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How Accurate Is the Standard Second?

Eran Tal
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 78, No. 5 (December 2011), pp. 1082-1096
DOI: 10.1086/662268
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/662268
Page Count: 15
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How Accurate Is the Standard Second?
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Abstract

Contrary to the claim that measurement standards are absolutely accurate by definition, I argue that unit definitions do not completely fix the referents of unit terms. Instead, idealized models play a crucial semantic role in coordinating the theoretical definition of a unit with its multiple concrete realizations. The accuracy of realizations is evaluated by comparing them to each other in light of their respective models. The epistemic credentials of this method are examined and illustrated through an analysis of the contemporary standardization of time. I distinguish among five senses of “measurement accuracy” and clarify how idealizations enable the assessment of accuracy in each sense.

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