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Spurious rigor

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Part of the series on
Logic and rhetoric
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Spurious rigor is a way of presenting results with unrealistic precision to make them sound more certain than they really are. This occurs most often in advertising campaigns, Internet arguments, or viral hoaxes. This works as a successful bullshitting method because it implies that the value cited is precise to the number of significant figures quoted, e.g., 7.5% implies a precision between 7.45% and 7.55% - thus giving the impression that some real science went into the number. This isn't necessarily the case, however, and in fact it usually suggests the opposite.

It can also be a side-effect of playing fast and loose with the concept of statistical significance by stripping the context from a value. Surveys are guilty of this all the time, and since surveys might not always have 100 participants it's certain that any result will have some remainder to play about with. For example, you can quote a value like "47.059% of survey respondents said", but it feels far less rigourous and less significant if you say "8 out of 17".

The more numbers after the decimal point that there are, the more sure you can be of where they pulled it from.


  • "This mouthwash kills 47.6% of all bacteria!"
  • "A recent poll reveals that fully 33.333% of all atheists believe in moral relativism!"
  • "86.7% of all statistics are made up."