“Correlation does not equal causation.” “Anecdote is not evidence.” “The plural of anecdote is not ‘data’.”
They seem to be the skeptical response to almost every woo-claim. If I left the house and talked to real people in real life, I’d probably use those phrases in real conversations.
At the same time, those phrases are my skeptical pet peeve. Yes, they’re true. Yes, they are important rules for us to live by. But I feel like they are used to dismiss any correlation or anecdotal claim out of hand. It’s as if the phrases are “Correlation does not equal causation and any correlation always means nothing more than coincidence” and “Anecdote is your story of personal deception or confirmation bias”. In fact, I’ve seen some pedants even dismiss facts because they included anecdotal information around them (i.e., This happened to me and it was only then that I learned…”, or a personal account of how something factual affected someone, or dismissing this AI out of hand because it’s a personal anecdote.) The thing is, correlation means that there is something connecting two things… and those two things may or may not be related. And an anecdote may not be proof, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless, and anecdotes are an effective way of spreading information and helping people understand it.
I also hate when believers are described as “stupid”.
What is your skeptical pet peeve?Â Is there anything skeptics do that gets under your skin at times?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.