Men in Tights?

One of the first movies my parents took me to see was Disney’s Robin Hood in 1973. This was back in the days when movies were viewed in theaters and TV was still black and white for most people. One of Robin’s most redeeming qualities is his prowess as an archer. He simply never misses his target. Well maybe not so much in Mel Brook’s rendition of Robin Hood Men in Tights!

We have been talking about agreement lately and last time we covered precision (see Repeat After Me). We discussed that precision is most often associated with random error around the expected measure. So, now you are thinking: how about the possibility of systematic error? You are right. Let’s take Robin Hood as an example. If he were to loose 3 arrows at a target and all of them were to land in the bulls-eye then you would say that he has good precision – all arrows were grouped together – and good accuracy as all arrows landed in the same ring. Accuracy is a measure of “trueness”. The least amount of bias without knowing the true value.  Now if all 3 arrows landed in the same ring but in different areas of the target he would have good accuracy – all 3 arrows receive the same points for being in the same ring – but poor precision as they are not grouped together.

As agreement is a measure of “closeness” between readings, it is not surprising then that it is a broader term that contains both accuracy and precision. You are interested in how much random error is affecting your ability to measure something AND whether or not there also exists a systematic shift in the values of your measure. The first results in an increased level of background noise (variability) and the latter in the shift of the mean of your measures away from the truth. Both important when considering overall agreement.

OK, take a break and watch Shrek Robin Hood. The first of a series is always the best…

Now the concepts of accuracy and precision originated in the physical sciences. Not to be outdone, the social sciences decided to define their own terms of agreement – validity and reliability. We will discuss these next time after you listen to Bryan Adams – Everything I Do from the Robin Hood soundtrack. Great tune.

See you in the blogosphere,

Pascal Tyrrell