As was correctly pointed out in my last question, it's hard to ask whether the claim that we paid "hundreds of billions" of costs on immigrants is accurate because it did not provide a time frame for which the hundreds of billions were paid. If one counts the entire length of US existence we likely have paid that much, but the context of the quote does not imply that it is meant to include the US entire existence. In short, the exact quote can not be given a simple true/false value because it is to imprecise to measure.

Is it within the bounds of Skeptics to instead ask in what context would an imprecise quote one is skeptical of be accurate? For the above example could I ask what timeframe one would need to include for "hundreds of billions" to be an accurate value (could it be an annual cost, cost during last presidential election, since last immigration reform, last decade, etc.)?

I realize it's not a true/false evaluation. However, such a question could give strong context to the viability of the claim. For instance, if the answer is that we spent that kind of money in the last annual year the claim seems quite viable, an annual expense seems a reasonable 'implied' unit of time when when doesn't exist. If instead it turns out that it took over 100 years to hit that expense the claim still isn't false, since no timeframe was given, but it may lead to skeptics of the source since that is longer then any timeframe most might presume reading the question.

I'm not asking just about the above question, in general if a quote is imprecise is it still valid to ask about what situations would make it accurate instead of an exact falsifiable question?

1 Answer 1


A request for an elaboration or clarifications of a claim (or a quote) are off topic. But, a question about the validity of a claim is on topic, and a good answer is expected to give the proper context for a claim.

So with the given example, an answer can be that the claim is simply false:

"According to a report of the IRS the tax exemptions have cost the usa 50 million dollars since 1776"

It can be true as is:

"According to a report of the IRS the tax exemptions have cost the USA 500 billion dollars in 2011 alone"

And it can be "truish" as you think is the case with this claim:

"According to a report of the IRS the tax exemptions have cost the usa only 500 million dollars in 2011, but adding up the costs from the last 100 years brings us to a total of 90 billion dollars, which is close to the original claim"

Take notice that in the last example there is a clarification not only of the time frame, but also of the amount of money. Such answers exist on the site where the answer accepts the claim as true or close to the truth with a few corrections, this is also the currently accepted answer to the edited question in the example, where it accepts the claim as close to the truth, but fixes the relevant year.

All the proposed answers given here are not real answers to the original question, but are a skeleton structure of how real answers should look like.

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