Off the Number Line: Precision vs. Accuracy

Interviewer:

That’s cute. Instead of yelling “Fore!” he’s yelling “Four point zero!” Is that really increased precision, or is that increased accuracy?

Cartoonist:

Well, it’s not very accurate because when golfers hit a drive they yell out “fore,” meaning “look ahead,” not the number four. However, it is very precise. Precision comes from the same root as “incision.” It comes from cutting things up into smaller pieces. Something that is more precise is measured using a smaller unit. For examples, whole numbers of millimeters are more precise than centimeters. So, when we say 4.0 we are indicating that we are being precise down to the tenths.

Interviewer:

Cartoonist:

Accuracy is how far off you are from the “actual” value. If someone was to say that 1/3 is 0.29324178, that is not very accurate, but it’s quite precise. The value 0.33 is much more accurate, but less precise.

Interviewer:

Makes sense. Thanks! I never quite understood how those were different. This was a fun one. Looking forward to next week’s Off the Number Line cartoon!

Matthew Peterson, Ph.D., is Co-founder and Chief Research & Development Officer at the MIND Research Institute. James Huang is Senior Visual Designer at MIND Research Institute.

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