Personal Experience Shows…

The film critic Pauline Kael allegedly said, in response to Richard Nixon’s landslide victory, “How is that possible!  I don’t know a single person who voted for him.”  While she may not have actually said it, this kind of reasoning is not as rare as you might hope.

I had a friend in high school who wasn’t allowed to drive a car.  His parents gave him a scooter because they had known more people who died in car crashes than motorcycle accidents.  Apparently 2-wheeled death traps are much safer than cars.  And take this recent article.  A presumably educated and credentialed psychiatrist actually heralds the death of marriage as an institution with this gem:

I would venture that 90 percent of the married patients I speak with would rank their marriages in the top two stressors in their lives, while only 10 percent would rank their marriages as one of the top two sources of strength in their lives.

Besides being incredibly vague (rated in the top two stressors?  out of how many?) the good doctor doesn’t even pretend to have real summary statistics about his biased sample (“I would venture that…”). If there’s one thing worse than the “studies show” argument, it’s conversations that begin, at least conceptually, with “my own experience with self selecting groups shows….”    It’s this type of thinking that leads people to believe that figures lie and liars figure.


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