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The Fallacy of Examples
July 7, 2008 8:25 PM   Subscribe

The Fallacy of Examples, and the problems of extrapolating from media. [Via RConversation]
posted by homunculus (5 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting. It reminds me of the cognitive errors we make that Taleb points out in The Black Swan.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:58 PM on July 7, 2008


I think the name of that fallacy is "misleading vividness".
posted by Class Goat at 9:23 PM on July 7, 2008


An editor of the Economist in the 1950s is alleged to have said that the key to journalism was 'get the facts, simplify, then exaggerate'.

It seems things change little.
posted by sien at 9:35 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is sort of the same effect seen in narrative fiction. Sure, incredible things happen to our hero, but if they didn't, we wouldn't be reading the story. All usual caveats about not trying this at home apply.
posted by Eideteker at 5:04 AM on July 8, 2008


Interesting. As a professional fundraiser, this is something I do every day. I love those moments when a single individual has an extraordinary experience at my agency-- because that is the story that goes in the fund appeal, and that is the individual I introduce to my major donors. The second link points out that people take in information better when it's a a story. It's those exceptional stories that make the best narratives for my agency's fundraising needs.

This use of story is so basic to fundraising that I never really thought about the spectrum of stories in any agency, and have never questioned the use of the one most compelling story, rather than the many more typical ones. Fundraisers are always looking for that one person whose life was transformed, rather than the many whose lives are simply better. But OP you've given me some real food for thought-- can I write a compelling story about the average, rather than the exceptional?

I am surely going to try. Thank you for starting my day like this. I am inspired. Truly best of the web.
posted by nax at 7:37 AM on July 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


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