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One of the two categories of errors of observation and measurement, the other category being systematic error. Random errors are the errors which occur when irregular, randomly occurring conditions affect the observing instrument, the observer and the environment, and the quantity being observed so that observations of the same quantity made with the same equipment and observer under the same observing conditions result in different values of the observed quantity. Random errors depend upon (1) the quality of the observing instrument. (2) the skill of the observer, particularly, the ability to estimate the fraction of the smallest division or graduation on the observing instrument, and (3) randomly fluctuating conditions such as temperature, pressure, refraction, etc. For many types of observations, random errors are characterized by the following properties: (1) positive and negative errors of the same magnitude are about equal in number, (2) small errors occur more frequently than large errors. and (3) extremely large errors rarely occur. These properties of random errors permit the use of a mathematical law called the Gaussian or normal distribution of errors to calculate the probability that the random error of any given observation of a series of observations will lie within certain limits. Random error might more properly be called deviation since mathematically, the random error of an individual observation is calculated as the difference or deviation between the actual observation and an improved or adjusted value of the observation obtained by some mathematical technique such as averaging all the observations. Also called ACCIDENTAL ERROR, CHANCE ERROR, IRREGULAR ERROR, STATISTICAL ERROR.

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