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Anecdotal Fallacy and Conversation Killers

anecdotal fallacy

Look, I’m not someone that’s afraid of ambiguity and nuance. I’ve been a lurker of the internet for quite sometime, closing in on well over a decade and a half. I know all about the major internet fallacies that come with the culture of the web. But sometimes I can’t help but be frustrated by the nature discussing questions on the internet.

logical fallacies diagram

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The Anecdotal Fallacy

The cardinal sin that I see committed on the internet is the ‘Anecdotal Fallacy.‘ The happens most frequently when people bring up their personal anecdotes to discount a trend or observation that the original poster (OP) made in a message board, comment thread, or Reddit itself. And as a result, what I notice on the internet when discussions and trends are being brought up is that people’s often well sourced observations are viciously attacked and falsely treated sweeping generalizations.

Here’s a hypothetical example of what I’m talking about:

Person A: Why does X tend sometimes tend to happen so often in Y? (Enclosed is Source A to shed light on the said point)

Person B: Dude, I’ve lived in Y all of my life, and I have never had X happen to me. I think it’s just you bro. You’re completely full of shit. Your comment is bad and you should feel bad. /commence the downvotes

Person C: Yeah, I think it just depends on the individual. (Unique Little Snowflake Syndrome, aka Conversation Killer) Not everyone experiences X, your observation is likely unfounded.

Person D-Z: Downvote and write additional comments to detract from A’s point. Some of these people still defend A, but the end result is that Person A is ultimately ripped to shreds often using Ad Hominem attacks to attack the person and not the argument.

Therefore because a couple of outliers anecdotes don’t match up with the sourced argument of Person A, Person A is considered wrong.

Our tendency as humans to believe and empathize with other people’s stories or anecdotes, is one of the best thing about what makes us human. Our ability to experience empathy is one of the most refined parts of human nature, though that is not to say other animals don’t also experience empathy.

iknowthatfeel.jpg

I know that feel, i.e empathy

The point it is, for an argument and discussion based in facts and quality sources, a person’s contradictory anecdotes does not fully discard the original argument. Rather they document an outlier, and can perhaps spur more discussion as to the causes of the outlier, and why the outliers case is exceptional and how we can learn and benefit from the outliers. Instead, as mentioned earlier, anecdotes are wrongly used to unjustly tar and feather the originator. Effectively killing and stifling otherwise good discussion.

yomama

So next time, instead of merely providing anecdotal evidence to nullify an argument you disagree with, expand on why your outlier case is so and discuss how and why we can learn from it, instead of merely saying “You’re wrong, it didn’t happen to me, so therefore you’re bad, and you should feel bad.” No need to be that guy, or a conversation killer.

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One comment on “Anecdotal Fallacy and Conversation Killers

  1. […] Anecdotal Fallacy and Conversation Killers: “The cardinal sin that I see committed on the internet is the ‘Anecdotal Fallacy.‘ The […]

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