Glenn Greenwald has some thoughts worth considering about the fallacy of the “argument by anecdote.” He writes:
>The Ward Churchill whirlwind is one of the classic examples of this rotted genre. “Stories” of that type — which are, as I’ve noted before, perfect examples of the logical fallacy of “argument by anecdote” — are naturally attractive to lazy journalists because they enable broad political points to be made simply by focusing on single anecdotes in isolation. Very little analytical or journalistic work needs to be done in order to covert those anecdotes and cliches into a sensationalistic, attention-generating story.
While I think he’s correct in his assessment of the problem with that sort of arguing. I wonder however if the argument by anecdote is either (1) another way of saying “hasty generalization” or (2) it is a rhetorical specification of the same or maybe (3) something else.
Argument for (1) and (2): To focus on single anecdotes (usually outrageous, as Greenwald correctly notes) isn’t by itself reasoning badly. To infer from the single anecdotes to some broader generalization is reasoning badly. In this sense the argument by anecdote is a kind of fallacy of weak induction.
Argument for (3): on the other hand, the difference with the argument by anecdote is that usually that generalization is not made explicitly. It is merely implied that the anecdote is representative. So in a sense, the outrageous anecdote distracts us from the more pertinent question (and the one that has been assumed) as to whether that anecdote represents anything at all (which it doesn’t). In this sense, it’s a kind of fallacy of relevance.
Anyone have any thoughts on this?