As college students, most of us have heard about or experienced roommate horror stories. You know the story: You think you’ve found this great roommate and you guys have so much in common. You both love chocolate ice cream, scary movies, and soccer. What could go wrong?
A few weeks into school, you realize you and your “perfect” roomie aren’t so compatible after all. She has a boyfriend that constantly spends the night in your room. She’s an early riser and you’re more of a night owl. These things never came up when you talked over the summer. You spent so much time discussing your similarities that you overlooked your differences. This is known as the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy.
Logicallyfalacious.com defines the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy as “Ignoring the differences while focusing on the similarities, thus coming to an inaccurate conclusion.” You want to believe fate had a hand in the situation, when you’re really just trying to give meaning to randomness. The name “Texas Sharpshooter” originates from a story about a cowboy. He shoots the side of a barn multiple times and then paints a bull’s eye around a cluster of bullet holes to make him appear a better shot. He was trying to make a pattern out of pure chance.
Another example of this fallacy is a fertilizer company claiming that farmers who used their fertilizer during a growing season saw better crops than farmers who didn’t, so their fertilizer must be the best. What the company didn’t take into account was factors like weather and soil quality. Maybe the farmers who didn’t use the fertilizer also suffered from a drought that season.
In William M. Keith and Christian O. Lundberg’s “The Essential Guide to Rhetoric,” they describe common types of fallacies. The Texas Sharpshooter fallacy falls under the post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “after this, therefore because of this” type of fallacy. According to Keith and Lundberg, “this type of reasoning becomes a fallacy when arguers make a casual claim based only on things occurring together instead of proving a connection.” In the fertilizer example, just because it worked for some farmers, doesn’t mean it will work for every farmer.
The Texas Sharpshooter fallacy can get people into a lot of trouble, and is a terrible way of reasoning. Just because it seems like fate, doesn’t mean it is.