Put yourself in these shoes.
You are from out of town, Orlando, Florida to be exact. You’re coming to Nebraska to visit. (I’m sure you’re thinking, why would a Floridian come to Nebraska to visit? It happens I promise.)
You decide to go outside on a busy day, to get to know the state of Nebraska a little bit more. Through the media and personal experience, you’ve heard about how nice the people of Nebraska are. You are excited. The Uber driver was fantastic, made you feel comfortable from one destination to the next. Your server was so attentive, getting you refills without you having to ask. The lady at the mall offering you free samples seemed genuinely interested in your story. You think to yourself, “Wow, Nebraskan’s really are nice!”
Whether you directly realized it or not, you were simply making patterns. You didn’t have a chance as soon as your personal bias about Nebraska developed. You ignored diversity of situations and unique personalities. You refused to see the mess.
According to the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, these patterns must be accounted for, shifting the blurred focus from differences to similarities. Once upon a time, this fallacy came to light when picturing the idea of cowboys shooting at a barn. When shooting at a barn for a significant amount of time, there are bound to be hundreds of holes on the side of the structure. The idea behind the fallacy is that if a cowboy were to paint around a cluster of bullet holes, he could portray himself as a sharpshooter. He could have hit two of those bullet holes, but in his mind he hit them all, because they were next to each other. This action alone, places emphasis on coincidence over logic, which is something the human brain likes to do naturally (McRaney, 2010).
While this fallacy has a lot to deal with data and research, medicinal patterns and hypothesis, I think this example says a lot about the idea behind the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. The idea of Nebraska Nice simplified the fallacy for me, and I hope it can do the same for you all.
While I’d love to think of my state as “Nebraska Nice.” and I’m sure it truly is in most cases, the error in this fallacy is that flaws are ignored. Walking through state lines with the hypothesis that every single person in Nebraska is nice is unfortunately unrealistic. While you were noticing the kindness of your Uber driver, server, and the person at the mall, you ignored aspects that broke your mental pattern. You ignored the driver who cut you off in traffic, the restaurant manager who didn’t comp your meal after royally messing up, the teenager who was eyeing your purse at the mall to steal. You ignored the broken pattern, and the mess.
This fallacy is flawed in the sense that coincidence is difficult to analyze and prove. Throughout your day in Nebraska, you tried to apply meaningful experiences to your day that weren’t really there. The fallacy blinded your logic, and that is a major flaw, especially when applied to discovering the truth behind a hypothesis. Life is not meant to be viewed in perfect patterns, life is raw and messy and completely uncontrollable a lot of the time. You cannot, and should not make something out of nothing, or nothing out of something.
My point is, don’t eye certain pieces of the information at hand just because it falls in your favor. I truly believe this is one of the most difficult fallacies to avoid, as we naturally want things to go our way, and our brains will stop at nothing to make that happen. Allow yourself to be wrong, see things the way they are, and remain realistic. We have a lot of Nebraska Nice people in our beautiful state, but I’m sure we can all give examples of Nebraska Mean people as well.
And that’s coming from an overly positive person.