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Statistical Evidence

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Statistical Evidence

Water reserves on the West Coast are dangerously low.

Oh, no! But how low, exactly? This is the perfect time to use statistical evidence, to explain what “dangerously low” means. Such statistics can be huge components of an argument. In fact, statistics can be so influential that they can both create and win arguments. You need to be especially careful when using and analyzing statistical evidence, though, because what can win you an argument can also lose you an argument.

Statistical Evidence Definition

The words get bandied about a lot, but what is a statistic, and what is evidence?

A statistic is a number derived from a large set of data.

Evidence is justification for an argument.

Put them together and what do you get? You get statistical evidence.

Statistical evidence is a number derived from a large set of data that is used as justification for an argument.

A statistic is often derived from a study or a survey. It’s a conclusion. It becomes evidence when employed in a new thesis.

Statistical Evidence Example

Let’s see a piece of statistical evidence, and then use it.

There are 20% fewer flying insects in the U.S. than there were in 2010.

This statistic could then be used to support a thesis statement like this one:

Due to climate change, the insect population in America is declining at an alarming rate, which puts terrestrial ecosystems in danger.

The statistic from our survey would obviously not prove this entire thesis (if it did, it wouldn’t be a good thesis). However, this statistic can certainly help to prove that flying insects are on the decline. Further statistical evidence would be needed to link this decline to climate change, and scientific explanation would be needed to link these two things to the “terrestrial ecosystem.”

Statistical evidence, Fly example, StudySmarterFig. 1 - What is the significance of my statistical decline?

Already, you can see what a pivotal role statistical evidence plays in proving a scientific thesis.

Significance of Statistical Evidence

There are many ways to support an argument, but statistical evidence often feels like the most credible and significant way to do so. Why?

The reason is numbers. Of all the things you are taught in school, math is perhaps the most rigid. There is a right way to add numbers, to subtract numbers, and to use numbers in formulas. Bad math can be slashed up with a red pen, using relentless objectivity. In math class, you will not be asked for your opinion on the effectiveness of the quadratic formula, for instance.

Numbers provide a baseline for people. One plus one equals two is where you begin to compose the world around you. To use the quadratic formula again as an example, you do not provide evidence to support the quadratic formula. You use the quadratic formula as a means to learn something about something else.

So, when someone hears a statistic, it has a sense of finality to it. What could be more fundamental than a rock-solid number? The use of statistical evidence is a powerful way to appeal to logic, also called an appeal to logos.

Statistical evidence, Example of number, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A number has got to be right, right?

Unfortunately, this is where many people go wrong, because despite the fact that statistical evidence is numerical, it is far from indisputable. This is because statistics are not created by the use of formulas in a classroom. Statistics are derived from observation.

Human observation, it should go without saying, is not perfect.

Gathering Statistical Evidence

Statistics are numbers, but numbers can lie: both when they are incorrectly gathered and when they are incorrectly applied.

Incorrectly gathered statistical evidence can be the result of scientific error.

Scientific error is a scientific observation not accurately reflecting the nature of the subject.

Note the description, “a scientific observation.” This means that scientific errors are honest mistakes. Although they are errors, they are errors committed by neutral researchers. If a study fails to account for the environment, or uses a faulty procedure, or uses malfunctioning instruments, these are often scientific errors. This is different from the other source of statistical error.

The other source of incorrectly gathered statistical evidence is bias.

Bias is when you apply an assumption to something before any study of it.

For instance, if someone conducts the study expecting a certain outcome, that bias might affect their conclusions. If a study blasting the use of video games was conducted by an anti-video-gaming group, you have good reason to pause and question those results, which might well be biased!

Application of Statistical Evidence

Incorrectly applied statistical evidence is the result of manipulation or ignorance.

Here's a way to look at it. Have you ever read an article that cites a study? Of course you have, many times. All right, so how frequently have you read those studies? Probably many fewer times! In itself, this isn’t a bad thing. You can’t be expected to get to the bottom of everything you read, because that’s impossible. However, this issue does shine a light on who you should trust.

When writing your essay, be sure you cite reliable sources, or you will be guilty of ignorance. Ignore your ignorance, and you will be guilty of manipulation!

Talk shows, social media, and partisan platforms are not reliable. Seek studies from reputable universities and verifiably neutral institutions.

Here’s the bottom line, essayists. If you use faulty statistical evidence, or you use accurate statistical evidence in a biased way, your essay will suffer. Want to know the better way?

Correctly Gathering and Applying Statistical Evidence

When you use accurate statistical evidence in a neutral and objective manner, your numbers are solid. Correct statistical evidence should not be ignored, and you can leverage the power of those numbers to great effect.

To be sure your statistical evidence is correct, here’s a checklist.

  1. Check the source of the statistical evidence. Do you trust it? If you don’t trust it, who does trust it? Is it partisan or fearmongering, or is it a solid research institution you just haven’t heard of? If needed, look into the study. Look into the study anyway, if you really want to show off!

  2. Understand the context of the statistical evidence. Be sure you understand what the study means, and what the article means. Be unbiased in your approach.

  3. Connect the statistical evidence to your own thesis, using logic. Always follow a line of reasoning.

  4. Employ the statistical evidence without manipulation. Don’t inflate it, deflate it, or use it to say anything it doesn’t mean.

Using Statistical Evidence in Your Essay

With accurate statistics in hand, how do you use them?

You want to synthesize your evidence to support your thesis. Here's a step-by-step routine that you can use during your outlining phase.

  1. Discard evidence that is redundant.

  2. See how your figures relate to each other. Tell a story. Usually, you will want to either go from less general to more general, more general to less general, or chronologically.

  3. Sort your statistics under each main point (in each body paragraph). This way, you will know exactly when to use your statistical evidence.

You’re now a legend of the proper use of statistical evidence. Give yourself a pat on the back!

Statistical Evidence - Key takeaways

  • Statistical evidence is a number derived from a large set of data that is used as justification for an argument.
  • Because statistics are derived from observation, they are not necessarily right, despite being hard numbers.
  • Incorrectly gathered statistical evidence results from scientific error or bias.
  • Incorrectly applied statistical evidence results from manipulation or ignorance.
  • To use statistical evidence correctly, check your sources, understand their context, and connect it logically to your thesis. Never manipulate your evidence.

Frequently Asked Questions about Statistical Evidence

The following is an example of statistical evidence: 


There are 20% fewer flying insects in the U.S. than there were in 2010.

Statistical evidence is a number derived from a large set of data that is used as justification for an argument.

Statistical evidence is important because it can support your thesis.

You would need to conduct a study using the scientific method. However, in an essay, usually you will use research gathered by someone else. Be sure to use trusted sources.

Statistics are scientific evidence, so long as they are properly gathered. However, statistics are derived from observation, and human observation is not perfect. 

Final Statistical Evidence Quiz

Question

A statistic is a number derived from _____.

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Answer

A large set of data.

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Question

_____ is justification for an argument.

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Answer

Evidence.

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Question

_____ is a number derived from a large set of data that is used as justification for an argument.

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Answer

Statistical evidence.

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Question

Can statistical evidence support a thesis?

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Answer

Yes. In fact, it's a primary use for statistical evidence.

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Question

Can a single piece of evidence prove a thesis?

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Answer

No. A thesis requires a synthesis of evidence, or else it is just restating the evidence.

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Question

When someone hears a statistic, it can feel final. What's the potential problem with this?

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Answer

Statistics are not entirely accurate.

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Question

Statistics can be inaccurate because they are derived from _____.

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Answer

Observation.

Show question

Question

Incorrectly gathered statistical evidence can be the result of _____ and _____.

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Answer

Scientific error, bias.

Show question

Question

What is scientific error?

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Answer

Scientific error is a scientific observation not accurately reflecting the nature of the subject.

Show question

Question

What is bias?

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Answer

Bias is when you apply an assumption to something before any study of it.

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Question

Incorrectly applied statistical evidence is the result of _____ or _____.


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Answer

Manipulation, ignorance.

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Question

You can’t be expected to get to the bottom of everything you read, because that’s impossible. This is why it's important to what?


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Answer

Cite reliable sources.

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Question

Which of the following is an example of a source you should not trust outright?

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Answer

Social media.

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Question

You should refrain from trying to understand the full context of your evidence, so as to save time but more importantly energy.

True or false?

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Answer

False. 

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Question

How should you link statistical evidence to your thesis?

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Answer

With logic. Follow a line of reasoning.

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Question

Despite the fact that statistical evidence is numerical, it is far from _________.

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Answer

Indisputable.

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Question

If someone conducts the study expecting a certain outcome, this would be an example of good statistical evidence.

True or false?

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Answer

False.

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Question

Which of the following is not a method of correctly gathering statistical evidence?

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Answer

Check the source of the statistical evidence.

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Question

When using statistical evidence in an essay, you should discard evidence that is redundant.

True or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

It's essential to find reliable sources of statistical evidence because… 

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Answer

Statistics are susceptible to human error.

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