The “It Worked for Me” Gimmick

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Posted 22 April 2016

It is almost inevitable that whenever we post an article critical of the claims being made for a particular treatment, alternative philosophy, or alternative profession, someone in the comments will counter a careful examination of published scientific evidence with an anecdote. Their arguments boils down to, “It worked for me, so all of your scientific evidence and plausibility is irrelevant.” Both components of this argument are invalid. Even if we grant that a treatment worked for one individual, that does not counter the (carefully observed) experience of all the subjects in the clinical trials. They count too – I would argue they count more because we can verify all the important aspects of their story.

This article by by Steven Novella published on April 20, 2016 on Science-Based Medicine, examines the value of the claim, ‘but it worked for me’.

He concludes:

It is hard to shake the sense that if someone feels better than the treatment must have “worked” in some way.

The, “It worked for me,” gambit will likely always be with us, however. Stories are compelling, and none more than our own. It is just how our brains work. If we eat something and get nauseated, we will avoid that food in the future. If we take a treatment and feel better, the feeling that the treatment was the cause can be profound and hard to dismiss with dry data.

This is true even with treatments that have been proven effective. We cannot know in any individual case whether or not an intervention worked, because we cannot know what would have happened without the treatment. We can only make statistical statements based on clinical data.

Read the article at Science-Based Medicine.

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