Have We Become Addicted to Anecdotes?

It’s easier for our brains to process simple facts than complex issues. That’s why anecdotes can be such powerful persuaders. Consider:

WalMartGiftCard.jpgWow, the economy really is bad…

(AP) “Wal-Mart says its shoppers are redeeming their holiday gift cards for basic items—pasta sauce, diapers, laundry detergent—instead of iPods or DVDs.”

Oh, man, Roger Clemens is sooooooo guilty..

(AP) “Brian McNamee told congressional investigators he injected Roger Clemens’ wife with human growth hormone as she prepared for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition photo session.”

See, I told you all pharmaceutical companies are liars…

(The New York Times on Pfizer’s controversial Lipitor ads) “…what qualifies him [Dr. Robert Jarvik] to pose as a rowing enthusiast? As it turns out, Dr. Jarvik, 61, does not actually practice the sport. The ad agency hired a stunt double for the sculling scenes.”

There’s nothing wrong with using anecdotes in a well-structured argument. But they shouldn’t take the place of well-structured arguments.

Black-and-white statements of fact often mask grey areas of the truth. (Well, anecdotally speaking that is.)