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Anecdotal Evidence

A couple of days ago I was heading back to work after a trip to the Dr. with the Head Rat.  I was on a fairly busy street and I met a school bus stopped in the opposite lane with its stop sign extended and its lights flashing.  Obviously, I stopped.  Five cars in front and beside me drove right on past, ignoring the school bus.

3 of the 5 cars had Obama bumper stickers.

Now, what does this tell us about Obama supporters?

Not a damn thing.  Its an anecdote, a vignette, chosen for effect.  Just like all those touching stories that get drug out by whichever group is trying to make a point.  The poor but hardworking individual being crushed by corporate America.  The successful businessman born in poverty who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become wildly successful.  (A polar bear swimming in an ice-free area.)  All touching.  All designed to make a point.  Each a statistical sample of exactly one.  Each used as evidence from which you are supposed to extrapolate the “correct” answer.  Which is like saying I am a representative sample of Americans and then extrapolating.  When you do that, you come to the conclusion that Americans are all middle-aged, fat, white guys with aggressively receding hairlines.

If you are content to make decisions based on who can tug harder on your emotional heartstrings, lap it up.  Otherwise, know that if the best argument a group can put forward is anecdotal, the truth probably lies elsewhere.

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