A single observation does not necessarily constitute an instance of the pejorative descriptive ‘anecdote’. Not only do anecdotes constitute data, but one anecdote can serve to falsify the null hypothesis and settle a scientific question in short order. Such is the power of a single observation. Such is the power of wielding skillfully, scientific inference. Fake skeptics seek to emasculate the power of the falsifying observation, at all costs.
It is incumbent upon the ethical skeptic, those of us who are researchers if you will – those who venerate science both as an objective set of methods as well as their underlying philosophy – incumbent that we understand the nature of anecdote and how the tool is correctly applied inside scientific inference. Anecdotes are not ‘Woo’, as most fake skeptics will imply through a couple of notorious memorized one-liners. Never mind what they say, nor might claim as straw man of their intent, and watch instead how they apply their supposed wisdom. You will observe such abuse of the concept to be most often the case. We must insist upon the theist and nihilist religious community of deniers, that inside the context of falsification/deduction in particular, a single observation does not constitute an instance of ‘anecdote’ (in the pejorative). Not only do anecdotes constitute data, but one anecdote can serve to falsify the Null (or even null hypothesis) and settle the question in short order. Such is the power of a single observation.
To an ethical skeptic, inductive anecdotes may prove to be informative in nature if one gives structure to and catalogs them over time. Anecdotes which are falsifying/deductive in nature are not only immediately informative, but moreover they are even more importantly, probative. Probative with respect to the null. I call the inferential mode modus absens the ‘null’ because usually in non-Bayesian styled deliberation, the null hypothesis, the notion that something is absent, is not actually a hypothesis at all. Rather, this species of idea constitutes simply a placeholder – the idea that something is not, until proved to be. And while this is a good common sense structure for the resolution of a casual argument, it does not mean that one should therefore believe or accept the null, as merely outcome of this artifice in common sense. In a way, deflecting observations by calling them ‘anecdote’ is a method of believing the null, and not in actuality conducting science nor critical thinking. However, this is the reality we face with unethical skeptics today. The tyranny of the religious default Null.
The least scientific thing a person can do, is to believe the null hypothesis.
/philosophy : skepticism : pseudoscience : apothegm/ : you may have heard the phrase ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’. It turns out that this is a misquote. The original aphorism, by the political scientist Ray Wolfinger, was just the opposite: ‘The plural of anecdote is data’. The only thing worse than the surrendered value (as opposed to collected value, in science) of an anecdote is the incurred bias of ignoring anecdotes altogether. This is a method of pseudoscience.
Our opponents elevate the scientific status of a typical placeholder Null (such-and-such does not exist) and pretend that the idea, 1. actually possesses a scientific definition and 2. bears consensus acceptance among scientists. These constitute their first of many magician’s tricks, that those who do not understand the context of inference fall-for, over and over. Even scientists will fall for this ole’ one-two, so it is understandable as to why journalists and science communicators will as well. But anecdotes are science, when gathered under the disciplined structure of Observation (the first step of the scientific method). Below we differentiate four contexts of the single observation, in the sense of both two inductive and two deductive inference contexts, only one of which fits the semantics regarding ‘anecdote’ which is exploited by fake skeptics.
Inductive inference is the context wherein a supporting case or story can be purely anecdotal (The plural of anecdote is not data). This apothegm is not a logical truth, as it could apply to certain cases of induction, however does not apply universally.
Null: Dimmer switches do not cause house fires to any greater degree than do normal On/Off flip switches.
Inference Context 1 – Inductive Data Anecdote: My neighbor had dimmer switched lights and they caused a fire in his house.
Inference Context 2 – Mere Anecdote (Appeal to Ignorance): My neighbor had dimmer switched lights and they never had a fire in their house.
Hence we have Wolfinger’s Inductive Paradox.
Wolfinger’s Inductive Paradox
/philosophy : science : data collection : agency/ : an ‘anecdote’ to the modus praesens (observation or case which supports an objective presence of a state or object) constitutes data, while an anecdote to the modus absens (observation supporting an appeal to ignorance claim that a state or object does not exist) is merely an anecdote. One’s refusal to collect or document the former, does not constitute skepticism. Relates to Hempel’s Paradox.
Finally, we have the instance wherein we step out of inductive inference, and into the stronger probative nature of deduction and falsification. In this context an anecdote is almost always probative. As in the case of Wolfinger’s Inductive Paradox above, one’s refusal to collect or document such data, does not constitute skepticism.
Deductive or Falsifying Anecdote
Deductive inference leading to also, falsification (The plural of anecdote is data). Even the singular of anecdote is data under the right condition of inference.
Null: There is no such thing as a dimmer switch.
Inference Context 3 – Deductive Anecdote: I saw a dimmer switch in the hardware store and took a picture of it.
Inference Context 4 – Falsifying Anecdote: An electrician came and installed a dimmer switch into my house.
For example, what is occurring when one accepts materialism as an a priori truth pertains to those who insert that religious agency between steps 2 and 3 above. They contend that dimmer switches do not exist, so therefore any photo of one necessarily has to be false. And of course, at any given time, there is only one photo of one at all (all previous photos were dismissed earlier in similar exercises). Furthermore they then forbid any professional electrician from installing any dimmer switches (or they will be subject to losing their license). In this way – dimmer switches can never ‘exist’ and deniers endlessly can proclaim to non-electricians ‘you bear the burden of proof’ (see Proof Gaming). From then on, deeming all occurrences of step 2 to constitute lone cases of ‘anecdote’, while failing to distinguish between inductive and deductive contexts therein.
Our allies and co-observers as ethical skeptics need bear the knowledge of philosophy of science (skepticism) sufficient to stand up and and say, “No – this is wrong. What you are doing is pseudoscience”.
Hence, one of my reasons for creating The Map of Inference.
The Ethical Skeptic, “The Plural of Anecdote is Data”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 1 May 2019; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-9HJ