Anecdotal (testimonial) Evidence
The expression anecdotal evidence refers to evidence from anecdotes. Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases. Anecdotal evidence is considered dubious support of a claim; it is accepted only in lieu of more solid evidence. This is true regardless of the veracity of individual claims.
Anecdotal evidence is often unscientific or pseudoscientific because various forms of cognitive bias may affect the collection or presentation of evidence. For instance, someone who claims to have had an encounter with a supernatural being or alien may present a very vivid story, but this is not falsifiable. This phenomenon can also happen to large groups of people through subjective validation.
Anecdotal evidence is also frequently misinterpreted via the availability heuristic, which leads to an overestimation of prevalence. Where a cause can be easily linked to an effect, people overestimate the likelihood of the cause having that effect (availability). In particular, vivid, emotionally-charged anecdotes seem more plausible, and are given greater weight.
Testimonials and vivid anecdotes are one of the most popular and convincing forms of evidence presented for beliefs in the supernatural, paranormal, and pseudoscientific. Nevertheless, testimonials and anecdotes in such matters are of little value in establishing the probability of the claims they are put forth to support. Sincere and vivid accounts of one’s encounter with an angel or the Virgin Mary, an alien, a ghost, a Bigfoot, a child claiming to have lived before, purple auras around dying patients, a miraculous dowser, a levitating guru, or a psychic surgeon are of little value in establishing the reasonableness of believing in such matters.
Anecdotes are unreliable for various reasons. Stories are prone to contamination by beliefs, later experiences, feedback, selective attention to details, and so on. Most stories get distorted in the telling and the retelling. Events get exaggerated. Time sequences get confused. Details get muddled. Memories are imperfect and selective; they are often filled in after the fact. People misinterpret their experiences. Experiences are conditioned by biases, memories, and beliefs, so people’s perceptions might not be accurate. Most people aren’t expecting to be deceived, so they may not be aware of deceptions that others might engage in. Some people make up stories. Some stories are delusions.
Sometimes events are inappropriately deemed psychic simply because they seem improbable when they might not be that improbable after all. In short, anecdotes are inherently problematic and are usually impossible to test for accuracy.
If others cannot experience the same thing under the same conditions, then there will be no way to verify the experience. If there is no way to test the claim made, then there will be no way to tell if the experience was interpreted correctly. If others can experience the same thing, then it is possible to make a test of the testimonial and determine whether the claim based on it is worthy of belief.
A common way anecdotal evidence becomes unscientific is through fallacious reasoning such as the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, the human tendency to assume that if one event happens after another, then the first must be the cause of the second. Another fallacy involves inductive reasoning. For instance, if an anecdote illustrates a desired conclusion rather than a logical conclusion, it is considered a faulty or hasty generalization.
If such testimonials are scientifically worthless, why are they so popular and why are they so convincing? There are several reasons. Testimonials are often vivid and detailed, making them appear credible. They are often made by enthusiastic people who seem trustworthy and honest, and who lack any reason to deceive us. They are often made by people with some semblance of authority, such as those who hold a Ph.D. in psychology or physics. To some extent, testimonials are believable because people want to believe them.
Often, one anticipates with hope some new treatment or instruction. One’s testimonial is given soon after the experience while one’s mood is still elevated from the desire for a positive outcome. The experience and the testimonial it elicits are given more significance than they deserve.
The reason pyramids are common accross the ancient world is because it’s a primary shape for a structure; Fat base, narrow top. It’s like the default way of making sturdy buildings out of stacked stones. Stone being the only durable material available until concrete was invented. Of course you’re going to develop precision ways of working with the only material you’ve got, for millennia. Stone cutting was a serious artisan business (masonry) passed down over generations and taken as seriously as religion. There is documented evidence of the evolution of these methods over time. It is the story of engineering itself.
The proponents of alien theories love to omit that sort of thing. They would have you think these amazing structures just fell from the sky, literally.
This stuff bothers me because people dedicated generations of lives to these ancient projects. The alien hypothesis only serves to mock and dismiss the lifelong hard work of so many dedicated humans. And even though it doesn’t involve lasers beams, the real histories of engineering and art behind to these human achievements are a million times more interesting and explanatory than that Ancient Aliens nonsense.
Incidentally, that show represents almost the exact moment when the history channel jumped the shark in favor of cheap entertainment over factual information. But it goes beyond that. It’s a real bummer that people will forego real, useful and fascinating information for a fantasy. It reminds me of creationism. Notice some similarities:
-Ignorance: you don’t know how something amazing was done, like building a pyramid, so you think that some powerful super-being must have done it. Also, when you lack a background in ancient or medieval art and symbolism, you’re likely to fill in your ignorance with familiar patterns. Which brings us to…
-Apophenia -defined as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”, but it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random information in general, such as with gambling and paranormal phenomena. A more common human experience is perceiving faces in inanimate objects. But, hey doesn’t that hieroglyph look like the spaceship from classic science fiction, or the alien in the movie Predator? It’s proof I tell you!!
-Anthropocentrism: We are the special ones. Of course, earth is obviously the universe’s premier destination. Forget that it’s a less than a dust speck in the vastness of space… And why wouldn’t advance aliens, who have mastered god like energy and technology, want to hang out and help us place heavy stones? I mean, what else could they have to do with limitless energy and technological know-how.
They must have some special purpose in mind for us.
Throw in some confirmation bias and some scifi romanticism and boom: Ancient Aliens, Jesus aliens, government conspiracy aliens… aliens everywhere.
“The Internet is a dangerous place. It’s full of resources, both good and bad; full of citations linking one to another, sometimes helpfully, sometimes not. Today we’re going to point the skeptical eye at ten of the worst web sites in terms of quality of science information that they promote. To make this list, they not only need to have bad information, they also need to be popular enough to warrant our attention.
Many of these sites promote some particular ideology, but I want to be clear that that’s not why they’re here. Sites that make this list are only here because of the quality of the science information that they advocate…”