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Re: Olympic data

Athletes are often ranked on the basis of experimental measurements of
time intervals. My impression is that differences between some outcomes
are too small to be meaningful.

I think it depends on your intended meaning of "meaningful." I would
agree that the differences are too small to clearly sort out who is
"the best runner," for instance, but I think they are likely not too
small to answer the questions about who required the smallest elapsed
time after the sounding of the starting gun to cross the finish the
line. Answering the latter question depends primarily on having a
clock that accurately keeps time (easy) and that correctly starts and
stops at the prescribed instants (perhaps a little easier for the
start than the finish in running races.)

This is similar to an example I use in intro lab to begin discussion
of measurement uncertainties: When using a stopwatch the resulting
indicated time is an extremely accurate answer to the very specific
question, "How much time elapsed between the two pressings of the
start-stop button?" However, that is never a question whose answer
has any inherent interest. One must further consider the myriad
reasons for which THAT time might differ from the time that IS of

John Mallinckrodt
Cal Poly Pomona