Measurements and Uncertainties

In metrology, measurement uncertainty is a non-negative parameter characterizing the dispersion of the values attributed to a measured quantity. All measurements are subject to uncertainty and a measurement result is complete only when it is accompanied by a statement of the associated uncertainty. By international agreement, this uncertainty has a probabilistic basis and reflects incomplete knowledge of the quantity value.

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1.1 . Measurements in physics
1.2 . Uncertainties and errors                                                               
1.3. Vectors and scalars

A measurement tells us about a property of something. It might tell us how heavy an object is, or how hot, or how long it is. A measurement gives a number to that property. Measurements are always made using an instrument of some kind. Rulers, stopwatches, weighing scales, and thermometers are all measuring instruments. The result of a measurement is normally in two parts: a number and a unit of measurement, e.g. ‘How long is it? … 2 metres.’

The uncertainty of a measurement tells us something about its quality. The uncertainty of measurement is the doubt that exists about the result of any measurement. You might think that well-made rulers, clocks and thermometers should be trustworthy, and give the right answers. But for every measurement – even the most careful – there is always a margin of doubt. In everyday speech, this might be expressed as ‘give or take’ … e.g. a stick might be two metres long ‘give or take a centimetre’.

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