Accepted Paper:

"The plural of anecdote is not evidence": contested knowledge in decision/policy-making at veterans affairs Canada  


Walter Callaghan (University of Toronto)

Paper short abstract:

Examining the contest over what counts as evidence, this paper will discuss how the dismissal of personal narratives as only being anecdotal becomes a form of structural violence that contributes to the further traumatization of those experiencing psychological distress.

Paper long abstract:

"The plural of anecdote is not evidence" - these words were spoken in early 2016 during testimony given before the Standing Committee on Public Safety & Security discussing contested knowledge in regards to the use of medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. The statement was made in refutation of the personal stories of veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces that medical marijuana was having a positive impact in managing the symptoms of their psychological distress. This phrase has since been uttered in response to other attempts to have the subjective experience of the individual included in so-called evidence-based decision-making, including at the level of arbitrating disability claims being made by veterans to Veterans Affairs Canada. This statement had the effect of telling veterans that their subjective experiences were not as valid as the supposedly objective nature of epidemiological studies, and that medical professionals have more authority to speak to the lived reality of psychological distress, something that creates and reinforces distrust between veterans and clinicians or bureaucrats. This paper argues that the dismissal of narratives as being only anecdotal, and therefore not worthy of the same level of consideration as other forms of evidence, is an act of violence towards those who would contest decisions that have direct impacts on their lives, and that even the perception that this is the position taken by the medical professionals and bureaucrats who influence policy-making is in itself traumatizing, particularly in the form of moral injury referred to as "sanctuary trauma".

Panel RM-SPK01
By whose authority: investigating alternative modes of power and the legitimization of expertise