Monday, September 15, 2008

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Football season has begun along with all the craziness that is attached to it like the numbers on the player’s backs. I ran into a man and his wife this week who must now begin wearing his Vikings T-shirt and not wash it until the season is done. His wife, of course, complained about the smell and the rattiness of it all but he insists that his beloved Vikings win more games the longer he wears the T-shirt. He says he is sacrificing for the team and showing what a loyal fan his is.

When I played basketball I knew of players who would never change their socks after a win, their lucky socks would stay in there locker or gym bag until there was a loss. That season we went 24-2. There was not a person left in the locker room who could not smell his socks and I still believe we lost our first game after 17 wins because we all wanted him to get rid of those socks. I don’t think his mom washed them, I think she burned and buried them.

We deal with this kind of thinking all the time, wherever we are and whatever we do. The fallacy in Latin is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc” literally translated it means “after this, therefore BECAUSE OF this.”

As a manager I knew a supervisor who seemed to walk into a department and its production went down. It “seemed” like everywhere he was resulted in business going bad. Deep down you knew it was wrong but it just worked out that way. He was fired because no manager wanted to work with him. The fallacy? He walks in and business goes bad, so business goes bad BECAUSE he walked in.

More kids are violent today than 30 years ago. There were no violent video games 30 years ago; therefore: we have more violent kids BECAUSE of violent videos.

More marriages end in divorce today than 50 years ago. There were no swans in Duck Creek 50 years ago; therefore: we have more divorces today BECAUSE there are swans in Duck Creek.

My waistline is expanding. The earth is getting warmer; therefore: my belly is getting bigger BECAUSE of global warming.

We will often turn this around and believe that avoiding the supposed cause with prevent the undesirable occurance. If we can stop global warming I will be skinny again! If we get rid of the swans in Duck Creek we will have few divorces! If we get rid of violent video games we will have less violence in teens! If we want our team to lose (to get a better draft pick for next year) then wash your socks and don’t wear your lucky T-shirt!

Check your reasoning and see if you fall into the pro hoc ergo propter hoc thinking. This can be very serious because this fallacy is where justification for your prejudices comes from. All ______ people do this; therefore: they do this because they are ______. If you fill in the color then you will get a whiff of some smelly socks.

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