ISO Terminology – globally harmonized or gobbledygook – 6/2005

June 11, 2005

One of my hobbies is foreign languages, so if it were required to communicate clinical chemistry information in a foreign language, regardless of the language chosen, this would be entertaining for me. However, hobbies aside, one has to ask how useful is the current trend towards “global harmonization of terminology.”

Consider the following passage:

“The total error of that assay was marginal – the within-run imprecision was good but interferences caused accuracy problems. For details, see the appendix.”

Translated into an ISO globally harmonized version gives:

“The accuracy of that measurand was marginal – the repeatability was good but influence quantities caused bias problems. For details, see the annex.”

For most speakers or readers of English, the comprehensibility of the second version has decreased. This is particularly troublesome since statistical concepts are difficult, and changing terms often makes their comprehension more difficult. For example, consider some sections for the ISO accuracy definition (1).

  • Accuracy is a qualitative concept
  • Accuracy cannot be given a numerical value in terms of the measurand, only descriptions such as ‘sufficient’ or ‘insufficient’ for a stated purpose.
  • Accuracy of measurement is related to both trueness of measurement and precision of measurement;

What does all of this mean? For one, in ISO terms, the phrase “The accuracy for 95% of the results was between ± 5 mmol/L.” would be incorrect. This is a little difficult to understand since if this result met the accuracy goal, it would be correct in ISO terms to state: “The accuracy was sufficient.” Moreover, prior to global harmonization, accuracy meant how much bias there was. As an ISO term, accuracy refers to errors from all sources (e.g., bias and imprecision) so this means, every time accuracy is used, one must try to determine which definition was intended.

How many people will use the word measurand? What’s wrong with the word assay or analyte? What does “influence quantity” offer over interference?

Consider the simple words “annex” and “appendix” (2).

Appendix is defined as definition 1 as “additional or supplemental material at the end of a book or other writing”

Annex is defined as definition 5 c and noted as archaic as “a section added as to a document or addendum”

Remember Esperanto?


  1. See, click on harmonized terminology database.
  2. Webster’s New World Dictionary Third College Edition. Neufelfdt, Ed. 1988 Simon and Schuster, New York.