Statistical data and the Education Debate Part 3: Errors and Gold Standards

Scenes From The Battleground

I talked last time about how personal experience, or anecdote, cannot simply be dismissed as unreliable. Of course, there are exceptions. There are things where lay observation is very unreliable, for instance the effectiveness of a particular medicine, or assessment of the intelligence of one’s own children. But if something is easy to see, and you see it a lot, then it is not somehow unscientific to think it happens or even that it is common.

The misconception that we should dismiss people’s personal experiences is a common one. I have frequently heard politicians who listen to voters condemned for peddling “anecdotes” rather than listening to “evidence”. Sometimes it seems like the opinion of one academic about what people should have experienced, would be worth the unanimous testimony of 100 randomly selected members of the public about what they have experienced. If a politician is criticised for “ignoring the evidence”…

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