Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Connor's Recurring Nightmare or "Accuracy Vs. Precision"

I'll admit it, I'm a nitpicker. If you know me personally, or have read the blog to great length, here's the point where you silently nod your head. As with any nitpicker, I have the unfortunate habit of cringing every time someone uses a word that isn't entirely appropriate in the circumstances.

Paintball is riddled with such a word, and it comes up all the time, so in this post I'll make my point and that's the last you'll hear of it (no promises). The word of the day is...


The word accuracy and variants thereof are ubiquitous in paintball. But the context in which is used is almost always erroneous. To understand what accuracy and its more appropriate counterpart (in a paintball context) precision, represent look at this diagram:

Now for the definitions (Oxford):

  • Accuracy: The degree to which the result of a measurement, calculation, or specification conforms to the correct value or a standard.
  • Precision: Refinement in a measurement, calculation, or specification, esp. as represented by the number of digits given.
In less shitty terms (those really are crappy definitions), precision is the measure of reproducibility or consistency, while accuracy is the measure of exactness (once again, go look at the diagrams I posted for it to make sense).

No paintball marker or barrel improves the accuracy of a paintball marker, while almost every bit of ad copy produced in the paintball industry claims this much. It's not that paintball manufacturers should be striving for accuracy, it just doesn't make sense. Because of the velocity limitations (300 fps across the board), no one paintball marker can be considered more accurate than another. This doesn't take into account First Strike rounds, they do improve accuracy because they retain their velocity better than a normal paintball.

What good paintball markers and barrels do change, is the precision of volleys of paintballs. A nicely designed barrel will make your shots much more consistent, and by knowing your set-up you can make your shots more "accurate" (by knowing precisely how inaccurate your marker is). 

So next time someone uses the word "accurate" when talking about their ridiculously "awesome" 20lb sniper set-up, go ahead and let your inner smartass tell them the difference between accurate and precise.

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