When you desire meaning, when you want things to line up, when looking for something specific, you tend to notice patterns everywhere, which leads you to ask the question, “What are the odds?” Usually, the odds are actually pretty good.
For instance: Does the Bermuda Triangle seem quite as mysterious once you know that just about any triangle of that size drawn over the globe just about anywhere planes and ships frequently travel will contain as many, if not more, missing planes and ships?
Drawing circles (or triangles) around the spots where randomness clusters together seemingly chance events is called The Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, and it is one of the easiest mistakes to make when trying to understand big, complex sets of data.
Though some things in life seem too amazing to be coincidence, too odd to be random, too similar to be chance, given enough time (and enough events) randomness will begin to clump up in places. Since you are born looking for those spots where chance events have built up like sand into dunes, picking out clusters of coincidence is a predicable malfunction of a normal human mind, and it can easily lead to the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.
Listen as three experts in reasoning and logic explain why it is so easy to find what you are looking for when you go anomaly hunting in a large set of data.
This episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast is the fifth in a full season of episodes exploring logical fallacies. Read the rest