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Finding Statistics: Evaluating Statistics

Archivist & Special Collections Librarian

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Christina Wolf
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Why Evaluate?

We've all heard how it's possible to "lie" with statistics.

Because of that, it's important to evaluate statistics so that you aren't manipulated into believing claims backed up with numbers, facts, and figures. 

How to Evaluate Statistics

Ask yourself these questions when attempting to evaluate statistical data: 

  • Authority--Who is the author? What are the author's qualifications/authority? 
     
  • Date--What is the date range of the data, and is it supposed to be historical or current? 
     
  • Purpose--What type of publication are the data published in, and who is the intended audience? Is the data clearly represented?
     
  • Content--Are the statistics accurate? Can they be verified? Does there appear to be bias? 
     
  • Coverage--Is the coverage complete? What is the population, or sample size, of the study? For example, the sample size of the dicennial U.S. Census is theoretically the total number of people in the United States. However, sample sizes of most other studies, surveys, and polls will be much smaller. 
     
  • Presentation--Has the data been repackaged? For example, government data published by a private source might not be as complete as the original study. 
     
  • Data Source--Is the data from a primary? If the data are from a secondary source (such as the Statistical Abstract), has it been properly documented so you can find the primary source?