Here is a great posting by Steve Novella entitled "Role of Anecdotes in Science-Based Medicine".
Understanding the world through stories was a good strategy in the environment of our evolutionary history but is far too flawed to deal with the complex world we live in today. In fact, the discipline of science developed as a tool to go beyond the efficient but flawed techniques we evolved .
Generalization and quick and dirty induction may well have been part of the survival package that our ancestors used to good advantage as they tried to avoid predators and gather together to hunt and gather but in dealing with the complex and nuanced world we now try to describe and unravel we need other tools and to be aware of the pitfalls and traps to which some of our mental apparatus makes us prone.
Novella gives a good briefing on why is it that anecdotes do not form the basis for sound conclusions . He give us the top 9 (or 8 depending on how you count) reasons for one to be skeptical about anecdotes including:
The phenomenon of regression to the mean, confirmation bias, and reporting bias-to name a few.
If medical students ( or docs for that matter) understood what Dr. Novella is saying we would not have med students writing nonsense about- for example-reike referenced on Jan. 30,2008 here by Dr. RW.
Dr. Robert Centor has recently been writing about the medical school and pre-med curriculum and what it should include. I was pleased to see this sentence in his latest effort along those lines.
I would add a cognition course throughout the first year. This course would teach logic, evidence based medicine and principles of cognition (as Jerome Groopman champions.) The course would stress thinking.
I agree completely.If medical students were made aware of the mental foibles that lead some presumably educated people to believe in such utter non-sense as reiki maybe we would not continue to see the acceptance and sad defenses of that and other versions of quackery in medical student organization's publications . As things stand now,I'm afraid that more medical students than medical educators would like to admit would not appreciate the on-target satire of altie medicine and post modernism found here