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Proficiency Testing as a Basis for Estimating Uncertainty of Measurement: Application to Forensic Alcohol and Toxicology Quantitations

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While forensic laboratories will soon be required to estimate uncertainties of measurement for those quantitations reported to the end users of the information, the procedures for estimating this have been little discussed in the forensic literature. This article illustrates how proficiency test results provide the basis for estimating uncertainties in three instances: (i) For breath alcohol analyzers the interlaboratory precision is taken as a direct measure of uncertainty. This approach applies when the number of proficiency tests is small. (ii) For blood alcohol, the uncertainty is calculated from the differences between the laboratory’s proficiency testing results and the mean quantitations determined by the participants; this approach applies when the laboratory has participated in a large number of tests. (iii) For toxicology, either of these approaches is useful for estimating comparability between laboratories, but not for estimating absolute accuracy. It is seen that data from proficiency tests enable estimates of uncertainty that are empirical, simple, thorough, and applicable to a wide range of concentrations.
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Keywords: blood alcohol; breath alcohol; data analysis; forensic science; forensic toxicology; proficiency tests; reproducibility; uncertainty of measurement

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Forensic Sciences Laboratory, 800 S. Victoria Avenue, Ventura, CA 93009.

Publication date: 2010-05-01

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