Accuracy and precision

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In the fields of science, engineering, industry and statistics, the accuracy of a measurement system is the degree of closeness of measurements of a quantity to its actual (true) value. The precision of a measurement system, also called reproducibility or repeatability, is the degree to which repeated measurements under unchanged conditions show the same results.[1] Although the two words can be synonymous in colloquial use, they are deliberately contrasted in the context of the scientific method.

A measurement system can be accurate but not precise, precise but not accurate, neither, or both. For example, if an experiment contains a systematic error, then increasing the sample size generally increases precision but does not improve accuracy. Eliminating the systematic error improves accuracy but does not change precision.

A measurement system is called valid if it is both accurate and precise. Related terms are bias (non-random or directed effects caused by a factor or factors unrelated by the independent variable) and error (random variability), respectively.

The terminology is also applied to indirect measurements, that is, values obtained by a computational procedure from observed data.

In addition to accuracy and precision, measurements may have also a measurement resolution, which is the smallest change in the underlying physical quantity that produces a response in the measurement.

In the case of full reproducibility, such as in the case of rounding a number to a representable floating point number, the word precision has a meaning not related to reproducibility. For example, in the IEEE 754-2008 standard it means the number of bits in the significand, so it is used as a measure for the relative accuracy with which an arbitrary number can be represented.


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