Columbia University PHYSICS LABORATORY TUTORIAL

5.2. Systematic Errors

Systematic errors are errors associated with a flaw in the equipment or in the design of the experiment. Systematic errors cannot be estimated by repeating the experiment with the same equipment. Consider again the example of measuring an oscillation period with a stopwatch. Suppose that the stopwatch is running slow. This will lead to underestimation of all our time results. Systematic errors, unlike random errors, shift the results always in one direction.

Systematic errors are much harder to estimate than random errors. After all, how could we have known beforehand that our stopwatch was unreliable? In order to identify systematic errors, we should understand the nature of the experiment and the instruments involved. Sometimes you will encounter significant systematic errors in your experiments. If you suspect that your measurements are biased, you should try to identify the possible sources of systematic error.

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