About Random Errors in Measurements

About random errors in measurements

Random errors are perturbations of the measurement either side of the true value caused by random and unpredictable effects, such that positive errors and negative errors occur in approximately equal numbers for a series of measurements made of the same quantity. Such perturbations are mainly small, but large perturbations occur from time to time, again unpredictably. Random errors often arise when measurements are taken by human observation of an analog meter, especially where this involves interpolation between scale points. Electrical noise can also be a source of random errors.


To a large extent, random errors can be overcome by taking the same measurement a number of times and extracting a value by averaging or other statistical techniques. However, any quantification of the measurement value and statement of error bounds remains a statistical quantity. Because of the nature of random errors and the fact that large perturbations in the measured quantity occur from time to time, the best that we can do is to express measurements in probabilistic terms: we may be able to assign a 95% or even 99% confidence level that the measurement is a certain value within error bounds of, say, 1%, but we can never attach a 100% probability to measurement values which are subject to random errors.

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