La valeur de l'incertitude : l'évaluation de la précision des mesures physiques et les limites de la connaissance expérimentale

Dissertation, Université Sorbonne Paris Cité Université Paris.Diderot (Paris 7) (2016)
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Abstract : A measurement result is never absolutely accurate: it is affected by an unknown “measurement error” which characterizes the discrepancy between the obtained value and the “true value” of the quantity intended to be measured. As a consequence, to be acceptable a measurement result cannot take the form of a unique numerical value, but has to be accompanied by an indication of its “measurement uncertainty”, which enunciates a state of doubt. What, though, is the value of measurement uncertainty? What is its numerical value: how does one calculate it? What is its epistemic value: how one should interpret a measurement result? Firstly, we describe the statistical models that scientists make use of in contemporary metrology to perform an uncertainty analysis, and we show that the issue of the interpretation of probabilities is vigorously debated. This debate brings out epistemological issues about the nature and function of physical measurements, metrologists insisting in particular on the subjective aspect of measurement. Secondly, we examine the philosophical elaboration of metrologists in their technical works, where they criticize the use of the notion of “true value” of a physical quantity. We then challenge this elaboration and defend such a notion. The third part turns to a specific use of measurement uncertainty in order to address our thematic from the perspective of precision physics, considering the activity of the adjustments of physical constants. In the course of this activity, physicists have developed a dynamic conception of the accuracy of their measurement results, oriented towards a future progress of knowledge, and underlining the epistemic virtues of a never-ending process of identification and correction of measurement errors.

Author's Profile

Fabien Grégis
Université Paris Diderot (PhD)


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