This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Anecdote vs. fact

Something has been bothering me of late. In fact bothering may be a too unemotional word to use but let’s stay civilised, and I would guess many of you have already thought about this. Why is it that one person can tell another a story without evidence and the second person will take this as the truth?

There seems to be some extra value placed on personal revelation such that a person will repeat the story without checking any facts and often with additional or subtracted details. I realise the link here into the evolution of the mechanism of passing on culture in social groups, but I would have thought that such a mechanism wouldn't include room for such devastating error?

Conversely one can often state tested facts to someone who does not follow the particular subject and there is very little guarantee that the fact will be accepted. This is especially so when the fact is in direct contest with internally held beliefs.

Does there come a point when the barrage of evidence overcomes the misbegotten belief in something merely told as anecdote? 'Anecdotally' I would have to think yes having observed many instances of people's opinions being swayed in favour of the available facts but then I think of those die-hard believers of the mystical who insist on their own personal 'evidence' as being the be all and end all. So insert whatever you wish here, divination, spirits, gods, healing powers and politics et al; and you see the same behaviour patterns.

I'd like to be able to quantify this phenomenon with a record of how many individual facts it takes to make someone see that another person's anecdote is not reliable. This would have to include the relative strength of each fact and how well the person knows the story-teller. I suspect the relationship between the two has some scale to it or measurable effect upon the efficacy of the anecdote's being believed.

So whatever this relationship is with the spoken word, I suspect it has a direct relationship with superstitious and religious behaviour.

TAGGED: CRITICAL THINKING, REASON


Comments

Comment RSS Feed

Please sign in or register to comment