How do you check whether a statistical study makes sense?

To check whether a statistical study and its conclusions make sense, being a critical and informed consumer of information is important. In this tutorial, I will walk you through some key steps and principles to help you evaluate statistical information using real-world examples from sources like news reports and product ratings. 

  1. Identify the source: First and foremost, consider where the information is coming from. Is it a reputable source? For example, if you’re reading a news article about a recent health study, make sure to check if the study was published in a well-respected, peer-reviewed journal. Credible sources help ensure that the conclusions are more reliable.
  2. Understand the sample: When evaluating a study, pay attention to the sample size and the method used to collect the data. For instance, if a blog post claims that 90% of people prefer a particular brand of toothpaste, check if they surveyed a large and diverse group of people. Small or biased samples can lead to misleading conclusions.
  3. Check for potential biases: It’s important to recognize any biases that may influence the results or interpretation of the study. For example, if a social media post claims that a certain diet leads to significant weight loss, check if the study was funded by a company that sells diet products. Such a conflict of interest might lead to biased conclusions.
  4. Look for causation vs. correlation: When reading about research findings, it’s crucial to differentiate between correlation (when two variables tend to occur together) and causation (when one variable causes another). For instance, a news report might say that drinking coffee is linked to a longer life. While this might be true, it’s important to understand that correlation does not imply causation – other factors might contribute to the observed relationship.
  5. Be cautious of generalizations: Some studies might draw broad conclusions based on limited data. For example, a product rating might claim that a certain type of shoe is the most comfortable for everyone. However, comfort is subjective, and this statement might not apply to everyone. Be wary of conclusions that seem to overgeneralize or oversimplify findings.
  6. Understand the margin of error: In any study, there’s always a degree of uncertainty. The margin of error represents this uncertainty and helps you understand how precise the study’s results are. For example, an advertisement might claim that their product is preferred by 80% of customers, with a margin of error of 5%. This means the true percentage could be anywhere between 75% and 85%.
  7. Use common sense: Lastly, trust your instincts and use common sense. If a conclusion seems too good to be true or conflicts with other reputable sources, it’s worth taking a closer look and questioning the validity of the study. 


By considering these principles, you’ll be better equipped to critically evaluate statistical information and make informed decisions based on the conclusions presented in news reports, blog posts, social media, advertisements, and product ratings.