The Plural of Anecdote is Not Data

I saw Polly Toynbee’s article in the Guardian the other day, which discussed the link between inequality and obesity, and was inclined to nod along sagely, not just because it was a nice piece of social democratic propagdanda, but because it fitted with my anecdotal experience. In the years I lived in America, there was a stark contrast between the middle-class students who inhabited the campus, who were hardly ever fat, and, in particular, the working-class teenagers who worked at the check-out desks of the local supermarket, who were often extremely fat.

Now, American bloggers and some of their friends didn’t like what they found in Toynbee’s piece and said so here, here and, most recently, here. And, for all I know or care, Toynbee’s article may very well have contained various mistakes, misrepresentations, sloppinesses, etc. But the power of anecdotal experience meant that these critiques didn’t quite shake my opinion that she was probably onto something important enough to warrant further discussion. And that’s one reason why it’s good to see Matthew Turner’s number-crunching in support of the Toynbee Thesis, or at least a part of it.

UPDATE [5pm]: Chris Lightfoot weighs in.

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