Sunday, October 12, 2008


Shame on The New York Times

Politics? War? Nah. The Sunday crossword puzzle. :-)
8-Down: Precision
Answer: Accuracy

I solved the entire puzzle in 10.21345 minutes. That statement provides information with great precision. It's also completely inaccurate.

Accuracy and precision are not synonyms.

Update: I should add that this is not just a pet peeve, although it is that as well. It is in fact an issue which arises literally every day. We read unemployment statistics specified with a precision of the nearest 0.1%, which helps to make us forget that the the number is very much inaccurate, with the real value far outside the implied 0.1% precision. Likewise, we daily hear about polls telling us that a candidate is leading by some percent, again almost always specified to the nearest 0.1%, and almost always with an accuracy (and I'm not referring to the standard deviation) that is far outside the implied precision, thanks to the myriad of systematic errors which can plague such estimates.

Why stop here? There's more...

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