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 Anecdotal evidence

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Rob
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Male Number of posts : 346
Age : 47
Location : Ireland.
Job/hobbies : Combatives, Skepticism, Design.
Registration date : 2008-06-20

PostSubject: Anecdotal evidence   Tue Jul 08, 2008 2:54 am

Anecdotal evidence.

Here’s my problem... Any time you HEAR about something it cannot and must not be taken as fact. "Are people just lying Rob?" I hear you say. Well no, not necessarily - although it's entirely possible. Especially if there is some sort of motivation involved, whether is selling you healing magnets, a book, or their own beliefs. Also there are a huge amount of variables to be considered. Anything from, a person’s memory, to just plane misinterpretation. It's easy to get the facts wrong when you don't know what the real cause may be.

Just look at something like the "Marfa Lights". For years people swore that is was a UFO hotspot, however the reality was much more mundane - it was just an unusual type of mirage that people were seeing. Stories often get blown way out of proportion too - the more people involved entropy can set it.

So if we can't take anecdotal evidence seriously in a scientific sense, what can we do with it? What's it is useful for? It's very often used for forming a "hypothesis". A hypothesis generally suggests a possible explanation of a particular phenomenon, or a correlation between them. It can point you in a direction on which to make a further study, in order to form a "theory". So for example if you heard multiple stories about sightings of big foot in a particular area. You now would know where to focus a search from in order to find this ominous creature. It's doesn't mean you're actually going to find one however. A theory on the other hand is something that is a testable. It can be capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the particular phenomenon. This would lead to an experiment in order to test the theory scientifically.

Anecdotal evidence can often lead to bad science, inaccurate logic, or even the dreaded pseudoscience. It’s also very easy to lump certain events together that may have no real tangible link. This is refereed to "post hoc" fallacy, or "inductive" reasoning. It’s basically correlating a desired conclusion without the facts, as opposed to a scientific one. Or “retrofitting” the supposed facts so the explanation now looks better. Look to some of the famous psychic predictions as an example. Nostrodamous said there would be “fire in the sky” (I’m paraphrasing). Well, it so ambiguous it could be applied to nearly any disaster from 911 to a nuclear test. It’s very easy to find an “escape hatch” which statements such as this due to their ambiguity.

So in conclusion be aware of the fallibility of certain anecdotal evidence.
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