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Overprecision

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Part of the series on
Logic and rhetoric
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Overprecision occurs when an overly specific conclusion is drawn from the evidence.

The argument is fallacious for much the same reasons as an argument from omniscience. Because the arguer does not have the knowledge necessary to justify their argument, it is not valid. (In this case, of course, the arguer does not claim unlimited knowledge -- merely knowledge that is outside of what they know.)

The fallacy is an informal fallacy and similar to the argument from omniscience.

Alternate names[edit]

  • false precision
  • fake precision
  • misplaced precision
  • specificity
  • spurious accuracy

Examples[edit]

The trigonometry calculation came out to 5,005.6833 feet, so that's how wide the cloud is up there.[1]

The museum guide says the dinosaur skeleton is 90,000,006 years old - because when he was hired six years ago he was told that it was 90 million years old.[2]

The time for the Olympic 30-kilometer relay race, which takes almost an hour and a half to run, is measured to one one-hundredth of a second.[2]

Darrell Huff, in How to Lie With Statistics, relates the following story:[3]

Sometimes big ado is made about a difference that is mathematically real and demonstrable but so tiny as to have no importance.

[....]

A case in point is the hullabaloo over practically nothing that was raised so effectively, and so profitably, by the Old Gold cigarette people.

It started innocently with the editor of the Reader's Digest, who smokes cigarettes but takes a dim view of them all the same. His magazine went to work and had a battery of laboratory folk analyze the smoke from several brands of cigarettes. The magazine published the results, giving the nicotine and whatnot content of the smoke by brands. The conclusion stated by the magazine and borne out in its detailed figures was that all the brands were virtually identical and that it didn't make any difference which one you smoked.

[....]

But somebody spotted something. In the lists of almost identical amounts of poisons, one cigarette had to be at the bottom, and the one was Old Gold. …[B]ig advertisements appeared in newspapers at once in the biggest type at hand. The headlines and the copy simply said that of all cigarettes tested by this great national magazine Old Gold had the least of these undesirable things in its smoke.

See also[edit]

References[edit]