ScholarShift Stories: Numbers Shouldn’t Lie

October 24, 2016

Module teaches students the correct way to conduct research and gather solid data through statistics.

Though you have likely heard of the popular saying, “numbers don’t lie,” it’s also true that research statistics are often collected and applied in misleading or incorrect ways. With that concept in mind, Math and Science Instructor James Taylor led a ScholarShift module that guided students through a foundational method to help them gather solid research data through the use of statistics. 

After studying and discussing the methodology of gathering trustworthy data during the module’s first two October sessions, Taylor asked participating students to poll 30 SSM students on who they planned to vote for in Monday’s mock presidential election. 

While the question appeared to be a simple one, Taylor stressed that several factors could lead to potentially misleading results. Often times, a slight variation in exactly how a question is asked, or which students are asked (and which are passed over) can significantly skew the data.

“Getting good data is not easy,” Taylor said. “There is much more involved in doing good research than just asking people questions. Stats is all about how to ask the right people the right questions the right way so that you can learn something about a larger group by taking just a small sample of it.”

For students, the key to solid research data lies in the details.

“Stats is magic, and can tell us things that would otherwise be unknowable, but there are a lot of ways to do it badly,” Taylor said. “Your conclusions are only as good as the data you work with, and if you take samples that do not accurately reflect your area of study, your results will be wrong.”