chapter  6
10 Pages

Uncertainty in the Physical Sciences: How Big? How Small? Is It Actually There At All?

ByStephen J. Buckman

Physical scientists are obsessed with measuring things, and the things they attempt to measure range between the biggest and smallest in the universe. In fact, even the size and age of the universe itself is of intense interest, and the determination of something this big can, paradoxically, involve measurements of extremely small quantities. Scientists also take pride from the fact that their investigations are designed to lead to the ‘truth’ of a given situation in nature. But with every experimental measurement, and with most complex theoretical calculations, there is an error or uncertainty involved which, by its very nature, can blur the truth. Indeed every experimental measurement has inaccuracies and it is critically important, in drawing conclusions from them, to know the extent of these inaccuracies and how they may be minimized. Thus this measurement obsession is usually accompanied with an even greater obsession as to how accurately one has made such measurements, and just how close to the truth we are.