Why Do I Care if My Data Are Reliable?

Truth matters! We base our individual decisions, opinions, and plans on available information—assessing the reliability and credibility of that information helps ensure the soundness of our thinking. Especially in the internet environment where misinformation and untruths can be spread instantly and widely, critical thinking skills are essential to sift through the noise.

Data need to be examined in the same way you are taught to evaluate all information—by taking into account the source of the data, its credibility, and its objectivity.

What happens when unreliable data are used?

Repercussions can be serious. For example, the decennial U.S. Census of Population and Housing is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Results are used to redraw congressional districts and are also used as a basis for allocating federal funds to states and local communities. An inaccurate or incomplete count can have a negative impact on your community, as well as on you and your family.

A number of books in the popular literature highlight numerous cases of how bad data or incorrect interpretation/use of data have led to undesirable consequences. Two well-known examples include:

  • Darrell Huff, How to Lie with Statistics, W. W. Norton, 1954.

  • Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise, Penguin Group, 2012.

Watch the short video below for an example from history of how bad data can lead to incorrect conclusions!