Anecdotes aren't data — but they do make data memorable.

4 Responses to “The role of anecdotes in science”

  1. bobbylox says:

    a similar sentiment expressed by a conservation advocate: http://bioforthewin.com/2013/01/24/communicating-about-the-environment-tips-from-a-consevation-advocate/

  2. Spocko says:

    You know this is a really important article especially when it comes to decisions that people make. So many times we think that “If only Blank could see the facts they would change their mind.” But often personal stories overrule external facts. And when you really want to put your personal stories to win the decision, you start  questioning the facts. And if you don’t like the facts you look for different facts to use. Case in point, when talking about gun deaths in the US vs. England gun enthusiasts start talking about “the increase in violent crime there” (They to a totally different definition and data set- death by guns  =/= violent crime )

    Right now In the debate on public safety I’ve seen people who believe more guns are the answer and use various types of statistics to prove their point. “1.5 million crimes are prevented each year by legal gun owners.” and then they back it up with telling a story of Mary Doe who fought off home invaders with her gun.” and to make it more personal they say, “What if you personally had to need to defend your home?”  

    Now the people who are for greater safety and less gun deaths can tell you how many people die from guns that are kept in the home and what percentage of guns are taken and used against the person  But it is the telling of the the story of someone who had their gun taken and was shot and killed that sticks. Then it shouldn’t stop there it needs to be made personal, “Have you ever mistaken someone for a bad guy who was really a relative? Aren’t you glad you didn’t a gun at that time?” 

  3. I don’t believe you.  But if a million other yous say the same thing, I’ll believe it.

  4. Bill Beaty says:

    Depends on what you mean by “anecdote.”   There’s multiple independent eyewitness to a crime, versus multiple people comforting themselves with similar stories.  Which *are* data?
    Original quote was backwards: “The plural of anecdote is data.”  http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ads-l;WYyU1w;200407062321270400a 

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