Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy comes from the story of a Texan who shot randomly at the side of a barn. After doing so, he painted a target around every bullet hole to make it seem as if he shot the center of the target dead on, every time. He round up the neighborhood so they could see what he had done. Believing he was quite the shot, they declared him the sharpest shooter in the state. Their reasoning for giving the man this title was of course, fallacious.

An example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is when reality TV shows are filmed. In order to shoot an episode, it requires many takes on every scene. Of the scenes shot, the best ones need to be used and put in order to create the story. This means when they condense the footage into the thirty minute episode they are "putting a bullseye around a cluster of holes" so the audience can only see the polished finished product.

Another common way this fallacy is used is on compatibility websites. Often times, when a website tells someone that they and someone else are compatible, they are taking only a few items where both people are similar. Let’s say the websites asks fifty compatibility questions, if there are only twenty questions the people matched on, the website is ignoring the thirty differences between both people. This would be taking a cluster of information and grouping it together in order to make it seem like the people are compatible. In reality, there are more differences between the pair than there are similarities, which is misleading to the couple who are actually very incompatible. 

A very serious example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy has to do with cancer clusters. If an Epidemiologists computes the probability of cancer in a certain neighborhood due to the clumping that is shown in that particular area, then there is a chance that the computation could be misleading. This is because random processes could produce clusters in neighborhoods where it is unlikely to see clumping (William Thompson, 2009). This relates to the fallacy because if you see where the clusters are located, it is a lot like putting a bullseye around a cluster of holes, and not being able to see how far apart each individual hole really is. 

The flaw in reasoning behind these examples is that if you cluster similar aspects together, it creates a skewed belief for the outsider. When the reality of things, is the opposite of what the outsider believes. Thus, allowing the outsider to receive false information and never know it. In certain cases harming people in the process. 

McRaney, D. (2010) The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. 
Thompson, W. C. (2009) Painting the target around the matching profile: The Texas sharpshooter fallacy in forensic DNA interpretation. 

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