The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

500 years ago, Nostradamus wrote these words: "Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers, the greater part of the battle will be against Hister. He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron, when the son of Germany obeys no law." Battle against Hister? Son of Germany obeys no law? Clearly, Nostradamus predicted the rise of Hitler. Not so fast: all we have to go on are these few similarities to details in World War II. Assuming such a bold prediction requires us to focus on the parts that match up with our conclusion and ignore the ones that don't, such as "beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers," and the fact that "Hister" is actually the Latin name for the Danube River. This is an example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy: making an argument based on certain information, then using that same information to confirm it, often while dismissing whatever doesn't support it. This fallacy is related to the clustering illusion, a cognitive bias that leads people to see a pattern in what's really just simple randomness.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is when an argument is made and confirmed using the same set of information. It's named after a story of a Texan who shoots at the side of a barn, then paints a bullseye over the holes to make it look like he's a great shot. 00:18

  2. A Texas Sharpshooter ignores information outside of a desired result. Only things which have hit a target drawn after the fact are considered worthy. 00:51

  3. The Texas Sharpshooter is related to confirmation bias, where people people tend to interpret things in ways that confirm their own beliefs while ignoring information that challenges them. 02:06

Written by Ashley Hamer May 6, 2016

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