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

When used in advertising or promotion of a product, service, or idea, anecdotal reports are often called a testimonial, which are highly regulated[1] in some jurisdictions.

When compared to other types of evidence, anecdotal evidence is generally regarded as limited in value due to a number of potential weaknesses, but 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. Where only one or a few anecdotes are presented, there is a larger chance that they may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases.[2][3] Similarly, psychologists have found that due to cognitive bias people are more likely to remember notable or unusual examples rather than typical examples.[4] 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.[5] Misuse of anecdotal evidence in the form of argument from anecdote is an informal fallacy[6] 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.[11] 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.[12] For instance, one study found that 35 of 47 anecdotal reports of drug side-effects were later sustained as "clearly correct."[13]

Anecdotal evidence is considered the least certain type of scientific information.[14] Researchers may use anecdotal evidence for suggesting new hypotheses, but never as validating evidence.[15][16]

If an anecdote illustrates a desired conclusion rather than a logical conclusion, it is considered a faulty or hasty generalization.[17]

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."[18]

In medicine, anecdotal evidence is also subject to placebo effects.[19]

See also


  1. ^ "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" (PDF).
  2. ^ Weiten, Wayne (2010). Psychology: Themes and Variations. Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. p. 75. ISBN 9780495601975.
  3. ^ Goodwin, C. James (2009). Research in Psychology: Methods and Design. John Wiley & Sons. p. 25. ISBN 9780470522783.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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)
  6. ^ "Fallacies | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  7. ^ "anecdotal". Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  8. ^ "Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative - Glossary - NWSRI". Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  9. ^ "Anecdotal evidence - Smart Health Choices - NCBI Bookshelf". Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  10. ^ "No Love for Anecdotal Evidence". NeuroLogica Blog. 2007-03-08. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  11. ^ Jenicek, M. (1999). Clinical Case Reporting in Evidence-Based Medicine. Oxford: Butterworth–Heinemann. p. 117. ISBN 0-7506-4592-X.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Riffenburgh, R. H. (1999). Statistics in Medicine. Boston: Academic Press. pp. 196. ISBN 0-12-588560-1.
  15. ^ 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 [...]).
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Thompson B. Fallacies. Archived April 20, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "Evaluating Treatment Products". MedicineNet.