as the most likely explanation.

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It means that the reproduction of the Mars surface is an exact reproduction of what the scientists think the surface of the planet is. The scientists don't really know how the planet surface is; they just have an idea of what the surface is probably like.

Exactly and probably are referring to two different things.

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All the answers up until this point just says that the usage in the given example is fine and that's because:

Exactly and probably are referring to two different things.

I would like to give you a more general answer and say that even if exactly and probably are referring to the same thing, it's perfectly fine.

Here's an example:

int value = (rand() == 0 ? 0 : 1);

value is probably exactly one.

Here exactly and probably are referring to the same thing and it's perfectly correct.

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Not referring to the same thing - "exactly" refers to the precision of the model, "probably" refers to the accuracy of the model in comparison to reality. –  James Barrie Apr 26 '11 at 3:25
    
@James, Well yes and I've never argued otherwise. Please read the entire answer and not just the last line. –  Erik B Apr 26 '11 at 13:17
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It's exactly like what scientists think. That is testable, although scarcely more easily.

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Yes, that is fine though it does sound a little wordy.

Here, 'exactly' is referring to the accuracy of the reconstruction based on what they think it should look like.

'Probably' is referring to what they think the actual surface of the moon looks like.

Reworded:

I think the surface of the moon probably looks exactly like this.

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