The Plural of Anecdote is Not Ambien

Aided and abetted by the press, researchers are relying more on case reports.

Glenn McGee
Oct 1, 2006

A few years ago Princeton health economist Uwe Reinhardt, Dartmouth geriatrician Joann Lynn, and I filmed a documentary on the effect of advancing biomedical technology on affordable healthcare in the United States. Five hours of interviews were reduced to 10-minute bookends for a set of short, emotional stories that obliterated the complexities of the issues. As Reinhardt quipped in our cab, repeating the oft-cited quote, the plural of anecdote is not data. Except on television.

We've all had this experience: You bring work home and talk about concepts central to biomedical research such as evidence-based medicine, controlled trials, equipoise, peer-review, or impact factor. Friends' eyes roll up into their skulls in boredom. Yet the same topics come up in everyday conversation all the time, just framed in a different way: "I know a person who lost his house to the cost of drugs," and "you know a guy who is...

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