Anecdotes or the Scientific Method?

by Sarah Pope MGA | Affiliate linksComments: 23

I’m going way out on a limb with this post and may be opening myself up to a bunch of “you are completely nuts” emails, but I think what I have to say really needs to be said.   So here goes anyway ….

Over the years, I have gotten increasingly comfortable with anecdotal evidence as opposed to scientific studies when it comes to health related topics.

Have any of you noticed that you are starting to feel the same way?

If I notice a pattern where a few of my trusted friends tell me that they have discovered that doing this or eating that is helping their families’ health, I tend to be more receptive to this message than when a big media story trumpets some big new “health breakthrough”.  

Health Breakthrough?   Yawn.

These”health breakthroughs” are so often found to be slanted one way or another based on who is funding the research.

Or worse, the reporting is just so bad that the story is incredibly misleading and leads the reader to very wrong conclusions.

It seems that much of the so called “research” on health these days is really covert marketing by drug companies, Big Food and others.

Using “science” to manipulate the buying habits of consumers?   Absolutely!

Anecdotal evidence, on the other hand, is based primarily on personal observation and case studies.   If this observation comes from a trusted source, then it has much validity in my experience.

Think about traditional cultures.   They did not have the scientific method to lean on.   Anecdotal evidence was all they had to navigate through their choices about what to eat and what not to eat on a daily and seasonal basis.

Health anecdotes were passed down from generation to generation.    Those who did not follow these anecdotes either died or failed to reproduce.

Nature is harsh when her rules are not obeyed.

This is not to say that I do not value the scientific method.    On the contrary, I find truly objective, scientific studies to be a great achievement of our modern culture.  Done right, these types of studies have the power to identify critical  information that is of real value to humankind.

Unfortunately, it seems that the scientific approach to health and wellness is coming under increasing abuse nowadays which partly explains the resurgence and popularity of anecdotal evidence.

Moms seem especially open to anecdotal evidence from those they trust.    Moms networking together and providing support and information to help each other grow healthy children is a very powerful force in the world.

Never underestimate the power of the hand that rocks the cradle.

One source of information that has gained my trust as a Mom over the years is Wise Traditions magazine, a quarterly publication from the Weston A. Price Foundation.    My favorite section of this periodical is the “Caustic Commentary” which takes the media reports on health and wellness from the previous few months and rips them to shreds if the research has been found lacking in objectivity.  

Wise Traditions is a bit of a watchdog in that regard.

The letters in Wise Traditions are also very interesting, providing one anecdotal story after another about how traditional diet has helped a person or family come back from the brink of ill health.

Balancing the anecdotes, many of the Wise Traditions articles are extremely detailed and heavily rooted in science – science done right, that is, with objectivity and nonpartiality.

Anecdotes or the scientific method?   Which do you value more and why?

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

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Posted under: Healthy Living

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