Anecdotes Still Aren’t Evidence – Just Because Something “Works For You” Doesn’t Mean it Works

by Phrost | June 14, 2017 11:03

Sorry ’bout your cognitive deficiencies, bro.

Melinda Wenner Moyer has gotten a lot of modern day hate mail–irate comments and messages via social media–right out of the gate after launching a column on Self magazine that addresses inaccuracies in health product marketing… kinda like what we do here on Bullshido, but with a significantly fewer f-bombs and angry memes.

Her article, What Apple Cider Vinegar Can—and Can’t—Do for Your Health[1] relied on actual science and consultation of medical professionals to dismiss the near-miraculous health effects claimed by proponents of the substance.

And the “evidence” wielded in defense of apple cider vinegar’s healing properties? “Well it worked for me!”. That’s it. And this is where our respective styles of covering nonsense in the health industries diverge, because that’s not fucking good enough.

She explains the reasons why in this manner:

If I drink a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in the hopes of curing my cold, and then my sniffles improve, I might assume ACV healed me. But why? For many purported remedies, there are no credible reasons to causally link the two together; there’s not a single study showing that vinegar affects the common cold. These kinds of logical fallacies are so old and pervasive they even have a Latin name: post hoc ergo propter hoc, which translates to “after this, therefore because of this.”

Our weaknesses in the health arena could have something to do with the fact that medicine is insanely complicated—it’s difficult for us to discern whether two things going on in the body are related or not. And of course there’s the fact that tons of people believe and tout that home and natural remedies like vinegar cure comment ailments like colds.

There’s obviously an appeal to the idea that home remedies hold nuggets of ancient, grandmotherly wisdom that is as warm and comforting as Nanna’s oatmeal raisin cookies. But just like the fact that the sugar in those cookies is probably exacerbating your demise, belief in a convoluted form of medicine through popular consensus is dangerous to your health.

grandma baking cookies

This, basically

Confirmation Bias Confirming BS

Just in case you didn’t know, Confirmation Bias[2] is the phenomenon where a person gravitates towards a conclusion that supports what they already believe. For example, if you think Oklahoma is the worst damn state in the United States and any sane person should move away and let it descend further into a wasteland of yokel stupidity and man-made earthquakes, you’re probably going to notice just about every negative news article about Oklahoma that percolates through your digital feeds.

Consequently, the fact that you notice news about how Oklahoma is a stupidly-shaped garbage state filled with mostly bigot-morlocks, reinforces my your pre-conceived views about the state.

Oklahoma Morlocks

This, basically

And that’s just one of the reasons why “Common Sense” type thinking makes you vulnerable to believing BS. The fact that an idea about something is common isn’t justification for believing that idea, much less supporting evidence for it, in a world where the majority of people admit to believing in all sorts of ridiculous things like angels (as high as 80%[3]).

“Well it works for me” isn’t evidence of effectiveness. It’s not even a data point. It is just evidence of the fact that you want to believe something, and that you don’t want to think about it too much.

And thinking like this may be good enough when expressing an opinion about Oklahoma, but it’s not good enough when it comes to something as critical as Medicine.

Endnotes:
  1. What Apple Cider Vinegar Can—and Can’t—Do for Your Health: http://www.self.com/story/apple-cider-vinegar-health
  2. Confirmation Bias: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
  3. 80%: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/poll-nearly-8-in-10-americans-believe-in-angels/

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