Should we discount something because the only evidence for it is anecdotal? Sometimes the answer is a resounding "yes", sometimes the answer is an equivocated "probably", every once in awhile, the answer should be "not outright", and on the rare occasion we should view "anecdotal evidence" as "empirical evidence".
There is an interesting bit of anecdotal "evidence" offered to us by the Daily Mail [UK] today:
By Ryan Kisiel
Last updated at 1:49 AM on 21st July 2008
A cancer patient credits his morning glass of broccoli juice with halting the disease.
Ray Wiseman's claim has prompted more research into the vegetable's healing powers.
Doctors told Mr Wiseman they did not expect him to survive, when they diagnosed him five years ago.
But scans show that his cancer has stopped spreading - vastly improving his chances of a recovery.
The grandfather, 79, puts his health down to the tumbler of broccoli juice that his wife prepares for him each day.
Mr Wiseman, who lives in Braunstone, Leicestershire, said: 'I take this juice every day. I know it's done me good.
'I suppose it would be the same for everybody.'
Scientists from Cancer Research UK have asked her for the recipe, to further study the vegetable's benefits.
Recent medical studies have highlighted the possible cancer-beating powers of broccoli.
British scientists at the Institute of Food Research found that men who ate one daily portion had altered patterns of gene activity in their prostates, suggesting that the chemicals in the vegetable might be able to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
According to a report published in the British Journal of Cancer in 2006, natural chemicals found in certain vegetables, such as broccoli-cauliflower and cabbage, can enhance DNA repair in cells, which could help stop them becoming cancerous.
What sets this report apart from simply "anecdotal" is the supporting findings for the benefits of vegetables in general and broccoli specifically. However, even with the support this remission is still anecdotal. It could be nothing more than the power of "mind over matter", better known as the placebo effect. But, it is still tantalizing, tantalizing enough to warrant scientific study.
It is not widely known that UK medical researchers are far more apt to perform health trials for "natural remedies" than their "free market capitalist" counterparts in the US. Perhaps they have learned that sometimes anecdotal evidence can (and sometimes should) be viewed as "empirical evidence" worthy of serious study. A perspective no doubt helped along by budgetary and (potential) future profitability issues, both being smaller for the UK researchers than for those in the US.
Now my question: What does broccoli juice taste like?
Actually, I love broccoli, and even frequently enjoy it raw, but somehow the thought of "drinking" my broccoli doesn't seem at all palatable, but then, neither does eating the amount suggested – on a daily basis.
Perhaps, someday, they will find that a daily quart of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey cures cancer……