In praise of anecdotal evidence [1]

[ Mon. Feb. 9. 2015 ]

There are few more damning responses to a new study or book or proposal than to say that it relies on “anecdotal” evidence — implying not just that the underlying idea lacks seriousness and objectivity, but that the author is lazy or even untrustworthy. Editors also tend to recoil from anecdotal openings for news stories (in part because most anecdotal ledes are awful), and book critics love to display their smartypants-ness by dissing some new volume as anecdotal.

Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” [5] (2010), wants to rehabilitate the anecdote. So when [6] asked him and other thinkers to answer the question “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” he had his answer. In “This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress,” [7] a collection of 175 short essays from top thinkers, Carr makes his case against anti-anecdotalism in two sharp paragraphs: ...

“This Idea Must Die,” [7] edited by John Brockman, is forthcoming from Harper Perennial on Feb. 17.