the plural of anecdotes

2021-09-01

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~2 min read

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211 words

There are two contradictory adages I’ve been thinking a lot about lately:

The plural of anecdote is data

and

The plural of anecdotes is not data

QuoteInvestigator investigated both the positive and negative variants (interesting reads).

In today’s environment, it seems like stories are able to spread much further and faster than ever before. As a species we’re predisposed to respond much more vigorously to a story than a fact or datum. This is why news stories start with an anecdote. It’s compelling!

The question that we, as readers, much try to discern is whether the anecdote is part of a collection which constitutes a conclusion (i.e., that the plural of anecdote is in fact data) or if a few sparse anecdotes are being collected for the purposes of purporting an unsubstantiated claim (plural of anecdote is not data).

It seems like the answer has to depend on the particular circumstances of the situation.

My bias, however, when I hear a compelling story that is then used to make a much larger point is to request additional data before conceding the point. As a result, I’ve reached for “the plural of anecdote is not data” multiple times in recent memory. I suspect I’ll be doing so for a while.


Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!