Like other fallacies, there is another term we call anecdotal fallacy. We will talk about this type in detail.
What is an Anecdote?
An anecdote is a brief narrative. A brief account of an interesting or amusing incident that usually illustrates or supports a point in an essay, article, or book chapter. Compare this to literary terms like a parable (where the entire story is a metaphor) and vignette. Its adjective form is anecdotal.
What is an Anecdotal Evidence?
Anecdotal evidence is the term for the use of specific instances or concrete examples to back up a general assertion. Although compelling, this information—sometimes derisively referred to as “hearsay”—does not constitute proof in and of itself. Even if someone claims they get sick when they wear wet hair outside in the cold, correlation does not imply causation.
What is Anecdotal Fallacy?
It is an informal fallacy where a person uses personal experiences or a singular example to back their argument or stance instead of compelling evidence. It is natural for people to tend to rely on their personal experiences or the experiences of those close to them when making arguments because using scientific evidence to support an argument requires work. Most people are lazy thinkers, they prefer quicker and simpler thinking over more complex thinking.
Testimonials used by marketers are an example. Marketers know how to leverage the strength of a testimonial to sway your opinion of their goods or services. While there are many products available where the experience is subjective. Things become problematic when the product can be thoroughly tested and quantified through scientific investigation. This point of distinction is crucial. You enter the territory of flimsy arguments when you mix examples from subjective experiences.
The availability heuristic is the main cognitive bias at play in this situation. Recalling your own experience or the experience of those in your immediate circle biases your objectivity toward this evidence because it implies that it must be more significant because you can remember it easily. When weighing the evidence, most people don’t consider the possibility that there is scientific evidence available on a subject.
Logical Form of Anecdotal Fallacy
- Y happened once when X happened.
- As a result, Y will occur whenever X occurs.
- Person Y informed me that he witnessed/heard X.
- 2. As a result, X must be true.
Examples of Anecdotal Fallacy
“Abortion is morally wrong. In one instance, a woman had an abortion solely to prevent her pregnancy from preventing her and her husband from taking a trip to Europe.”
Presenting representative cases to show how an inductive conclusion was correctly drawn from a fair and representative sample is perfectly acceptable. The representative case helps to humanize a body of cold statistics that would otherwise be abstract. However, the conclusion supports the Inductive argument as a whole. The anecdote only serves to clarify and humanize the rightly inferred conclusion.
This acceptable application of illustrative storytelling is imitated by the fallacy of anecdotal evidence. It gives a case that puts a human face to the conclusion. However, the fallacy of anecdotal evidence makes a mistake by substituting a single case for an appropriately conducted study.
Another example of anecdotes includes the demonstration of many benefits of products, therapies, etc. in complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) that haven’t been thoroughly studied. Both fall at the bottom of the hierarchy of scientific evidence, making them the least reliable sources to rely on when building a case.
Homeopathy is one such pseudoscientific nonsense in CAM. The practice’s fundamental tenet is “like cures like,” and it was first proposed by a German physician in the late 1700s. To put it another way, homeopaths think that a substance causes disease symptoms in a healthy person. It can also treat those symptoms in a sick person. Homeopathy is contradictory to thinking that something could both be the source of the problem and the solution. It defies the Law of Non-contradiction in terms of logic. Something can’t be both true and false at the same time.
In addition to the notion that “like cures like,” which is illogical from a scientific standpoint, homeopathic “medicine” or what they refer to as “remedies” are from the dilution process. This procedure involves repeatedly diluting a chosen substance until the end result is chemically identical. Since water is the diluting agent, you are essentially left with a vial of water after the dilution procedure. The remedy also undergoes a “succussion” between each dilution, which involves vigorously shaking the mixture to “dynamize” it. Succussion “remembers” the original substance in the solution.
Marketers use testimonials as social proof to promote a product. It’s the reason Yelp and other review websites exist, why you believe that restaurants with a lot of customers must serve delicious food, and why you think that joining the most recent viral online trend is a smart move. It’s no secret that humans are social creatures with a strong urge to belong to a group. These characteristics are a result of evolution because they are crucial for the survival of humans.
People often believe that they should do something because others are doing it, which is a psychological phenomenon known as “social proof.” To put it another way, people often imitate the behavior of others to blend in with their social environment. The crowd doesn’t always know what’s best, and this phenomenon is particularly noticeable in ambiguous situations where others are perceived as having more knowledge even though this may not always be the case. People are more likely to sign up for your newsletter, tweet your content, or share a link to your website if they see that others have already done so, according to the world of digital marketing.
Contrary to what your parents may have told you, popularity contests are a big part of life. It is still true today that the adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know” reverberates throughout time. Particularly on social media, where your value as a person directly correlates with the number of fans and followers you can gather. Online spaces went through a phase transition where people stopped caring about being right and instead became predominately fixated on what was popular at some point. Misinformation, clickbait, and other types of content that encourage fervent engagement have taken the place of facts. This should deeply trouble us all.
The Ending Note
Anecdotes may be a prevalent way to exchange information. But it’s crucial to pause and thoughtfully consider the argument when you encounter an anecdote being used as support in casual conversation.
If you find that anecdotal evidence besides stronger evidence, keep in mind that this makes the argument weak. You should reject such type of argument. Additionally, you must substitute a strong argument for any anecdotes you use unwisely within one of your arguments.