is NOT data.

Anecdote is just that: the stories, true or not, to whatever extent, that we tell ourselves and others about what has happened in our world. They can contain important information; they may also contain irrelevancies, illogical assumptions, hidden biases, and unintentional (or intentional) misrepresentations arising out of our experiences (or lack thereof) and our attempts to interpret the world around us.

Data is information: hopefully good information, stripped of all the above problems, but not always. But the farther away the data is from anecdote, either by analysis or by not having arisen from anecdote to begin with, the better the information usually is, because the less likely it is to be tainted by those problems plaguing pure anecdote. Furthermore, for data to make sense, it has to be based on a large enough sample size to swamp the details of anecdote, so anecdote effectively ceases to exist.

I think of it this way: data is gold (or silver or, depending upon the researcher, copper). Anecdote is ore. The ore can be high grade, from relatively unbiased and clueful observers, or low-grade, from people who don't really understand what's happening around them or who have an ax to grind. But adding more anecdotes in and of themselves does not add greater data -- it depends entirely upon the content and the quality of the information being added.

And, like gold from ore, data cannot arise from anecdote without a lot of refining and analysis. Using a few anecdotes to prove a given point, without data analysis that does things like account for variables and alternate possibilities, is like pointing to a mound of ore and saying "See how much gold I have!"

Background: this post  and this post.

Edited to add: it occurs to me that I am looking at this from a hard science/medical standpoint, mainly because that was how I was taught to look at things.  It also occurs to me that there may be fields where the stories people tell themselves are in and of themselves the data -- such as sociology or linguistics. (I know next to nothing  *nothing* about linguistics or sociology.)  Must go away and educate self, and ponder more metaphors because, dammit, my world runs on metaphors.


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