Bad argument: “I turned out fine”

An Australian parenting expert details why making an “I turned out fine” argument does not work:

It’s what’s known as an anecdotal fallacy. This fallacy, in simple terms, states that “I’m not negatively affected (as far as I can tell), so it must be O.K. for everyone.” As an example: “I wasn’t vaccinated, and I turned out fine. Therefore, vaccination is unnecessary.” We are relying on a sample size of one. Ourselves, or someone we know. And we are applying that result to everyone.

It relies on a decision-making shortcut known as the availability heuristic. Related to the anecdotal fallacy, it’s where we draw on information that is immediately available to us when we make a judgment call. In this case, autobiographical information is easily accessible — it’s already in your head. We were smacked as kids and turned out fine, so smacking doesn’t hurt anyone. But studies show that the availability heuristic is a cognitive bias that can cloud us from making accurate decisions utilizing all the information available. It blinds us to our own prejudices.

It dismisses well-substantiated, scientific evidence. To say “I turned out fine” is an arrogant dismissal of an alternative evidence-based view. It requires no perspective and no engagement with an alternative perspective. The statement closes off discourse and promotes a single perspective that is oblivious to alternatives that may be more enlightened. Anecdotal evidence often undermines scientific results, to our detriment.

It leads to entrenched attitudes. When views inconsistent with our own are shared we make an assumption that whoever holds those views is not fine, refusing to engage, explore or grow. Perhaps an inability to engage with views that run counter to our own suggests that we did not turn out quite so “fine.”

One data point does not make for a broad understanding of how the world works. A single case can illustrate larger trends – but it does not necessarily describe all that happens.

I wonder if one of the issues with the health patterns discussed here is that many people do indeed turn out fine even though there is clear evidence that a certain behavior leads to bad outcomes. Take the example of not wearing a seat belt while riding in the car. Even though more than 30,000 Americans die each year in accidents, the majority of people do not die and most driving goes by without event. Accidents are common but they may not be regular.Many people could indeed say they turned out fine and the thing they experienced still be bad for people.

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