Anecdotal Evidence

Anecdotal Evidence: “The Mitigation Worked to Save Lives”

During the Coronavirus Crisis of 2020, there has been a lot of bantering about concerning various treatments and protocols; never mind the full reversals, like don’t wear a mask and do wear a mask. The argument from anecdote is thrown around like baking soda on a grease fire. Arguments like these are often really about spin; when the anecdotes (stories) serve you, you use them. When they hurt you, you diss them.  


President Trump specifically stated that he hoped hydroxychloroquine would be a game changer. Critics attacked Trump as relying on anecdotal evidence for his ‘highly 'touted’ cure. They further went on to attack hydroxychloroquine as dangerous, based on nothing less than their own anecdotal evidence of what they’ve heard from some doctors. In an article about the lack of hard evidence, the authors do accurately quote Trump:

“I may take it,” Trump said on Saturday, referring to hydroxychloroquine, though he has twice tested negative for coronavirus, according to the White House. “We’re just hearing really positive stories, and we’re continuing to collect the data.” https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/04/trumps-lies-about-coronavirus/608647/

While this is called a ‘lie’, it really is simply a common way humans discuss and discover the truth of things. Some studies have indicated that hydroxy doesn’t work against the virus, but those are focused on hospital admissions. We would need studies that show an early prescription at the onset of symptoms (with zinc and azithromycin) doesn’t work.

While this is called a ‘lie’, it really is simply a common way humans discuss and discover the truth of things.  


Anecdote: A limited selection of examples which support or refute an argument, but which are not supported by scientific or statistical analysis.https://www.definitions.net/definition/anecdotal+evidence

Trump’s comment has both anecdote and data in it. He is saying we are hearing positive stories, but that we need to keep collecting data. There is nothing wrong with anecdotes, but they neither prove nor disprove anything. There is no lie in anecdotal proof, since it could turn out to be true.

In a hard-scientific world, we really think of anecdotes as hints or hypotheses, and you’ll see it again if the virus gets to a truly manageable level. 


Dr. Fauci, and others, state that mitigation is working and will “do the trick for us.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioYZ9FgkftE

However, that too is speculative. It makes sense, as does anecdotal evidence. However, we can’t know without a real comparative study. We would have to have the ‘curve’ studied with partial mitigation and no mitigation. Sweden is the curious example that seems to have a similar curve to the rest of the countries, but without the level of lockdown commonly employed. 

This kind of spin shadows a logical fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore resulting from it: used to indicate that a causal relationship has erroneously been assumed from a merely sequential one). We mitigated, so lives were saved. Well, yes, maybe, but were they saved short-term or long-term? The simple fact is that we do not know. We do not currently have the scientific data to prove it. So, when unvalidated anecdotal evidence doesn’t serve, it’s bad. When other unvalidated evidence serves, it’s good. When trends on a chart serve, they are good. When trends don’t serve, they are bad.

Karl Popper gave us a better standard with his principle of falsifiability (if you can't prove it's wrong, you can't prove it's right) https://youtu.be/wf-sGqBsWv4

In the world of news and crisis, however, all you need to know is that everyone is talking about hope and predictions…which get’s tangled in the web of spin.

When they say that anecdotal evidence suggest something, you can simply say, “Maybe.” When the ‘experts’ come out and insist that the mitigation worked, you can also simply say, “Maybe.” Definitive proof is another question entirely.

Hope and hypotheses are not lies, but they also aren’t conclusive. Don’t get tricked, always spin-check.

Did Trump Promise To Pay 1 Million Dollars If Elizabeth Warren Took A DNA Test?

THE HILL wrote:

Trump denies offering $1 million for Warren DNA test, even though he did



President Trump on Monday denied that he offered Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) $1 million to take a test proving her Native American heritage, even though he did just that.”

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA analysis revealed that she can claim some native ancestry, however, the Boston Globe put it in perspective:

“The inherent imprecision of the six-page DNA analysis could provide fodder for Warren’s critics. If O.C. Sarah Smith were fully Native American, that would make Warren up to 1/32nd native. But the generational range based on the ancestor that the report identified suggests she’s between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American. The report notes there could be missed ancestors.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2018/10/15/warren-addresses-native-american-issue/YEUaGzsefB0gPBe2AbmSVO/story.html

There are two important things to note for context:

1. Elizabeth Warren’s results appear to make her about as Native American than the average Native European (American). Here’s the average according to the New York Times, “The researchers found that European-Americans had genomes that were on average 98.6 percent European, .19 percent African, and .18 Native American.” https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/science/23andme-genetic-ethnicity-study.html 2. The requirement for being consider a Native American is commonly considered between 1/16 and 1/4 genetically, “To give you a clue, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians a minimum of 1/16 degree of Cherokee blood for tribal enrollment, while the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Higher Education Grant expects you to have the minimum of ¼ Native American blood percentages. That’s 25%.” https://www.powwows.com/much-percentage-native-american-enrol-tribe/


The spin here isn’t concerned with the facts exactly, but with the writing within the article itself. The claim is that Trump offered to pay if Warren ‘took the test’ —but that is also contradicted in the article. In fact, contradiction and incongruence is often a sign of spin.THE HILL: “Trump spoke after Warren responded to the president’s challenge and released the results of a DNA test showing she has a distant Native ancestor. ‘I didn’t say that. You’d better read it again,’ Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about his $1 million offer.”

In other words, “We gotcha!” But The Hill writer Jordan Fabian goes on to give the exact promise Trump made in contrast to the headline:

“I will give you a million dollars, to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian,” Trump said at the time. “I have a feeling she will say ‘no.’ “


Fabian/The Hill is asserting that Trump promised 1 million if she took the test, but later notes that ‘SHOWS YOU’RE AN INDIAN’ is a necessary condition. The spin is that she ‘merely’ need to take the test to call Trump out, but that isn’t Trump’s offer, despite Fabian’s claim.

By any standards of genetics or common sense, Elizabeth Warren is not a Native American. In fact, statistically speaking, Trump himself may actually be more Native American than Elizabeth Warren.While this could be a fact-check issue, it’s really about spin. The spin here is that a conclusion is asserted based on one part of a statement while looking past the other part of the statement. Often when we dig in the same article, we can find the spin on the truth. This isn’t about facts or ideology, liberal or conservative; it’s about framing the known information in such a way as to guide the reader to a certain conclusion. Trump clearly was not saying, “Take a DNA test and if you have any amount of Native blood, I’ll donate a million dollars.” He said what he said, “I will give you a million dollars, to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.”

Senator Warren took the test and is not a Native American, so the promise isn’t violated.Nothing to see here folks.

UPDATE – Posted Online After Elizabeth Warren Indicates She Will Run For President (early 2019)