The Texas sharpshooter fallacy can be summed up as ignoring the differences in data and only focusing on the similarities. It tends to happen when there is an abundance of data, but the focus is only on a small subset of that data. The flaw in reasoning is the fact that we are always looking for information to confirm our pre-existing beliefs, which means we are simultaneously ignoring anything that is contradicting. This then causes us to draw conclusions based on incomplete knowledge.
It is something that many of us notice daily when we watch MSNBC, FOX News, CNN, or other news networks with a fairly strong bias. An example of this is when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews used the word “Hitlerian” to describe Donald Trump’s Inauguration speech, essentially comparing him to Adolf Hitler within the first hour of his Presidency. Later that same day he also said the following when referring to President Trumps’s son-in-law becoming senior advisor:
“It’s hard to fire your son-in-law, that’s the tricky part. Although Mussolini had a great solution to that.”
In these instances, it is clear that MSNBC was focusing only on the similarities between Donald Trump and these past murderous dictators, leading to a flawed conclusion.
It is a tendency for humans to make connections and see patterns where none exist. This is the same reason some people think they see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast or a potato chip that looks like Elvis, for example. A problem with this flawed reasoning is that we are making meaningful connections out of completely random events, which can lead to seemingly endless debates. This is seen often with conspiracy theories, which take random coincidences to build new, contradicting stories to what the majority believes. The problem with conspiracy theories is that they can cause believers of the theory to distrust and discount anyone who believes the real story. This, in turn, can cause heated arguments over people’s intelligence and gullibility.
To avoid this, when passing along information to other people, is it smart to first make sure you have the whole story. This includes sharing news on sites like Facebook because it is becoming increasingly likely that the article you run into is not the full truth.