Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

New anecdote disclaimer

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Get posts in your inbox:
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

I needed a shrewd disclaimer to use wherever I choose to feature an anecdote on — because smart folks (correctly) get annoyed with me if I rely too much on mere anecdote to make my points here. From now on I will use this text when making my excuses for stooping so low …

I use anecdotes on only with great caution, because they are inherently unreliable. It’s historical fact that there has never been a snake oil so outlandish or even harmful that it lacked for happy customers who swore it worked for them. While people may well “know” what they felt, that does not necessarily mean they understand it. Anecdotes are not even the lowest level of “evidence” — they don’t constitute evidence at all. At best, they are an inspiration to seek the truth of things rigorously. But at the same time, experience is where all investigation must begin. Experience is problematic, but not useless. And so I will cite anecdotes! But only if the source seems unusually bright and articulate; if it doesn’t blatantly confirm a bias; if it echoes something I myself have experienced, or heard often from others (which gives me a higher level of confidence in it); and if it is balanced in general by the best available evidence.