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Systematic Error

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A systematic  error  refers   to  a  nonrandom  statistical  error   which  causes  the  mean  of  several  separate  measurements  to  differ   significantly  from   the  actual  value (Muema , 2008).  Systematic  error  is  used  to  define  the  bias  between  the  mean  of   two  measured  values. Systematic  error  can  also  be  regarded  as  the  difference  between  a  computed  or  measured  value  and  the  true  value  stated  theoretically .  for  instance, in  an  experiment  to  determine  the  acceleration  due  to  gravity , the  measured  value  can  be  less  or  greater  than  the  theoretical  value  which  is  9.8 N/KG (Muema , 2008).

Systematic  errors  can  either  be  constant  or   related  to  the  true  value.  Constant  errors  are  not  simple  to  handle  because  their  effects  are  only  noticed  when  done  away  with.  They  cannot  be  removed  though  through  repeating  the  measurements  or  by  obtaining  averages.  They  can  only  be  removed  by  calibrating  the  measuring  instrument  in  order  to  eliminate  the  zero  error (Muema , 2008).  Systematic  errors  which  change  during  an  experiment  are  easier  to  detect.  Firstly ,a       Systematic  error  in a  measurement  can  be  caused  by  poor/imperfect  calibration  of  the  measuring  instrument .  This  is  what  is  popularly  referred  to  as  the zero  error (Fisher ,1966). This  results  to  a  constant  zero  error.  In  this  case ,  the  first  mark  in  the  measuring  instrument  could  be  ahead  of  its  usual  position.  For  instance,  if  a  stop  watch  used  to  measure  time  in  an  experiment  starts  with  one  second  on  the  clock  instead  of  zero,  then  all  readings  obtained  are  off  by  one  second ( Fisher , 1966).  If  the  experiment  is   repeated  several  times  and  the  timer  starts  at  the  same  position  each  time , then  a  big  percentage  error  is  recorded .The  final  result ends  up  being  larger  than  the  actual  value. Secondly , systematic  error  can  be  attributed  to  changes  in  the  environment  which  interferes  with  the  measurement  process . For  instance , when  a  ruler  is  use d  to  measure  length , expansion  of  the  ruler  occasioned  by  high  temperatures  can  lead  to  a  wrong  value.  If  on  the  other hand  the  ruler  contracts  due  to  low  temperatures , then  a  value  smaller  than  the  true  value  is  recorded (Fisher , 1966). 

Systematic  errors  can  also  be  caused  by  an  estimate  based  on  the  physical  law.  For  instance  during  an  experiment  involving  pendulum  oscillations , if  the  movement  of  the  support  is  not  taken  into  account  when  estimating  the  pendulum’s  frequency , then  an  error  occurs (Fisher , 1966).  A  systematic  error  can  also  occur  if  readings  are  taken  at  any  other  angle  other than  90  degrees  to  the  instrument’s  scale.  This  is  what  is  called  a   parallax  error (Muema , 2008).

A  systematic  error  attributable  to  zero  error  can  be  mitigated  by  resetting  the  instrument  immediately  before  measurements  are taken.  If  this  error  is  not  corrected  at  this  stage ,  then  one  can  mitigate  it  by   subtracting  its  value  from  the  readings (Muema , 2008).  For  instance  in  the  case  of  an  experiment  involving  measurement  of  time  whereby  the  timer  starts  with  one  second  on  the  clock , then  to  get  the  true  values , one  has  to  subtract  one  second  from  all  values  if  the  error  cannot  be  avoided  by  resetting  the  timer (Muema , 2008). 

To  recognize  these  systematic  errors , one  can  compare  the  measurements  with  those  obtained  using  a  different  apparatus   perceived  to  be  more  accurate.  For  instance  in  the  above  experiment  involving  measurement  of  time , if  the  stop  watch  used  gives  readings which  are  randomly  distributed  about the mean,  a  systematic  error  can  be  realized  by  checking  the  stopwatch  against  a  speaking  clock  of  the  telephone  system  which  is  considered  to  be  more  accurate(Muema , 2008) .  If  the  stopwatch  is  found   to  be   running  slower  or  faster  than  the  stopwatch ,  then  there  is  a   systematic  error.  Systematic  errors  can  also  be  detected  if  quantities  which  are  already  known  are  measured  using  the  instrument.  In  the  case  of  parallax  error , taking  measurements  from  an  angle  of  90  degrees  to  the  scale  can  mitigate the  error (Muema , 2008). 

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