Statistics has to do with the collection, organization and interpretation of quantitative data. As a S.P.A.C.E. strategy for providing supporting proof, it differs from mere numerical fact in that it is the quantitativeness that carries the persuasive power in statistics while in simple numerical fact, it is what is being counted that is important. Thus, when I say, "Eighty-six percent of my students passed Advanced Basketweaving," I am giving statistical data. But when I say that seven students failed the course, I am giving a numerical fact.
The writer has to be especially cautious in the use of statistics. Often one hears statements such as "They say that nine out of ten . . ." or "Statistics prove that . . ." but these are fallacious proofs and should neither convince you nor should you use them to try to convince others. With statistical evidence the writer is required to give all of the important facts of collection, source, relevance, time, etc., that is available in order to validate the statistics.
The statistics S.P.A.C.E. strategy is one that must be used in combination with another strategy, authority. In other words, statistics alone do not constitute proof; it is the validity of the source of the statistics that determines their effectiveness as support for argument. The writer should avoid generalizations such as this:
The writer should, instead, supply all of the particulars that are important to the validity of the evidence:
The latter (fictitious) example answers the essential questions that a good journalist always asks--who, what, when, where, why, and how. The writer would do well to answer these questions also whenever they are applicable to the evidence introduced into the middle paragraphs. You may remember them as the six "W's"
The authority which provides the validity of the statistical evidence that you may use varies a great deal from subject to subject and occasion to occasion, but for the evidence to be convincing, the source has to be reputable, reliable, and relevant. Your source must have a reputation for honesty, accuracy, and expertise in the subject area reported on. For example, on the subject of cigarette smoking the following sources would have varying degrees of credibility:
Unless your purpose is to discuss or illustrate bias in your paper, select your statistical proof on the basis of the expertise, reliability and reputation of the source. In papers that you will write for some courses, perhaps, statistics will provide the major support for your thesis and will be the most important strategy for development. In other papers statistics will provide only occasional support, and in others, you will not use this strategy at all. Some papers will require careful and extensive validation of sources while in others only a minimum will be necessary, but a good rule of thumb for beginning writers is to answer all of the "W" questions.
An authority is a source of expert information or advice. In Aristotle's time authorities were called witnesses, and he separates them into two categories, ancient and recent. He says, "By ancient witnesses are meant the poets and other men of note whose judgments are on record." Since Aristotle's time the records of judgments of men of note have multiplied astronomically. Each generation, each decade, each year, and even each month adds its contribution to the ever growing mass of recorded "authority." This entire book is founded upon the expertise of one ancient authority, and no doubt he relied on notable predecessors, most of which are lost in the distant past to us.
Aristotle goes on to say that "Recent witnesses are ... any notable persons who have pronounced judgment on some matter." Now, if there is no present shortage of ancient authorities, there is also no shortage of recent ones. It seems that almost everyone is an authority on something nowadays. Whether it's Ann Landers on modern marriage, Michael Jordon on telecommunications, or Joe Namath on panty hose, there is no problem to finding an "expert" these days. I suppose Aristotle faced the same over supply of "experts" in his day for he adds that, "Most credible of all are the ancient witnesses, since there is no possibility of corrupting them."
Most of us today take our "experts" with a grain of salt. We know that the hockey player on the television commercial is out of his field of expertise when he gives nutritional advice, and we also know that the high ranking state politician is not an expert on public education just because he or she speaks as one. But even armed with a touch of skepticism brought about by Madison Avenue "Tom Foolery" and political play- making, we have a difficult time sifting through the mass of would-be authorities to find the true experts. But here is some advice that might help.
Fact and Opinion
If you are looking for expert documentation for facts, you will generally find them linked with the data. In other words, the references that you consult to find the factual material itself will provide the authoritative sources, and it is your job to weigh their relative credibility against any other sources available to you. (Most of your responsibilities for validating the authority of your sources are discussed in the material on statistics.) Remember that authoritative sources of factual material, including statistics, should be reputable, reliable, and relevant. As a student you will become more adept at selecting valid sources as you become more familiar with the subjects that you study and as you become more of an "expert" yourself in your chosen field of study.
Authorities also provide expert opinions. One excellent means of strengthening your position in persuasive discourse or debate is to have the experts on your side. Most of the opinions of authorities that you will be using will be from the written works of experts in their respective fields--textbooks, books on special topics, articles in professional or scholarly journals, and articles in magazines. No one is an expert on all subjects, and no expert is right all of the time. In matters of opinion the reputation, reliability, and relevance of an authority can be established only through careful inquiry and growing competence in your field of study. One note of caution: Today one has to be especially careful to validate information found on the Internet. The cyberworld abounds with self-proclaimed experts. Generally speaking, you will want to provide the most current facts and opinions in your use of the authority S.P.A.C.E. strategy. In today's knowledge explosion, data becomes obsolete and expert opinions invalid on almost a daily basis. Be innovative, imaginative, amd cautious in your search for expert testimony.
To return to Instructional Systems' "Cookie Jar," click here.
To return to Instructional Systems' other free resources and links," click here.
To check prices or order instructional materials, click here
To return to Instructional Systems Home Page and Main Menu, click here
Web Author: J. Kline
Copyright ©1997 by Instructional Systems 1996 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED