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On anecdotes

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  • #16
    Originally posted by Arouet View Post
    I think annecdotes can play a very useful role in science but have to be considered within their limitations.

    To me, anecdotes are most useful in terms of hypothesis generation, brainstorming, identifying interesting areas to study further. They can be very useful in guiding research.

    But we must also recognise that anecdotes are unreliable. That doesn't mean that any particular anecdote is necessarily inaccurate, but rather that when dealing with anecdotes it is very difficult to be confident in its acuracy. To get to a high confidence position you need to go further than the anecdote.
    Nothing wrong with this Arouet. But don't think you're contradicting the OP.


    • #17
      Each anecdote is in itself a piece of evidence. It is, in effect, testimony when received first-hand. Reports of someone else's testimony are perhaps heresay.

      None of this of course means that the information being communicated is necessarily untrue, it's just difficult to determine how much weight to give it.

      What gives testimony weight then?

      Well here's my stab at a few things:

      1 Corroboration - as mentioned in the OP - either by other witness and/or replication;
      2 The character of the person giving the testimony;
      3 The level of detail;
      4 How common reports of similar events are;
      5 The likelihood of an error in observation;
      6 The motivation driving the testimony - both positive and negative

      There are probably lots of other factors too but as the OP said, we make these judgements every day. How to determine precisely what weight to assign these factors though is a personal judgement - maybe that's why two people can hear the same anecdote and reach different conclusions.


      • #18
        He didn't use the word "anecdote," but Robert Rhines, amateur Loch Ness enthusiast and professional lawyer, once argued from his own experience that eyewitness testimony was worth being treated as evidence in at least some scientific endeavours, though not as foolproof and singular evidence.


        • #19
          I recall....actually I recall very little of article some years back that mounted a defence of anecdotal evidence as it relates to science. It brought up historical instances where anecdotal evidence was key to certain scientific advances, like for instance, developing vaccines and the like. It went on to describe how anecdotal evidence is still used to great advantage in science and related fields. Sorry, I have zero recollection of the details.

          It bothers me that anecdotal evidence - that is, people's solemn word on things - gets kicked around like an old shoe by the science-minded media. There seems to be an underlying message there. Yes - of course - I agree with all the requisite cautions emplaced concerning its weakness as an element in establishing proof. Nevertheless, my sense is that the flip side of anecdotal evidence - that being its scientific strengths -is being ignored. I suspect there is a rich story waiting to be told here.



          • #20
            In his book The Limits of Influence, Psychokinesis and the Philosophy of Science, philosopher and parapsychological investigator Stephen Braude makes an excellent case for the validity of anecdotal evidence in large-scale psychokinesis. He starts out in Chapter 1 by remarking: "Of more central concern is the piece of received wisdom that condemns both the semi-experimental and anecdotal evidence for psi. ......I now believe that the non-experimental evidence of parapsychology has been unjustly maligned. I now consider it to be an extremely valuable source of information concerning the nature and limits, and even the reality, of psi functioning. Even more important, I now believe that such (anecdotal) material is as least as valuable and reliable as the evidence gathered from laboratory experiments, and probably more so."

            He proceeds to demolish in detail the leading skeptic materialist arguments against the reliability of eyewitness testimony in parapsychology. He discusses and dismisses the notion that the best case reports and eyewitness accounts are due to (either individually or collectively): "motivated perception, self-deception, exaggeration, naivete, outright misperception or dishonesty, and fraud and conspiracy".

            Braude also goes into this in his Skeptico interview at 111. Parapsychology Researcher Dr. Stephen Braude Battles Against ?Sleazy Arguments? | Skeptiko - Science at the Tipping Point .


            • #21
              Originally posted by fls
              I wouldn't call those anecdotes. Anecdotes are characterized by being undocumented (or at least, that is one of the major characteristics which makes them unreliable).
              Then we should be describing the kind of material that Moody has collected as 'documented accounts' rather than a series of anecdotes.

              Documented accounts do comprise a 'body of evidence', and a great deal of research is based on such evidence, but because the material cannot be independently verified (observed/tested/replicated) it is not considered scientific. Independent verification by others a fundamental characteristic of scientific knowledge.


              • #22
                Originally posted by fls
                Writing down a story isn't what makes it "documented" - it's recordings made at the time of the events or at least made before anyone has had a chance to add information to the account after the fact.

                I'll agree with Linda on this. As I wrote in my JSE article on some of the veridical OBEs from my journals, it is very difficult to find contemporaneous records of OBEs prior to attempts at verification. I have over a hundred such records related to OBEs, and over 200 more that have other paranormal characteristics. However, the literature is not heavily populated with this kind of data. Having said that, even my 100+ OBE records aren't in the literature, just the four or so that are described in the article. There are probably many others not mentioned in the literature, but which exist in the collections of people like Puthoff, Targ, Radin, etc.



                • #23
                  Originally posted by fls
                  Writing down a story isn't what makes it "documented" - it's recordings made at the time of the events or at least made before anyone has had a chance to add information to the account after the fact.

                  Yes, I agree. But only by today's standards of research methodology. I don't think you can apply this criterion to all 'documented accounts'; otherwise, any qualitative research conducted before the advent of electronic recording becomes inadmissible. I would agree that the epistemological status of such material is much weaker, but I think it is still of interest and it has value.