Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Anecdotes = Facts

Lee Bolin (Tempe, AZ) emailed his comments about the origin of the phrase I asked about in a prior posting (Blogger link may not work; it's the posting for 11/18) that "the plural of 'anecdote' isn't 'facts'":

"I believe that the original aphorism is "The plural of anecdote is data." The negation, that the plural is NOT data, seems to be a recent reaction by academics to the original phrase. I do recall that I read the original quote from Senator Moynihan in Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News over a decade ago, but I do not now know the specific citation. I also do not if it was Senator Moynihan's original thought, or if he had borrowed it from someone else.

A variety of other people, notably Ben Wattenberg, have used that phrase over the years. Senator Moynihan's own use of it appears from time to time in the Congressional Record. The negation, "The plural of anecdote is not data", seems to have arisen fairly recently and is popular with persnickety social scientists.

Here is an earlier and more specific -- and also more infamous -- rendering of Senator Moynihan's dictum:

"One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic."
-- Josef Stalin

He could have written the current administration's HIV/AIDS policy."

I'm now told that the Homeland Security column will run in tomorrow's paper--with an opposing piece by a Tribune editor.

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