Winning Discussions: The Gambler’s Fallacy (Effective Pirating)

Winning Discussions: The Gambler’s Fallacy (Effective Pirating)

Logical fallacies are techniques that people use to make an argument appear convincing even when it is wrong. Learning how to identify and refute logical fallacies is one of the best ways to win in a discussion. Catching an opponent committing a fallacy will force him to retract his error or he will appear foolish or manipulative to his audience. There is a dark side to this. Once you learn to identify logical fallacies you will also be able to use them. Do not deliberately use them against fellow Pirates; it is extreme bad manners and you will most probably be caught out.

The Logical Fallacy – The Gambler’s Fallacy

This fallacy comes from a lack of understanding of risk and probability that most of us have. It is a belief that in a small number of random events, such as a coin toss;

  1. will try somehow to return to the average – e.g. a series of heads will make tails more likely
  2. a series means series will be more likely to continue – a ‘hot’ hand

The error lies in thinking events are trying to reach an average value in a small number of events when a much larger sample is required to smooth out the effects of fluctuation in a random or near random series.  Interestingly we tend to allocate a ‘hot hand’ series to a human agent such as a basketball player who has made a series of baskets in a row – we think he is more likely to score on the next attempt. An object, however, we will predict to switch back to the norm after a series – we think a roulette ball is more likely to choose red after a series of black. In fact in both cases the odds are just the same as in any event. Random events are not influenced by any previous event.

One would think that this fallacy would not be of interest to politically motivated people like Pirates but therein lies the trap. Humans are evolutionarily driven to seek patterns in the world around us. We often see patterns where there are none – the source of many optical illusions as well as mathematical illusions. This tendency leads us to play the lottery (despite overwhelming odds against us), misread polls, falsely calculate risk and attribute agency to inanimate objects. We will be exploring the way numbers can be used or misused in discussions in a number of articles in the new year.


  1. After having had five boys an expectant mother is more likely to have a girl.
  2. In a  Casino in Monaco in 1913 the ball fell in black 26 times in a row and gamblers lost millions  betting against black thinking a streak of red should follow.
  3. Any gambling system.



You can read more about the Gambler’s Fallacy  logical fallacy in a wikipedia post and logical fallacies in general in this wikipedia article.
Remember that just because someone commits a logical fallacy it does not mean their argument is necessarily incorrect. If you have the time and resources then use the principles of scepticism to test their reasoning objectively.

This article is a part of a series called Effective Pirating:

Winning Discussions: The Fallacy Fallacy (Effective Pirating) 09/01/15
Winning Discussions: The Gambler’s Fallacy (Effective Pirating)
Winning Discussions: argumentum ad ignorantiam (Effective Pirating)
Winning Discussions: post hoc, ergo propter hoc (Effective Pirating)
Winning Discussions: Ad Hominem (Effective Pirating)
Winning Discussions: Appeal to Fear (Effective Pirating) 21/10/14
Winning Discussions: Begging the Question (Effective Pirating) 17/8/14
Winning Discussions – The Bandwagon Fallacy (Effective Pirating) 11/8/14
Effective Pirating: Winning Discussions – Tu Quoque 24/7/14
Effective Pirating: Winning Discussions – The Straw Man 17/7/14
Effective Pirating: Choose your Opponents Carefully 7/7/14

Featured image: CC BY-NC Tom