University of Sheffield

Tony O'Hagan - Academic pages - Abstracts


Meaningful Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement.

Maurice Cox and Anthony O'Hagan

National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, UK and School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Sheffield, UK.

Publication details: Accreditation and Quality Assurance, 79, 2022.


The Guide to the expression of uncertainty in measurement (GUM) has been the enduring guide on measurement uncertainty for metrologists since its first publication in 1993. According to the GUM, a measurement should always be accompanied by a reasoned and defensible expression of uncertainty, and the primary such expression is the standard uncertainty. In this article, we distinguish between the use of an expression of uncertainty as information for the recipient of a measurement result, and its use when propagating uncertainty about inputs to a measurement model in order to derive the uncertainty in a measurand. We propose a new measure of uncertainty, the characteristic uncertainty, and argue that it is more fit for these purposes than standard uncertainty.

For the purpose of reporting a measurement result, we demonstrate that standard uncertainty does not have a meaningful interpretation for the recipient of a measurement result and can be infinite. These deficiencies are resolved by the characteristic uncertainty, which we therefore recommend for use in reporting. For similar reasons, we advocate the use of the median estimate as the measured value.

For the purpose of propagating uncertainty in a measurement model, we propose simple propagation of the median and characteristic uncertainty and show through some examples that this characteristic uncertainty framework is simpler and at least as reliable and accurate as the propagation of estimate, standard uncertainty and effective degrees of freedom according to the GUM uncertainty framework.

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Updated: 25 January 2022
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