Another dot in the blogosphere?

Not precision, accuracy instead

Posted on: August 30, 2019

I reflect on my recent blog entry on precision and nuance. I made the mistake of equating precision with accuracy. They are not the same thing.

The author of Naked Statistics, Charles Wheelan, distinguished the two. The precision of a number, say a distance to a store from home could be increased by providing more numbers. For example, specifying 1.365km away is more precise than 1km away.

However, the more precise figure is pointless if the person needing to go to that store walks in the wrong direction. Accuracy is about how the figure aligns more with what is factual or truthful. So if you were to provide detailed directions but a fuzzy distance, you would be more accurate.

This led Wheelan to declare that:

If an answer is accurate, then more precision is usually better. But no amount of precision can make up for inaccuracy.

This sounds like a straightforward operating principle in hindsight and my previous reflection would have been better if I had used accurate instead of precise.

Hank Green was accurate about pointing out that the Amazon was being burnt and not just burning. He was actually less precise because not all the fires were man-made.

All that said, the nuance holds true — the words we use create meaning and dissonance. We can choose to perpetuate ignorance (the fires are natural) or teach something new (the fires are not man-made).

With such nuance in mind, I promote the integration of technology and not merely its use; I prefer to focus on learning instead of on teaching; I seek to empower learning and not just to engage learners.

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