“The plural of anecdote is not data” . . . part 1 of 4
I’m still laughing since I read that most excellent quote–thanks, Katie!
When I’m teaching my college students elemental data analysis and research, I tell them my two pet peeves about research in general, but particularly in the field of health and nutrition.
I say that I am completely frustrated with medicine. The vast majority of research inside modern medicine is bought and paid for, motive tainting it to the point of near uselessness. A profit motive is often counter to the interests of the public health (a flaw in the capitalist economic system, not that I’m advocating for any other system). Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of prescription drugs. The problem is highlighted by the 2007 release of a study of the world’s 20 largest pharmaceutical companies (often referred to as Big Pharma): they spend 2:1 on marketing (drug pushing) versus research and development!
On the other end, as Katie’s quote alludes to, “alternative health” doesn’t have big bucks backing it, so those who market natural remedies often rely on case studies. One person, or even ten, saying their constipation improved taking X or Y herb? That’s not compelling research. Worst of all is the fact that many health/nutrition products are marketed by people with little knowledge base (in direct sales and network marketing models). Those selling many products these days rely on nothing more than anecdotes, or “testimonials.”
Their selling sometimes looks a lot like a revivalist religious meeting, and that turns me cold because it’s emotion based rather than logic based. Look at the folks claiming their gout or their psoriasis or their athsma is better because of Product X, at those meetings, and tell me: do they look truly healthy? Can you really believe that a diet of hot dogs and potato chips, with a little pasteurized miracle mangosteen juice or a pill of some kind, is the answer to all health problems? Do a product’s claims fit with what you already know, or is it just wishful thinking and preying on the desperation of so many people in poor health?
I see the problems with common reasoning flaws on a micro level, constantly. Three examples tomorrow.