It’s Only An Anecdote
In a recent post, I referred readers to a comment that had been left on another post. In the ensuing comment thread, I received a complaint that this was “only anecdotal evidence” . I should have cited some relevant literature to go along with it. That I needed to have “some science” in my post.
One of the many reasons for the existence of this blog is to tell stories about what happens in real women’s lives – naming experience. Telling stories and naming the experience are worthwhile endeavors in and of themselves. It drives me nuts the way some people use “anecdote” as if it were equivalent to “uninformative, unreliable, meaningless”. An anecdote is “a short account of a particular incident or event of an interesting or amusing nature, often biographical.” Anecdotes – the biographical kind – are illustrative and sometimes just as powerful as all the cited studies in the world.
Even when you cite the literature, you can still find yourself dismissed. I’ve heard people respond, for example, to the stereotype threat literature “oh, that’s all in an artificial setting, who knows if it happens in real life.” Anecdotes are real life.
Seymour and Hewitt had this to say about anecdotes in their book Talking About Leaving:
In discussing our data with SME faculty, we sometimes encounter the objection that the state of affairs collectively portrayed in students’ accounts is based on “anecdotal evidence”. Strictly speaking (from its Greek root), an “anecdote” is an unpublished account. In more general usage, it is a story which is casually heard and has no coherent, patterned connection to other stories on the same theme. By either usage, the accounts which form the text data for this study are not anecdotes. Accounts which are gathered and analyzed in a systematic manner allow the investigator to discover things that cannot easily be discovered by any other means. In complex human affairs, noticing the patterns in the independent accounts of expert witnesses plays the same role as laboratory observations in the formation of hypotheses. As the reader will perhaps concede, there is much to be learned by treating such accounts with respect.
Now, I haven’t systematically gathered and analyzed anecdotes like the one I referred my readers to. But over time, there have been many such anecdotes reported on this blog in the comments. The one I referred to seemed particularly poignant and worth attending to. We must, indeed, treat such accounts with respect. We must treat a woman’s reflective description of her own experience as if it has some value. If we can’t do that on this blog, then when and where is it going to happen? Unless you think the society we live in isn’t really sexist and racist – in which case, no need to listen to the whiny bitches anyway.