The Economic Impact of Metrology

or … It pays to be accurate

Robert L. Watters, Jr., Ph.D., Chief, Measurement Services Division - NIST

Metrologists sometimes have a hard time explaining what they do and why it is important. Once you get past the task of explaining that it has nothing to do with the weather (meteorology), words like “measurement infrastructure” tend to cause audience eyes to glaze over. However, there are good stories to tell that the general public – even Congressional staffers – can relate to, and there are formalized impact studies that lay out hard numbers like benefit-to-cost ratios and return on investment.

It’s important to be able to point to the anecdotes and examples that anyone can understand and appreciate, because our chosen field of endeavor rarely makes the headlines, involves considerable investment, and requires patience for the payoff. The evidence of social benefit ranges from improving air quality, to better medical testing accuracy, to longer automobile warranty periods.

Economic impact studies complement these examples with hard evidence that a dollar invested in metrology returns may more. However, impact studies are a bit tricky and very expensive to do, but over the years the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has conducted 19 such studies that cover a wide range of metrology areas and show an average benefit-to-cost ratio of over 45.

In this talk, I will give some examples of the historical beginnings of metrology, and some examples that show current economic and social benefits. I will also outline the methods used by NIST for its economic impact studies and I will present the details for some of those studies.

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