The plural of anecdote

There are two very different quotes. The first is “the plural of anecdote is not data”. The second is “the plural of anecdote is data”. They are pretty much opposites. You can find more information on the two quotes here.

I often see the former quote being used to dismiss anecdotal evidence and ask for non-anecdotal data. We all agree that N>1 is better than N=1, all else equal, but I believe the latter quote is better, i.e. that the plural of anecdote is data. The focus on data as the aggregation of individual observations makes you think a lot more critically about what is part of the data – and what is not part of the data, what types of measurement error you are most likely dealing with, etc.

Similarly, it is easier to think about cherry picking and other selection biases when we consider anecdote the singular of data. A single data point is of little relevance in and by itself, but the mere aggregation of such data points is not sufficient – or even necessary – to say that we are no longer looking at anecdotes.