I was in a discussion forum and somebody asked me to explain The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. I started typing when i remembered a video from several years ago that will explain it better than i can write it.
Enjoy, my friend 🙂
- You Are Not So Smart on the web.
- Read more about the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy here on iLLumiNuTTi.com
In Skeptoid Episode #364, Brian made a statement regarding conspiracy theories that I’ve since used many times in my continued battle against tinfoil-helmeted nonsense. It’s simple, direct, and 100% true:
A less-elegant and wordier way to say this is that there has never been a popularly held conspiracy theory, ie, a non-evidenced belief that a group of powerful people secretly worked together to do something harmful, that later had compelling evidence to prove that said conspiracy was real.
Whenever I use this argument in social media, I’m invariably sent one of about half a dozen different internet listicles that attempt to prove me wrong by going through a number of conspiracies or conspiracy theories that were later proven to be real. One is a really long slog from Infowars. Another is from Cracked. There are still others from Listverse, Style Slides and True Activist.
What much of the content on these lists, as well as those who send them to me, get wrong on a pretty consistent basis is that there is a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory. Conspiracies are real, and many of them have been proven conclusively to have taken place at all times throughout history. Some of these include the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler (the so-called July 20th plot), the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series, American tobacco companies conspiring to suppress scientific research that painted their products as harmful, and so on. All of these are real and none of them are theories.
Likewise, things like 9/11 being an inside job, JFK being shot by multiple gunmen, chemtrails, the existence of an all-powerful New World Order, FEMA camps and any number of banking and currency related plots are all conspiracy theories. That is to say, they are all theories that a conspiracy took place – and most have little to no evidence supporting those theories.
Not only is there a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, there are all manner of reasons why people would “conspire” about something – and they’re not all bad or harmful. There are perfectly legitimate reasons why a government or corporation would want to keep something secret, whether it’s a patented technology, proprietary research or a sensitive national security matter. Like it or not, not everyone gets to know everything.
With all of this in mind, I want to take a look at one of the lists I’ve been sent a couple of times. It’s representative of the general tone and content of the other lists, and has the added advantage of being from a reputable source, Business Insider. This is a good example of a list of “conspiracies” that is not a list of conspiracy theories, and isn’t even all “conspiracies.”
That’s a lot of qualifiers. To be on this list, the plot has to be huge (whatever that means), driven by the government, and proven to be a conspiracy that with compelling evidence to support its existence.
This is completely true. The Treasury, in its capacity to enforce the Volstead Act, added deadly chemicals to the industrial alcohol that was being used by bootleggers as a substitute for grain alcohol. While the poisoning became public knowledge very quickly, over 1,000 people still died in New York alone, thanks to this true conspiracy.
Another true conspiracy, and one that the CDC openly acknowledges – making up for decades of knowingly sickening hundreds of poor black men. But even during the heyday of the experiment, it was never a popularly discussed theory, and it’s been public knowledge for four decades.
Here’s a perfect example of something that’s not a conspiracy, certainly not a government conspiracy and not even true. The Business Insider piece relies on debunked testimony from anti-vaxxer Barbara Loe Fisher to back up the pseudoscience claim that millions of doses of Jonas Salk’s original formulation of the polio vaccine contained the “cancer causing virus” SV40. But no compelling evidence exists that SV40 actually causes any harm in humans (SV stands for simian virus), and virtually every source that makes this claim is strongly anti-vaccination.
The author of the BI piece is either anti-vaccine or fell for anti-vaccine propaganda.
This would indeed be a “huge government conspiracy” if it were true. As I wrote about in my piece on false flag attacks, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was actually two separate attacks on a US destroyer by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in August 1964. The first was an actual attack, with bullet holes in both the destroyer Maddox and the North Vietnamese boats to prove it.
The second was theorized even at the time to be a phantom attack, featuring jittery US sailors shooting at shadows. While we now know that this “attack” didn’t happen, there was a tremendous amount of confusion in the White House shortly afterwards, and subsequent tapes show President Johnson openly wondering what happened. It could be argued that there was a conspiracy to make the Incident fit the Johnson administration’s desire to expand US involvement in Vietnam, that’s a conspiracy of a different color.
There may have been centuries of sightings with no proof of their existence, but a new study suggests belief in ghosts is growing in the UK.
More than half of those taking part (52 per cent) said they believed in the supernatural, a marked increase on the two previous comparable studies, in 2009 and 2005, which both found a level of around 40 per cent.
The survey also found that one in five claimed to have had some sort of paranormal experience.
Interest in the supernatural has become big business in recent years, with the popularity of television shows like Most Haunted, which starred Yvette Fielding, and the spread of so-called “ghost walks” around supposedly haunted parts of city centres. English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust have both begun to attract people to their properties by identifying which ones are said to be occupied by ghosts, among them Blickling Hall, in Norfolk, Dunster Castle, in Somerset, and Dover Castle, in Kent. EH even conducted a “spectral stocktake” of “hauntings” and unexplained events recorded at its sites.
The new study was carried out for the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (Assap), for its annual conference.
Dave Wood, chairman of the group, which is dedicated to the study of a wide range of unexplained experiences – from supposed hauntings to UFO sightings – said: “The rise in the numbers believing in ghosts is a surprise, and is significantly higher than what we consider to have been the historical average.
“It could be that in a society which has seen economic uncertainty and is dominated by information and technology, more people are seeking refuge in the paranormal, whereas in the past they might have sought that in religion.”
Among notable personalities said to have encountered ghosts is Winston Churchill, who is on a long list of people reported to have seen an apparition of former US president Abraham Lincoln, in the White House.
- Psychic accused of planting man in attic during ghost tour (illuminutti.com)
- Who you gonna call? Belief in ghosts is rising in UK (sott.net)
- Belief in Ghosts is Rising (sorendreier.com)
- Who you gonna call? Belief in ghosts is rising (orwellwasright.co.uk)
- Who you gonna call? Belief in ghosts is rising (telegraph.co.uk)
- North America and the UK: Nearly Half Believe in Ghosts (newsfromthespiritworld.com)
- Do you believe in ghosts? More and more Britons apparently do (metro.co.uk)
- Study Suggests Belief In Ghosts Is Growing (disinfo.com)
We all have that friend. You know the one. He believes in cities on the dark side of the moon, angels, and insane conspiracy theories. Occasionally, he’ll come across a picture of the “supernatural” he found on a website and self-righteously point to it as proof that the universe runs on crazy. Well, next time he tries that, go ahead and mention these cases of the paranormal that are anything but.
10 • The Surgeon’s Photo
The surgeon’s photo is the most famous picture of the Loch Ness monster, and it almost single-handedly started the Loch Ness craze. Whenever anyone thinks of Nessie, it’s undoubtedly this image they picture. It was allegedly taken by a gynecologist and his wife who were on holiday, driving along the banks of Loch Ness. Unfortunately for all the “scientists” who’ve wasted decades investigating Nessie, the photo was 100 percent fake.
The monster in the picture is simply a toy submarine. The plot to create the fake photo was revenge for a slight by the Daily Mail. The newspaper had ridiculed a man named Wetherall after investigating what he claimed were Nessie’s footprints on the bank but turned out to be those of a hippopotamus. Wetherall and his accomplice aimed to humiliate the paper with another fake, but they kept quiet when the image captured the public imagination.
9 • Patterson’s Photo
The Patterson photo was taken by Roger Patterson and his friend Robert Grimlin. It’s probably the most famous picture of Bigfoot that exists and has been mentioned by everything from The Simpsons to Will Ferrel’s Elf. The two were on horseback in Six Rivers National Forest, where they were shooting a documentary. According to them, they just happened to see Bigfoot—while filming a documentary about Bigfoot. Unfortunately, several people have come forward to admit their complicity in the hoax. They include the man in the suit (come on, like you actually thought that was anything other than a guy in a gorilla suit), a special effects artist who created the suit, and one of the producers of the film.
8 • The Cottingley Fairies Photos
In 1917, two little girls captured the public imagination with the claim that they found fairies in their garden. Usually people wouldn’t believe such a claim from two little girls, but they had pictures to prove it. Even famous skeptic Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of Sherlock Holmes, was fascinated by the photos. He wrote about them in his persoal magazine, claiming that they were definitely real—except they weren’t. The girls admitted (70 years later) that they used cardboard cut-outs and posed them in front of the camera. Did we mention that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes?
7 • Mulmer’s Ghost Photos
Mulmer was a jewelry engraver with a hobby in photography. Oh, and he also took photos of people with their dead relatives hovering in the background. That photo above? That just happens to be Abraham Lincoln’s widow. No prizes for guessing who the tall, bearded man behind her is. However, not everybody was convinced that Mulmer was photographing real dead people. A court case pointed out that the effect was easily achieved by double exposing film, and most of the ghostly figures were still alive and had recently sat for photos with Mulmer themselves.
6 • The Venusian Scoutcraft
The Venusian scout ship was photographed by George Adamski, who claimed he was contacted by Venusians on multiple occasions. Despite Adamski’s claims sounding like the sort of science fiction that would be rejected by the SYFY channel, Adamski wrote books and conducted lectures about the multiple contacts with the deep-space Aryans and even gained an audience with the Queen of the Netherlands. Except, of course, it was all a lie. The interstellar Venusian spaceship is just a lampshade with ping-pong balls attached to it.
- Cryptozoology – Re: Lochness Monster Captured On Google Earth (disclose.tv)
- Photos of the Loch Ness Monster, revisited (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Sheen goes looking for Loch Ness monster (vancouverdesi.com)
- Tired of looking for Big Foot? Try the Loch Ness Monster. (planetsellas.wordpress.com)
An old story claims a long list of astonishing similarities between the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy.
Anyone with email has probably received a chain letter revealing a startling series of similarities between the assassinations of U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. But even before the days of email, the story had been around, being printed and reprinted, quoted and requoted, and it all seems to go back to a book published the year after Kennedy died. Author Jim Bishop’s book A Day in the Life of President Kennedy, published in 1964 but written mostly while Kennedy was still in office, included an appendix listing a number of strange parallels between the two distinguished Presidents.
We’re going to examine these parallels to see if they hold up, but in doing so we should keep in mind the larger question. Are these similarities in any way meaningful? Do numbers and the spelling of names hold any consequential significance? Let’s find out. Today’s version of what’s become quite the urban legend will read something like this:
The Lincoln-Kennedy myths are really intriguing when you hear them, but perhaps equally captivating when you hear the counter arguments. If I drop six pairs of dice, chances are that one pair will match. Taken by itself, that match is pretty cool. Four U.S. Presidents have been assassinated in office, which results in six possible pairings; between those six, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’d find one pairing with interesting coincidences. But that’s just where the counter arguments start to get interesting.
A lot of the similarities are about dates that are exactly 100 years apart. This is no great shock; as U.S. Presidential elections happen every four years, so there are only 25 elections in a century, and every President has at least one other President elected exactly a century before and/or after. But this century-centric nature of the Lincoln-Kennedy legend starts to fall apart very quickly when you look at what should be the most important dates: Lincoln and Kennedy died 98 years apart, not a century; and they were elected to the terms in which they died 96 years apart, not a century. Conveniently omitted from the chain email. But let’s look deeper.
My favorite disassembly of the Lincoln-Kennedy legend is the one on Snopes.com. Barbara Mikkelson, who does most of the research and reporting on Snopes, has always been most astonishingly thorough with the way she tracks down every last scrap of an urban legend, but she also applies a very keen skeptical eye to popular claims. The Lincoln-Kennedy legend is primarily a list of coincidences; and when taken away from the context of all the many non-coincidences that also characterized the two men, it seems amazing. She writes:
We’re supposed to be amazed at minor happenstances such as the two men’s being elected exactly one hundred years apart, but we’re supposed to think nothing of the numerous non-coincidences: Lincoln was born in 1809; Kennedy was born in 1917. Lincoln died in 1865; Kennedy died in 1963. Lincoln was 56 years old at the time of his death; Kennedy was 46 years old at the time of his death. No striking coincidences or convenient hundred-year differences in any of those facts. Even when we consider that, absent all other factors, the two men had a one in twelve chance of dying in the same month, we find no coincidence there: Lincoln was killed in April; Kennedy was killed in November.
Even advice columnist Ann Landers took on this question in 1995, and aptly pointed out that there are far more differences between the men than similarities …
The Misconception: You take randomness into account when determining cause and effect.
The Truth: You tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when you want a random event to have a meaningful cause.
Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both presidents of the United States, elected 100 years apart. Both were shot and killed by assassins who were known by three names with 15 letters, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, and neither killer would make it to trial.
Spooky, huh? It gets better.
Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln.
They were both killed on a Friday while sitting next to their wives, Lincoln in the Ford Theater, Kennedy in a Lincoln made by Ford.
Both men were succeeded by a man named Johnson – Andrew for Lincoln and Lyndon for Kennedy. Andrew was born in 1808. Lyndon in 1908.
What are the odds?
In 1898, Morgan Robertson wrote a novel titled “Futility.”
Written 14 years before the Titanic sank, 11 years before construction on the vessel even began, the similarities between the book and the real event are eerie.
The novel describes a giant boat called the Titan which everyone considers unsinkable. It is the largest ever created, and inside it seems like a luxury hotel – just like the as yet unbuilt Titanic.
Titan had only 20 lifeboats, half than it needed should the great ship sink. The Titanic had 24, also half than it needed.
In the book, the Titan hits an iceberg in April 400 miles from Newfoundland. The Titanic, years later, would do the same in the same month in the same place.
The Titan sinks, and more than half of the passengers die, just as with the Titanic. The number of people on board who die in the book and the number in the future accident are nearly identical.
The similarities don’t stop there. The fictional Titan and the real Titanic both had three propellers and two masts. Both had a capacity of 3,000 people. Both hit the iceberg close to midnight.
Did Robertson have a premonition? I mean, what are the odds?
In the 1500s, Nostradamus wrote:
Bêtes farouches de faim fleuves tranner
Plus part du champ encore Hister sera,
En caige de fer le grand sera treisner,
Quand rien enfant de Germain observa.
This is often translated to:
Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers,
The greater part of the battle will be against Hister.
He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron,
When the son of Germany obeys no law.
That’s rather creepy, considering this seems to describe a guy with a tiny mustache born about 400 years later. Here is another prophecy:
Out of the deepest part of the west of Europe,
From poor people a young child shall be born,
Who with his tongue shall seduce many people,
His fame shall increase in the Eastern Kingdom.
Wow. Hister certainly sounds like Hitler, and that second quatrain seems to drive it home. Actually, Many of Nostradamus’ predictions are about a guy from Germania who wages a great war and dies mysteriously.
What are the odds?
If any of this seems too amazing to be coincidence, too odd to be random, too similar to be chance, you are not so smart.
You see, in all three examples the barn was already peppered with holes. You just drew bullseyes around the spots where the holes clustered together.
Allow me to explain.
- Did You Know That Abraham Lincoln And John F. Kennedy Had So Much In Common! (obnoxioustv.wordpress.com)
- Abraham Lincoln (amazfacts929.wordpress.com)
- The Lincoln-Kennedy Coincidences (chasepage.net)
- Titanic violin found in North Yorkshire attic (thetimes.co.uk)
- The famous editor who died on the Titanic (wheneditorsweregods.typepad.com)
- Violin played by bandleader while Titanic sank found by auction house (thestar.com)
via The Soap Box
Everyone knows that John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, and that twelve days later on April 26, 1865 he himself was shot and killed by Union soldiers after he refused to leave the barn that he was in that the soldiers had set ablaze, but there are rumors that Booth was not killed that day, and that in fact a look alike had been shot and killed, and that Booth had actually lived even into the early 20th century.
There is of course no proof of this, but many authors and descendants of Booth have suggested that he did escape, and there have been several attempts by the family to exhume his body to be tested for DNA.
Probably one of the most famous outlaws of the Wild West, Jesse James and his gang robbed a number of banks, stagecoaches, and trains throughout his criminal career, until he was shot in the back of the head in his own house by fellow James Gang member Robert Ford on April 3, 1882 in and attempt to receive the reward on James’s head.
Now despite the fact that he was positively identified, there have been rumors going around even from back then that he faked his death, and that he may have lived under an assumed identity even into the 20th century.
On July 22, 1934 notorious American criminal John Dillinger was shot to death by FBI agents in an alley way in Chicago, but ever since then there have been rumors that he really wasn’t shot to death, and that who really was killed was just someone who just looked like him (perhaps even a payed body double).
The reason behind this is because many people said that he really didn’t look like he was suppose to. Of course there is a reason behind this: he had plastic surgery so that he wouldn’t look like himself (he even tried to get rid of the famous dimple in his chin). The most likely reason behind this is of course so that he could to live as a free man until he died (which in a ironic way is what happened).
Without a doubt the most evil person in history, on April 30, 1945 Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun killed themselves in an underground bunker in Berlin, Germany. There bodies were removed by Nazi Party loyalist and set on fire so that the Soviet Army couldn’t use them as propaganda pieces.
Despite the fact that the remains were found and that dental records confirm that the remains are that of the mad man, there are many people who believe that he did not commit suicide, and that he actually faked his death, and that he may have even lived past 100.
While most people believe that he escaped to either Spain or Argentina, some of the crazier claims are that he either escaped to Antarctica, or to the Moon, or to the inside of the Earth (which some Hollow Earth believers claim), and even another dimension or time period.
- Hitler Home Movies: How Eva Braun Documented The Dictator’s Life (businessinsider.com)
- Texas Legends: John Wilkes Booth (nightcaptv.com)
- I saw John Wilkes Booth shoot Abraham Lincoln (eogn.com)