Thursday, 13 December 2007

Anecdotal Evidence

It's funny, but I think we make many of our decisions and form much of our opinion on anecdotal evidence. The least reliable kind.

For example, this story Doctor's Trauma tells the story of a doctor troubled by the investigations into a 32 week abortion in which he participated some years ago.

This story is a powerful tool for shaping opinions about abortion. It is hard not to read it and think the laws criminalising abortion seem unfair. It will shape opinions because it is full of emotion, it has people we can empathise with and it plays on our unhealthy suspicion of government and authority. But it is still anecdotal evidence, a true anecdote, but an anecdote nonetheless.

Anecdotes can only ever present one side of the case. They cannot bring statistical evidence, they cannot bring balance to an argument, they cannot explore the subtleties of legal and ethical arguments. When each side of a conflict can bring anecdotes in support of their stance, how do we decide? Is the right stance the one with the most anecdotes? The one with the most emotional anecdotes? The cynic might suggest that the heart wrenching stories are published specifically to stifle argument and debate. I hope not. I hope we will consider evidence and ethical issues as some states in Australia open the issue of decriminalising abortion.
I truly hope so, because those arguing on the other side of the abortion issue don't have many anecdotes to wield in the debate. The people most affected negatively by abortion don't tell their stories. Their heart wrenching stories will never be told, never be lived.

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