While alluding to valuable criticism, the maxim “anecdotes are not evidence” is insufficient to describe the evidentiary uses and misuses of anecdotes. This article elucidates the flaws of anecdotal evidence that preclude anecdotes from being informative regarding inferences about larger populations or about cause and effect. It goes on to explore valid uses of anecdotal evidence, such as in investigation of specific incidents, while advising – in light of the findings of psychology regarding the fallibility of memory – scrutiny of anecdotes even in cases in which they are useful.
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Advocating a belief by finding some number of supporting examples and listing them is fallacious. The reason this practice is a fallacy is that the examples are selected because they illustrate the belief and contradictory cases are ignored. In this article, this fallacy is explored by way of contingency tables used in a thought experiment in which two variables are claimed to be associated, illustrating the lack of information gleaned from such a practice in a straightforward and quantitative way.
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