Description: A small number of dramatic and vivid events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence.
Dramatic or vivid event X occurs (does not jibe with the majority of the statistical evidence).
Therefore, events of type X are likely to occur.
In Detroit, there is a 10-year-old living on the street selling drugs to stay alive. In Los Angeles, a 19-year-old prostitute works the streets. America’s youth is certainly in serious trouble.
Explanation: While the stories of the 10-year-old illegal pharmacist and the 19-year-old village bicycle are certainly disturbing, they are just two specific cases out of tens of millions — a vast majority of youth live pretty regular lives, far from being considered in any “serious trouble”. This is a form of appeal to emotion that causes us to hold irrational beliefs about a population due to a few select cases. The example could have featured two other youths:
In Detroit, there is a 10-year-old who plays the piano as beautifully as Beethoven. In Los Angeles, a 19-year-old genius is getting her PhD in nuclear physics. America’s youth is certainly something of which we can be proud.
It was freezing today as it was yesterday. My plants are now dead, and my birdbath turned to solid ice…and it is only October! This global warming thing is a load of crap.
Explanation: Whether global warming is a “load of crap” or not, concluding that, by a couple of unusually cold days, is fallacious reasoning at its finest.
Exception: If the cases featured are typical of the population in general, then no fallacy is committed.
What Now: Don’t let your pessimism or optimism cloud your judgments on reality.
Nisbett, R. E., & Ross, L. (1980). Human inference: strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Prentice-Hall.