Decision Making: What is Good Evidence?

Evidence is one of the foundations of critical thinking and good decision-making. What is good evidence?

According to Linda Dyer, there are six aspects to good evidence: accuracy, precision, sufficiency, representativeness, authority and clarity of expression.

Accuracy.  Can this data be validated by independent sources? Are there other cues that suggest the data might be inaccurate, such as errors in the document, the degree of precision of the data or the source of the information?

Precision. “Good precision is appropriately precise” (p. 24). Low precision is often indicated by terms such as “high growth”, “high probability” or “the market is growing”.  Sometimes precision is used as a proxy for accuracy, for exam the mean consumer spending on Christmas gifts is $454.93.  But you can be too precise. For example, while the mean reported consumer spending is $454.93, if the spending is based on consumer recall, this number, while precise, might be highly inaccurate, as we tend to under-report our spending habits.

Sufficiency. The evidence provided must be enough to support the claim you are making.  Usually this requires more than one piece of evidence. The level of sufficiency required depends on the nature of the decision.

Representativeness. The evidence must be representative of the population to which the claim is related. If the claim is about Canadians, the evidence must be representative of Canadians.

Authority. What is the credibility and authority of the individual making the claim? Are they scholars? Experienced business people? Is their experience related to the claim they are making? Is a claim being made based on popular opinion?

Clarity of Expression. Is the author explaining the importance or significance of the data being presented. What does the information mean? What are the implications of this information for the situation at hand?

The next time you look at a proposal, recommendation or decision, ask yourself whether the evidence provided meets the six aspects of good evidence.  This can help you avoid bad decisions.

Source: Dyer, Linda. “Critical Thinking for Business Students”. Captus Press. 2006.

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