Chelsea Clinton and "anecdotal evidence"

The once and future first daughter’s bout of reefer madness notwithstanding, please remember: “anecdotal evidence” is another way of saying “no evidence”…

Chelsea Clinton, who has been out on the stump a bit lately “helping” her mother’s campaign, recently dove face first into the muck by saying that pot can be fatal.

“…we also have anecdotal evidence now from Colorado where some of the people who were taking marijuana for those purposes, the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking.”

Clinton didn’t provide any details on this “anecdotal evidence,” and later one of her “spokesmen” was trotted out to explain that Chelsea “misspoke.”


We hear that term all the time: “anecdotal evidence.” But what does it mean? Let me cut to the chase. When you hear:

“There is anecdotal evidence…”

That means:

“There is no evidence…”

An anecdote is a story. An isolated example. It isn’t research, it isn’t scientific data, it hasn’t necessarily been tested or scrutinized. At best it may hint at something true, and therefore be worthy of examination to determine if it is part of a valid data set. At worst it’s some hare-brained shit your lackwit brother-in-law said after getting liquored up on a six of Coors Light.

For instance, I have anecdotal evidence that Obama killed the Kennedys and masterminded 9/11.

Anecdotes can be useful. Much scientific research begins with an isolated observation or two, which sparks some critical thinking, which leads to the development of a study to test a hypothesis.

Anecdotes can also be really, really damaging. Let’s say you’re a racist politician trying to whip the yahoos into a lather. There is no evidence that the nigras are all getting rich off food stamps, but you heard a story once (maybe at Thanksgiving dinner with your lackwit liquored up brother-in-law) about a welfare queen in Detroit.

Voila – you have anecdotal evidence.

In the very best case, anecdotes might shed light on the beginning of a process that results in evidence. They are never the end process, and can never be substituted for actual evidence.

So let’s review. “Anecdotal evidence” is another way of saying “no evidence.”

Remember this the next time someone tries to play you for a fool. Also, the next time you’re tempted to try passing off blind ideology or prejudice as fact.


  • Well, sure. You can probably kill yourself with tap water if you try hard enough.

  • Exactly, Frank D. How many have car wrecks or end up in emergency rooms because of legal alcohol? The issue is not the booze, but rather how people consume. I have never known a pot smoker who was actually addicted; both my sisters are raging alcoholics, as was our father. Alcohol deeply frightens me. Even so, I have no desire to ban alcohol.

    I don’t entirely agree about anecdotal evidence. The women’s movement was built on it. There were consciousness raising groups where women said in astonishment, “That happened to you? Me too!” When women were locked out of ALL areas of power, it was our stories that, one at a time, built a movement. We didn’t wait for science to form a hypothesis. We started taking to the streets when we learned, for example, that most women we knew had been raped too.

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