Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Biased Sample and the Spotlight Fallacy

It’s been a while since I’ve highlighted a logic fallacy, but after the most recent non-fiction book I read, I felt compelled to start again.

The Spotlight Fallacy

I am highlighting this fallacy, as it really is being exemplified in the media right now (or always really, but I have a timely example right now).

This fallacy is a simple one. It is when a person assumes that all people of a type or group share the exact same characteristic(s)as those being spotlighted in the media or receiving the most attention.


“All black men are violent; I see it on the news all the time.”

“Kids these days are so much more violent; I see all these stories about school violence."

Pretty poor logic to depend on rumors and the media to determine what a class of people are like--which can’t be done anyway, as people are chaotic systems and it is best to judge them on a individual level. In fact, racial profiling started and failed by this logic fallacy.

My most recent example, as it is really starting to agitate me, is with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. I honestly overheard a conversation a Seattle tea shop between two men that went like this:

Person A: “Hillary’s voting demographic is clearly women."

Person B: “Is that enough to win?”

Person A: “Well, it’s not all women, just women that hate their husbands or are divorced.”

Person B: “There can’t be that many feminists.”

The assumption is in this conversation is that all feminists hate men and are divorced, angry women. Why does this come up? Well, look at who the media tends to highlight as feminist and/or who people talk about when talking about feminism. For example, on a number of occasions when I have said that I identify with feminist thought, I get a lot of questions (almost none about the actual philosophy or reason). Here is a selection of my favorites:

1. Are you gay?

2. Are you and your husband having problems?

3. But you aren’t ugly, why would you want to hang out with those women?

Why do people jump to these conclusion? Spotlight fallacy. It is the same reason people assume that all Muslims are terrorists that blow people up (as per the news reels), and the same reason people see all Americans as loud, violent, and obnoxious.

Back to the tea shop. When these men imagined who would vote for Ms. Clinton, they immediately presumed that it would be her ilk, feminists. Is she a feminist? Well, that axiom was not established through any formal logic; it was assumed because these men saw her as angry and hating husband (circles, circles).

Think what you will about these topics, but please use good logic. Otherwise, it makes my brain smoke.


writtenwyrdd said...

More logic! Yay! The reason advertising works is this principle. If I see it, even if I know it's just an ad, a fake scenario, it must be true.

Stereotypes are fallacious and stupid. But we all need to be reminded, don't we?

Nicole Kelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole Kelly said...

I think we should be reminded every day, as this is the insidious logic error that sets so many social and legal policies. Racial profiling, for instance, is the most absurd case of this fallacy. This http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/02/06/060206fa_fact is a really excellent article about racial profiling and why it, and other spotlight fallacies, fails.