The Misuse of Margins of Error to Confuse

In every scientific study, there should be a margin of error which indicates the accuracy of the data it collects. The ways in which margins of error are determined fall outside of the scope of this brief essay, but the important part is that they’re there. Data from a study may be non-indicative of a particular conclusion because it falls within the margin of error, so this is something to watch out for so that you’re not deceived by claims of this nature.

The margin of error is the extent to which data may vary in reality from the sample that is collected. So, a study may poll randomly-selected members of a state on their intentions to vote for a particular candidate in a state election, citing that the margin of error is ±5% of the actual data. Thus, if it is recorded that 45% of individuals intend to vote for candidate A, it may work out in reality that 50% or 40% intend to, because the margin of error is ±5%. The deceit occurs when advances a claim that relies on a difference found within that margin of error. Take, for example, a study that indicates that 47% of citizens favor candidate A and 53% favor candidate B, with the margin of error being ±5%. It would be fallacious for someone to assert that candidate B is more favored since, according to the margin of error, it may practically work out that 51% of citizens favor candidate A and 49% of citizens favor candidate B. If the margin of error on an IQ test is ±3 points and person A’s results are 101 while person B’s results are 99, it would be incorrect to assert that person A is more intelligent because it could easily be the case that person A has an actual IQ of 98 while person B has an IQ of 102. Thus, asserting differences that fall within a margin of error can easily be incorrect in actuality.

When dealing with claims that rely on scientific studies, be mindful of the margin of error within the study. If a false state of the claim is within the margin of error, then the claim should not be accepted as being true. Rather, the claim rests upon evidence that is non-indicative of either falsehood or truth. Be mindful of the margin of error of studies which are used to support particular claims.


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