Truth versus precision


A typical difference between social science and natural science is the degree in which control is possible. Strategies in both sciences to obtain true facts are consequently different. Measurement errors are due to background noise. Laboratories are environments in which background conditions can be controlled. As a result, accurate observations { measurement results close to the true values of the measurands { can only be obtained in laboratories. Therefore, measuring instruments are built such that they function as mini laboratories. However, observations in social science are usually passive, in the sense that control of background conditions is impossible. Models are built to solve this problem of (lack of) control. They function as nonmaterial laboratories by aiming at precision, that is reducing the spread of the measurement errors. The application of models as measuring instruments necessitates a shift of the requirement of accuracy to the requirement of precision, which is a feature of the instrument and not of the environment.



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Marcel Boumans
Utrecht University

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Measurement in Science.Eran Tal - 2015 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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