Anecdotal evidence is evidence based only on personal observation, collected in a casual or non-systematic manner.

"Anecdotal" can refer to:

1. Relaying personal experiences[1] or sense data[2], also called testimony, or a testimonial[3].

2. Relaying the words or experiences of another[4] named person[5], sometimes called hearsay[6].

3. Relaying an account from an fictional source, or story[7] with no attribution, also called an apocryphal[8] saying, an Old Wives' Tale, a Myth, or folklore.

Because the term connotes three very different kinds of evidence, discussion of the term can result in accidental or intentional equivocation , where people are talking about different meanings of the term without realizing it. Since an anecdote may be real or fictional[9], it is often difficult to talk about this form of evidence as a category without explaining exactly what type of anecdotal evidence is being referenced.

Anecdotal Evidence usually is not subject to rules of legal, historical, academic, or intellectual rigor, meaning that there are little or no safeguards against fabrication or inaccuracy. This does not mean that all anecdotal evidence is false, it just means that the methodology of scholarly method or the scientific method, or legal requirements of testimony have not been required of the evidence.

When used in advertising or promotion of a product, service, or idea, anecdotal reports are often called a testimonial, which are highly regulated[10] in some jurisdictions.

Anecdotal evidence may be considered within the scope of scientific method as some anecdotal evidence can be both empirical and verifiable, e.g. in the use of case studies in medicine. Other anecdotal evidence, however, does not qualify as scientific evidence, because its nature prevents it from being investigated by the scientific method, for instance, in that of folklore or in the case of intentionally fictional anecdotes. Where only one or a few anecdotes are presented, there is a chance that they may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases.[11][12] Similarly, psychologists have found that due to cognitive bias people are more likely to remember notable or unusual examples rather than typical examples.[13] Thus, even when accurate, anecdotal evidence is not necessarily representative of a typical experience. Accurate determination of whether an anecdote is typical requires statistical evidence.[14] Misuse of anecdotal evidence in the form of argument from anecdote is an informal fallacy[15] and is sometimes referred to as the "person who" fallacy ("I know a person who..."; "I know of a case where..." etc.) which places undue weight on experiences of close peers which may not be typical.

Scientific context

See also: Scientific evidence

In science, definitions of anecdotal evidence include:

Anecdotal evidence can have varying degrees of formality. For instance, in medicine, published anecdotal evidence by a trained observer (a doctor) is called a case report, and is subjected to formal peer review.[20] Although such evidence is not seen as conclusive, researchers may sometimes regard it as an invitation to more rigorous scientific study of the phenomenon in question.[21] For instance, one study found that 35 of 47 anecdotal reports of drug side-effects were later sustained as "clearly correct."[22]

Anecdotal evidence is considered the least certain type of scientific information.[23] Researchers may use anecdotal evidence for suggesting new hypotheses, but never as validating evidence.[24][25]

If an anecdote illustrates a desired conclusion rather than a logical conclusion, it is considered a faulty or hasty generalization.[26]

In any case where some factor affects the probability of an outcome, rather than uniquely determining it, selected individual cases to prove nothing; e.g. "my grandfather smoked two packs a day until he died at 90" and "my sister never smoked but died of lung cancer". Anecdotes often refer to the exception, rather than the rule: "Anecdotes are useless precisely because they may point to idiosyncratic responses."[27]

In medicine, anecdotal evidence is also subject to placebo effects.[28]


In the Legal sphere, anecdotal evidence, if it passes certain legal requirements and is admitted as testimony, is a common form of evidence used in a court of law. Often this form of anecdotal evidence is the only evidence presented at trial.[29] Scientific evidence in a court of law is called physical evidence, but this is much rarer. Anecdotal evidence, with a few safeguards, represents the bulk of evidence in court.

The legal rigors applied to testimony for it to be evidence is under oath, and that the person is only testifying to their own words and actions, and that someone intentionally lying under oath is subject to perjury. However, these rigors do not make testimony in a court of law equal to scientific evidence as there are far less legal rigors. Testimony about another person's experiences or words is called hearsay. However, any hearsay that is not objected to or thrown out by a judge is considered evidence for a jury. This means that trials contain quite a bit of anecdotal evidence, which is considered as relavant evidence by a jury. Eyewitness testimony (which is a form of anecdotal evidence) is considered the most compelling form of evidence by a jury[30].

See also


  1. ^ Michal, Audrey (2021). "When and why do people act on flawed science? Effects of anecdotes and prior beliefs on evidence-based decision-making". Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. 6. doi:10.1186/s41235-021-00293-2. PMC 8023527. PMID 33825055.
  2. ^ "Mirriam Webster".
  3. ^ "MIrriam Webster".
  4. ^ Michal, Audrey. [When and why do people act on flawed science? Effects of anecdotes and prior beliefs on evidence-based decision-making "When and why do people act on flawed science? Effects of anecdotes and prior beliefs on evidence-based decision-making"]. PMID 33825055. ((cite web)): Check |url= value (help)
  5. ^ "Mirriam Webster".
  6. ^ "Mirriam Webster".
  7. ^ "Mirriam Webster".
  8. ^ "Definition of APOCRYPHAL". Mirriam Webster.
  9. ^ "Anecdote Wikipedia".
  10. ^ "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" (PDF).
  11. ^ Weiten, Wayne (2010). Psychology: Themes and Variations. Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. p. 75. ISBN 9780495601975.
  12. ^ Goodwin, C. James (2009). Research in Psychology: Methods and Design. John Wiley & Sons. p. 25. ISBN 9780470522783.
  13. ^ Gibson, Rhonda; Zillman, Dolf (1994). "Exaggerated Versus Representative Exemplification in News Reports: Perception of Issues and Personal Consequences". Communication Research. 21 (5): 603–624. doi:10.1177/009365094021005003. S2CID 145050644.
  14. ^ Schwarcz, Joe; Barrett, Stephen. "Some Notes on the Nature of Science". Archived from the original on 20 September 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  15. ^ "Fallacies | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  16. ^ "anecdotal". Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  17. ^ "Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative - Glossary - NWSRI". Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  18. ^ "Anecdotal evidence - Smart Health Choices - NCBI Bookshelf". Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  19. ^ "No Love for Anecdotal Evidence". NeuroLogica Blog. 2007-03-08. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  20. ^ Jenicek, M. (1999). Clinical Case Reporting in Evidence-Based Medicine. Oxford: Butterworth–Heinemann. p. 117. ISBN 0-7506-4592-X.
  21. ^ Vandenbroucke, J. P. (2001). "In Defense of Case Reports and Case Series". Annals of Internal Medicine. 134 (4): 330–334. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-134-4-200102200-00017. PMID 11182844. S2CID 867759.
  22. ^ Venning, G. R. (1982). "Validity of anecdotal reports of suspected adverse drug reactions: the problem of false alarms". Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 284 (6311): 249–52. doi:10.1136/bmj.284.6311.249. PMC 1495801. PMID 0006799125.
  23. ^ Riffenburgh, R. H. (1999). Statistics in Medicine. Boston: Academic Press. pp. 196. ISBN 0-12-588560-1.
  24. ^ Lilienfeld, Scott O.; Lynn, Steven Jay; Lohr, Jeffrey M. (2014). "Initial Thoughts, Reflections, and Considerations". Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology (2 ed.). New York: Guilford Publications. p. 9. ISBN 9781462517510. Testimonial and anecdotal evidence can be quite useful in the early stages of scientific investigation. Nevertheless, such evidence is almost always much more helpful in the context of discovery (i.e., hypothesis generation) than in the context of justification (i.e., hypothesis testing [...]).
  25. ^ Mebius, A. (2022). "Against 'instantaneous' expertise". Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine. 17 (11): 11. doi:10.1186/s13010-022-00123-3. PMC 9490894. PMID 36127693. S2CID 252384889.
  26. ^ Thompson B. Fallacies. Archived April 20, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Sicherer, Scott H. (1999). "Food allergy: When and how to perform oral food challenges". Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. 10 (4): 226–234. doi:10.1034/j.1399-3038.1999.00040.x. PMID 10678717. S2CID 1484234.
  28. ^ "Evaluating Treatment Products". MedicineNet.
  29. ^ "The Judicial Learning Center". 10 August 2012.
  30. ^ "Benton, Ross, Bradshaw, Thomas, & Bradshaw, 2006".