Errors are not just errors

Errors are not just errors! @
M S Sridhar*
We often say, „mistake is a mistake‟ to mean and to emphasise that big or small, both positive and negative mistakes should be condemned. But in real life situations, all of us want „to err on the positive side‟ and „give benefit of doubt‟ while judging Student Declared something or someone. In other words, errors are of two Pass Fail types. Shall we call them harmless, soft or positive error and harmful, harsh and negative error? Take the example of Type I A Correct announcing results of an examination or a test. A student „A‟ Error (α) who has really passed, but the system has by mistake Type II B Correct declared him as failed and another student „B‟, who is really Error (β) failed the test but declared as passed. The former is a negative, harsh and more harmful error than the other. Yet another example is the usual statement about judiciary that „hundred culprits may escape the clutches of law, but one innocent should not be punished‟. In other words, our judiciary system should be such that we should have least errors in punishing innocents (type I error) even if it amounts to some culprits escaping from the clutches of law (type II error). This is exactly what the statistics does in hypothesis testing in terms of Type I error and Type II error. It is interesting that if we try to decrease one type of error, we risk increase in the probability of committing the other type of error. A kind of trade off or balancing is required to be done by decision maker taking into consideration costs and penalties of both types of errors. In other words, both types of errors cannot be reduced simultaneously. This is akin to the fact that both precision and recall cannot be simultaneously reduced in information retrieval systems. In testing of hypothesis the margin of error is determined in advance as level of significance for a given sample size. Sensitivity and Specificity of Tests and Likelihood Ratio (LR) In health sciences the above two types of errors Disease Test are dealt as sensitivity and specificity of test. The Positive (+ve) Negative (-ve) sensitivity of a test is the proportion of those with the disease who also have a +ve test results, p (T+/D+) p(T-/D+) Present i.e., it is probability of those having disease and (Sensitivity) tested positive {p(T+)}. The specificity of the p(T+/D-) p(T-/D-) Absent test is the proportion of those without disease and (Specificity) who also have a –ve test result, i.e., it is probability of those tested negative and not having disease {p(D-)}. Likelihood Ratio = Sensitivity/ 1- Specificity = p (T+/D+) / 1 - p(T+/D-) The test can also be applied in non-medical circumstances. For example, sensitivity of a stock verification is the probability of the proportion of items, which are actually available as compared to the total number reported as available and the specificity of the test is the probability of the proportion of items, which are actually missing as compared to those reported as missing.
M S Sridhar

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Errors are not just errors

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“Errors are not just errors! (Guest Editorial)”, SRELS Journal of Information Management, 47 (6) December 2010, 597-598.

*

Former Head, Library and Documentation, ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore 560017.

Address: 1103, „Mirle House‟, 19th B Main, J P Nagar 2nd Phase, Bangalore – 560078; Ph: 26593312; Mobile: 9964063960; E-mail: mirlesridhar@gmail.com

M S Sridhar

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