search

Spotlight Fallacy

Description: Assuming that the media’s coverage of a certain class or category is representative of the class or category in whole.

Logical Form:

The media have been covering X quite a bit by describing it as Y.

Therefore, X can be described as Y.

Example #1:

It seems like we are constantly hearing about crimes committed on our streets.  America is a very dangerous place.

Explanation: The media reports on stories of interest, which include crimes.  It does not report on all the non-crimes.  Assuming from this, “American is a very dangerous place” is fallacious reasoning.

Example #2:

I am seeing more and more miracles being reported on respectable news programs.  The other day there was a story about a guy who had trouble walking, prayed to the recently deceased Pope, now walks just fine!  Miracles are all around us!

Explanation: People love stories of hope and miracles.  You won’t find stories about how someone prayed to be healed then died.  These are not the kind of stories that attract viewers and sell papers.  As a result, the spotlight fallacy makes us think the rare cases, almost certainly due to normal and necessary statistical fluctuations, seem like the norm.  Believing that they are, is fallacious reasoning.

Exception: Complete coverage of a small, manageable class, by an unbiased media outlet, may accurately be representative of the entire class.

Tip: Be very selective of the types of “news” programs you watch.

References: {apa}

Tanner, K. (2013). Common Nonsense Based on Faulty Appeals. In Common Sense (pp. 31–43). Apress. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4302-4153-9_3

{/apa}

Questions about this fallacy? Ask our community!

Reason: Books I & II

This book is based on the first five years of The Dr. Bo Show, where Bo takes a critical thinking-, reason-, and science-based approach to issues that matter with the goal of educating and entertaining. Every chapter in the book explores a different aspect of reason by using a real-world issue or example.

Part one is about how science works even when the public thinks it doesn't. Part two will certainly ruffle some feathers by offering a reason- and science-based perspective on issues where political correctness has gone awry. Part three provides some data-driven advice for your health and well-being. Part four looks at human behavior and how we can better navigate our social worlds. In part five we put on our skeptical goggles and critically examine a few commonly-held beliefs. In the final section, we look at a few ways how we all can make the world a better place.

Get 20% off this book and all Bo's books*. Use the promotion code: websiteusers

* This is for the author's bookstore only. Applies to autographed hardcover, audiobook, and ebook.

Get the Book