Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Error Bars

In making a graph of experimental data, our ability to interpret the information is greatly improved by including an indication of the data uncertainty. This measure is referred to as an "error bar". So, in the figure shown here, for a given value along the x-axis, the plot shows the measured value of the data on the y-axis along with its assigned uncertainty or fuzziness. Errors bars allow you to gain a better understanding of how seriously to take the data that has been put forth, which then assists in determining how much weight should be given to any interpretations of the data.

The notion of error bars kind of got me to thinking of how different our world would be if the words that people uttered came with some measure of their uncertainty. Imagine if an error bar showed up over our heads as we spoke. It seems like this would significantly reduce the level of panic within the general population due to national sabre rattling of power-hungry political leaders and heads-of-state. It would smooth out the completely artificial fluctuations in the world's trade markets induced by rumors and suggestions. It would reduce the stock people put into the gossip that they hear. Perhaps, more importantly, it would help individuals to better understand the people that they interact with and to respond to them with more compassion and love.