Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Value and Danger of Anecdotal Experiences

xkcd 842: Mark
Why anecdotes shouldn't be trusted. (xkcd #842: Mark)
I would like to share with you an anecdote.

For a long time, I kept my cell phone in my left pants pocket. After some time, I began noticing that the muscle just underneath it would occasionally twitch.

Feeling curious, I moved my phone to my right pocket. After a while, I noticed that the twitches in the left muscle weren’t happening anymore. And just recently (about 6 months later) I noticed some twitches occurring under my right pocket.

Ah-ha! you might think. Long-term exposure to cell phone radiation has some effect on muscles!

Well… no. It’s a curious correlation at best, but there are a number of problems with making any sort of conclusion from this single experience: