Tag Archives: “anecdotes”

Science Lesson: on “anecdotes”

by Carl V Phillips

Following a twitter conversation between some vapers and some others who mistakenly think they understand science, I decided to write a quick lesson for those who might want more than a bumper-sticker about this. The issue at hand is whether you can learn anything about the world from individual testimonials about people’s experiences or other one-off “anecdotes”. The answer is obviously yes. It is safe to say that more than 99% of what each of us¬†knows comes from such evidence. So why do so many people not understand this obvious fact, and habitually denigrate such evidence as “anecdotes”? It seems to be because they are stuck in a grade-school understanding of science.

I have written entire papers that are substantially about this point, but here is my quick explanation for how to better think about this. (Oh, and as an aside,  anyone who thinks that this exposition is more correct due to the fact that I have also published versions in journals knows even less about understanding scientific evidence, but that is another story that readers will know I cover elsewhere.) Continue reading