When was the data collected?
When it comes to research, I’ve learnt that it’s not uncommon for data to be collected over several years before it’s analysed and published. I always make sure to find out when the data was collected and to consider if anything might have changed since then.
What were the data collection methods?
A major reason why statistics might be inaccurate is because of the way the data was collected. It’s important to consider how many people were surveyed, and how they were chosen. Do the people surveyed reflect the whole population, or are only certain demographics (characteristics of a population, such as age, income, or education level) represented? The data collector should explain their methods in detail. I make sure to think critically and look for information about what was or was not included in the data collection.
Is there other data that supports this?
I always try to compare the statistics in one source with other sources. Do different sources provide similar numbers? Some major sources for statistics are government agencies, like the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and independent, non-partisan (not biased toward any particular political group) research centres such as the Australia Institute or the Pew Research Center in the United States.
Can I trust the story the authors are telling with these statistics?
Just because a statistic seems accurate, it doesn’t mean the entire argument is true. Statistics can be misused, for example, if an author assumes the results from one study under specific circumstances will always be true in other contexts as well. Even multiple accurate statistics may not necessarily “prove” an argument if they’re used out of context. A solid argument needs to be logically consistent and should not be based on statistics alone.