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While the legend of Robin Hood splitting one arrow with another is well-known, it is also unrealistic.
Biathlon targets are purposely sized many times larger than the bullets the athletes shoot to account for the inherent error and uncertainty involved in long distance riflery.
The French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace discussed a method for quantifying error distributions of astronomical measurements caused by small errors associated with instrument shortcomings as early as 1820.
As technology improved through the 1800s, astronomers realized that they could reduce, but not eliminate this error in their measurements.
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In the first half of the 20th century, an American nuclear chemist by the name of Willard F.
Libby, however, faced a major hurdle with using the instrument to measure C signal he expected to see. In this way, Libby and his colleagues reduced the background signal from 150 cpm to 10 cpm and minimized the variability associated with the signal to "about 5-10% error," or less than 1 cpm.
When Libby began his radiocarbon work in the 1940s, the technology available was still quite new.Before Pearson, scientists realized that their measurements incorporated variability, but they assumed that this variability was simply due to error.For example, measurement of the orbits of planets around the sun taken by different scientists at different times varied, and this variability was thought to be due to errors caused by inadequate instrumentation.Because the method was new, Arnold and Libby were careful to replicate their measurements to provide a detailed estimate of different types of error, and they compared the results of their method with samples of a known age as a control (Table 1).Table 1: Age determinations on samples of known age from Arnold & Libby (1949).The target at left depicts good accuracy as the marks are close to the bullseye, but poor precision; in contrast, the target at right depicts good precision as the marks are grouped closely, but poor accuracy.