Where are all the error bars? I'm looking at you, CBO.

Every estimate involves uncertainty, which creates error. When you present estimates, at least some mention of that error should be presented along with the estimates themselves. 

On graphs, you often represent error with error bars. When written out, you usually add a +/-. Yet pretty much every estimate I come across does not represent the error at all!

Case in point, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a bi-partisan agency chartered by Congress to provide economic data to them.

CBO's cost estimates were center-stage at the health summit today. That fact in and of itself is fine. A big part of the health care debate should center around cost. 

However, without knowing the error in their estimates, their predictions are useless. For example, suppose plan A is $500 million +/- $300 million and plan B is $400 million +/- $100 million. Can you really say plan A is more costly than plan B?

No, you can't. In some scenarios, plan A will be more costly, but in others it will not. That basic level of scrutiny is seemingly not being applied by Congress or the media.

I went to the CBO site to double check the possibility that they were accounting for error, but it just wasn't being picked up by the Congress or the media. I couldn't find any error bars or +/-s anywhere. Feel free to correct me if I missed them :).


If you have comments, hit me up on Twitter.
I'm the Founder & CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you. I'm also the co-author of Traction, the book that helps you get customer growth. More about me.