I've used the quotation "The plural of anecdote is not data" in various talks over the years, never knowing the original source. I searched the usual places (though clearly not hard enough!), but never figured out whom it should be attributed to. So I was pleased to learn that John Myles White had discovered the source: Raymond Wolfinger (presumably the political scientist from Berkeley). This attribution comes in this 2004 email from Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Dictionary of Quotations:
I [Shapiro] e-mailed Wolfinger last year and got the following response from him:
"I said 'The plural of anecdote is data' some time in the 1969-70 academic year while teaching a graduate seminar at Stanford. The occasion was a student's dismissal of a simple factual statement -- by another student or me -- as a mere anecdote. The quotation was my rejoinder. Since then I have missed few opportunities to quote myself. The only appearance in print that I can remember is Nelson Polsby's accurate quotation and attribution in an article in PS: Political Science and Politics in 1993; I believe it was in the first issue of the year."
Reception to the article ran about 80 percent negative in the comments section and on social media. A reaction like that compels us to think carefully about the piece and our editorial process.
I can tell you from experience that if it looks as if the folks at 538 are making it up as they go along, that’s because they are. It’s what you do at a startup.
I expect they’ll get better. Maybe they’ll even figure out how to do data journalism, which would be a boon for everybody.
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