Personal Experience vs. Statistical Evidence:
- You can cite your source, so both sides can read the data and draw conclusions from it.
- If properly applied, scientific method is argument-neutral and as such provides a stable base for both sides of a debate to draw on, at least in theory.
- Often how the data was collected is not shown/glossed over, so it is tough to know whether the data actually applies to an argument or not.
- Numbers can be twisted around to any purpose the user desires; this was one of the first things I was taught in an "intro to statistics" class, and I think fellow tropers who have been educated in math can back me on that.
- Personal experience is more vivid and nuanced than simple numbers.
- It reminds us that exceptions exist for any rule, and not to over-generalize.
- It shows us the difference between theory and practice.
- Generally speaking the same source cannot be cited by opposing sides, so deadlocks often result unless the debaters are mature enough to "agree to disagree" when such comes up.
- Personal experience can be distorted by the individual's own preconceived notions on the matter, rendering the assertion biased.
If only the raw data (maybe after some processing through well known mathematical methods) is used for the argument, and not the interpretation of that raw data, then it's no problem.
(Actual example I had some time ago:)
Wrong: "Only 2% of women make false rape accusations"
Less wrong: "2% of the women who make rape accusations were threatened with charges if they wouldn't withdraw the accusations"
The data doesn't actually support the conclusion that got used as an argument. In fact all accusations could be true, and those women were falsely forced to withdraw. Of course, when people rely on statistical arguments they normally only refer to the first form, so... After trying to defend statistical evidence, I'll try to defend anecdotal evidence:
There's a math joke that goes: "During a lecture a math student tells the professor: 'Sir, I got a counter-example for your statement' 'Doesn't matter, I have two proofs!' "
If someone makes a statement that wouldn't allow something to happen but you experienced it, it means that the other one was wrong - plain and simple. He can try to pull argument after argument, but a single counter-example is sufficient to disprove an absolute statement. In an argument, statistical evidence and personal experience serve imho two different purposes and they don't really conflict. Using personal experience to "disprove" statistical evidence is missing the point just as much as using statistical evidence to "disprove" personal experience.
If you try to use personal experience "instead" of a statistic, it means you are just using a statistic but done badly. In general low sample size (In case of single event it's a sample size of ONE, which is horrible) and no or at least less controlling for different factors (For example your influence on the events, the locations where you tend to be etc etc). In general you are doing everything a statistic does only worse. That's why I would like to know the context of the criticism you faced. If you were using your experience as a substitute to a better done statistic, they were imho right on dismissing it. If you used it like "according to you this could never happen but it happened to me" they were wrong.
edited 26th Feb '11 6:18:44 PM by drunkscriblerian
Well, you remember the personal experience = statistic thing I said earlier? If I'm not confusing it you were basically using a whole city or village for your anecdote, which is imho enough data that it shouldn't be dismissed easily. Even if it's a bad (or "not that good") statistic, a model that cannot explain this satisfactory is at least a flawed model. If the theory doesn't equal the reality, it means the theory is flawed. They should basically have the same results.
But in general people (i.e. WE) like to dismiss anything that doesn't support our point of view - personal experience as a rather weak set of data is just an easy target. Though I would agree that many "studies" that get cited aren't worth their space on the screen, especially because normally only the (biased) interpretations get cited, not the actual data.
edited 26th Feb '11 6:58:37 PM by Uchuujinsan
(On a completely irrevelant side note, I hate having to check some vocabulary just to ensure that my German isn't polluting my English too much -.- )
edited 26th Feb '11 7:06:20 PM by storyyeller
edited 26th Feb '11 7:08:57 PM by storyyeller