Errors in human inquiry

What are common errors of human inquiry? Find a magazine, newspaper article, an editorial or blog that illustrates one or more of these errors. Explain. Be sure to include a quote and/or a link to the source.

Babbie (2013) discusses several common errors in human inquiry. Inaccurate observations are described as casual observations, therefore, most often detail and information is lost. This error occurs frequently.  Eye witness testimony error is one example that comes to mind. Since daily observations are casual and semiconscious I wonder how many times their have been errors in eye witness testimony? I would assume quite a few.

Overgeneralization  occurs when generalizations are reached with few observations. For example, Babbie (2013) discusses that often times individuals have a tendency to overgeneralize “when the pressure to arrive at a general understanding is high” (P. 8). However, it should also be noted that over generalizations can occur without such pressure.  In research, to reduce the chance of overgeneralization repeating the study to ensure that the same results are produced is important.

Babbie (2013) also discusses that overgeneralizing can lead to another common error, selective observation. Selective observations is when you see things you only want to see. It occurs when we accept certain pieces of information that “fit the pattern” but ignore others because they don’t support our beliefs or opinions.  Babbie (2013) notes that racial and ethnic prejudices are examples of selective observations.

Lastly, illogical reasoning is the final human inquiry that Babbie (2013) discusses. Illogical reasoning typically happens when we make illogical conclusions that has no relevance or scientific reasoning.


Below is a link that I found that demonstrates selective observation. Cardinal George discusses his opposition to legalizing gay marriages. He asserts that the institution of marriage “comes to us from God, not from the church or from the government.” He further states that if civil laws do change, then “society will be at its worse.” In the second article he states that he doesn’t see “same sex marriages as rational.” His selective observation comes from not only his position in the church, but from his own beliefs.

In regards to the other common errors,  can you think of an example of a time when you made an inaccurate observation or an overgeneralization?


2 thoughts on “Errors in human inquiry”

  1. Shannon,
    I accidentally read Chapter 2 in Babbie and I find the section on “early positivism” to be a useful mistake to respond to your blog post. Babbie (2014) argues that before positivism (“the belief that scientific truths could be positively verified through empirical observations”) and Comte (a philosopher who “coined the term sociologie”), people commonly held the belief that what happened in their lives was a “reflection of God’s will” (p. 34). The cardinal and many religious leaders and religious believers often rely heavily on what they “believe” rather than what the facts actually are. This has good parts and bad parts to it, but when those beliefs are used to marginalize and demonstrate discrimination, I do not believe they are good. Of course, some things are difficult to study, but the concept of gay marriages “destroying” heterosexual marriage has been studied to some extent. It is a shame when humans rely too much on what they think and not enough on the facts, but it is very easy to do!

  2. Hello Shannon,
    Perhaps it is because I read your post back-to-back with Becca’s, but I couldn’t help considering her’s as I read yours. Your discussion of Cardinal George’s perspective on gay marriage triggered me to consider Becca’s post, which talks about how our analytical framework (or theoretical perspective) may influence what is considered errors in inquiry or even what is considered ‘rational’. Is it possible for something to be considered an error or illogical in one paradigm and logically supported in another?

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