Blog: Analytical Techniques: The Power of Anecdotes - 2013-11-13
Summary: We look at the role of anecdotes in researching the cult. They can be powerful tools to either validate or challenge your existing thinking. Anecdotes don't prove trends or general conclusions, but they are a great tool for alerting you to possible trends, changes in direction, or conclusions you've missed. This article talks about how we use anecdotes on Wall Street. But the best part is a case study, with one of our commenters reporting on a great chance encounter who interviewed a Scientologist at length in an airport bar, as well as my quick take on what to do next with an anecdote that challenges some of my beliefs about the cult.
Anecdotes are powerful tools: Today, I want to look at the power of anecdotal evidence in analyzing Scientology. Stories from current and former members can be a powerful tool to check your assumptions and your thoughts about what is going on inside the cult. These are particularly important to help you make sure that reality has not changed without your noticing. In other words, anecdotes that don't fit into your current hypothesis of what is going on are one of the most powerful tools in improving your analytical work.
In order to make anecdotes work, one has to have a foundation of intellectual honesty. In other words, you have to be open to the possibility that some new piece of anecdotal data will unravel a theory, potentially even one that you are inordinately fond of. You can't rush to defend a theory without thinking dispassionately about what the new data point means. Pride in doing good analysis comes not in being right about a particular theory, but in being able to adapt your thinking and to continue to hone in on useful and actionable conclusions, even if they are heading in a different direction in your prior work.