On the JREF forum a poster asserted “history is anecdotal”, meaning this as a pejorative. This was my reply…
And this is the problem with anecdotal as it is often misused.
Let’s imagine this as a scene from one of those 1940’s British war films about heroic Brits with stiff upper lips giving Johnny-Hun what-for… in this film produced by the Ministry of War we see the final triumph of British Empiricism over Continental Rationalism (two philosophical ‘movements’ if you like) , at the Battle of Jutland as it should have been…
SCENE: the bridge of Sir David Beatty’s battlecruiser, 31st May, 1916. Somewhere off the dogger bank. The British Navy approaches the German Navy, in poor visibility…
Ensign – sir, look out reports Hipper’s battlegroup five miles off steaming NNW at 10 knots.
Beatty: Ermmm, well, probably not really there. Anecdotal. Anyone else see them?
Ensign. Only the lookout in the crows nest with the telescope sir. But visibility is poor…
Beatty: Human observation is notoriously fallible: full speed ahead and damn the torpedos!
TIME PASSES: STRAWBERRY MOUSSE IS SERVED
Ensign, sir, multiple reports from lookouts and crew of Scheer’s main battle fleet advancing on us now.
Beatty: Um, many trained observers?
Ensign: yes sir.
Beatty: But no replicable falsifiable physical evidence beyond imperfect human observations?
Ensign, er, no sir!
SCREEECH OF SHELL, EXPLOSION, GUN TURRET A KNOCKED OFF AND MAGAZINE CATCHES FIRE
Ensign: Sir, the Imperial German Fleet is shelling us!
Beatty: Perhaps. We have sufferred damage and an explosion, and I think I observed a gun shot and shell screech, but we must be careful in ascribing causality. Correlation is not causality. And the damage reports are anecotal. (knocks burning embers off hat, and stares glassily ahead ignoring conflagratiopn behind him).
Ensign: Sir, the ship is sinking and the Imperial Navy has surprised and destroyed the Grand Fleet. Oh, and Jellicoe is sending you signals — something about being “slightly miffed by this damned unpleasantness, bad show all round?”!
Beatty: Any non anecdotal evidence of this communication? Only science provides us with objective truth you know?
Ensign: sits down and smokes a cigar. Voiceover “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet”, as the waters close over the bridge to Air on a G String.
Of course it did not happen like that, as any historian will tell you? But hey, how would they know? History is just anecdotal evidence ! I hope I have demonstrated this claim is silly rot anyway.