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I work in medicine, where we perform tests that are sometimes inaccurate, and at times you get clues that the result of your test is inaccurate.

I recently heard an expression using "given" that I don't understand: "given A, the result is B." A is a phrase arguing that the test result will be inaccurate. B is the result of the test.

In case that's not clear, here's an example: "given that the xray is misexposed, there is no pneumonia."

This strikes me as very wrong. I'm used to using "given A, B" to mean "if you take A to be true, B must be true." In the usage that I believe to be incorrect, on the other hand, it means "take B to be true with the caveat that A is true (so the validity of B should be discounted)."

I would have assumed those people were just misusing the word, but I found this example at the Cambridge English Dictionary: "Given his age, he is in good health." That feels sort of similar (but not identical) to the usage that I thought was incorrect.

Has anyone heard this usage? Care to give an opinion on its validity?

Thanks

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    Where did you see the example "given that the xray is misexposed, there is no pneumonia."? It's hard to imagine any doctor saying that, and you would be correct to have deep misgivings about that statement. Was the example perhaps "given that the x-ray is misexposed, we cannot see any pneumonia"? – John Y Mar 22 '18 at 22:42
  • "Given his age, he is in good health." is different in nature. It's just another phrasing of "he is in good health for his age" (with the implicit understanding that as we age, our health tends to decline naturally). – John Y Mar 22 '18 at 22:46
  • @John_Y: I see the usage at my hospital all the time. I don't know where it came from, but in this place, phrases tend to be reused (I think sometimes independent of their utility/accuracy). – lcgerke Mar 23 '18 at 20:45
  • And where is this hospital? (If you could give the city, maybe it would indicate some kind of regional or localized usage. I have never encountered this among native speakers of American English.) – John Y Mar 28 '18 at 13:41
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Given (that) is used just to introduce a concept with the aim of taking it into consideration, whatever the context is and whatever conclusion you may draw:

If you say given that something is the case, you mean taking that fact into account.

  • Usually, I am sensible with money, as I have to be, given that I don't earn that much.

(Collins Dictionary)

  • Thanks for this. Would it be fair to say that you find the usage I describe as correct, then? I wonder, though, if that's really a complete definition, taking into account real usage. Trying to think of another example... would you accept "Given that I'm a liar, 1+1=3?" – lcgerke Mar 23 '18 at 20:51
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"Given A, the result is B" is highlighting A, which is some fact or assumption that may lend extra context or information about B.

Usually it's an underlying assumption, or in the case of your old age example, a mitigating factor i.e. "His health would be terrible for an average human. But he's 90, so he's doing pretty well!"

Using it to cast doubt on B is a less common usage, but still valid. An IT style example could be "Given that I still doubt understand what caused the problem in the first place, I managed to fix it".

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I would answer the question as a radiologist. 'Given that the x-ray is misexposed' (when considered that the x-ray is not well exposed), there is no pneumonia (what we see might be a shadow / an artifact caused by improper dosing, not pneumonia).

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