The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

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. The first episode is here.


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BarbaraDrescherBarbara Drescher is a cognitive psychologist and skeptical activist who lectured at California State University and served as educational programs consultant for the James Randi Educational Foundation. Her website is

JRJesse Richardson is the founder of, a fantastic website where you can learn about fallacies and critical thinking and easily share what you discover. He is an award-winning creative lead on a number of other projects including School Of Thought.
MikeRugnettaMike Rugnetta is the writer and host of PBS Idea Channel produced by PBS Digital Studios. On Idea Channel he applies philosophical and critical concepts to pop-culture ideas and other more-familiar topics in an effort to better explain to a general, internet-savvy audience the strange and abstract propositions he explores in wonderful detail.

In every episode, after I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, "You Are Now Less Dumb," and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode's winner is Anton Angelo who sent in a recipe for Belgium Biscuits. Send your own recipes to david {at}

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Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes


Your Logical Fallacy Is

PBS Idea Channel

A Guide to Logical Fallacies