Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is a logical fallacy in which information that has no relationship is interpreted or manipulated until it appears to have meaning. The name comes from a joke about a Texan who fires some shots at the side of a barn, then paints a target centered on the biggest cluster of hits and claims to be a sharpshooter.

The fallacy does not apply if one had a prior expectation of the particular relationship in question before examining the data. It is related to the clustering illusion, which refers to the tendency in human cognition to interpret patterns in randomness where none actually exist.

Attempts to find cryptograms in the works of William Shakespeare, which tended to report results only for those passages of Shakespeare for which the proposed decoding algorithm produced an intelligible result. This could be explained as an example of the fallacy because passages which do not match the algorithm have not been accounted for. The fallacy could also be an explanation for cryptograms in the Bible, and the Quran Code.

This fallacy is often found in modern-day interpretations of the quatrains of Nostradamus. Nostradamus’s quatrains are often liberally translated from the original (archaic) French, stripped of their historical context, and then applied to support the conclusion that Nostradamus predicted a given modern-day event, after the event actually occurred. For instance, the Nostradamus lines that supposedly predicted 9/11 were taken from three separate and unrelated passages and a fictional line was added.

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