Right for the Wrong Reasons
"See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum. And one night, they decide they don't like living in the asylum anymore. They decide they're going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away into the moonlight. Stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend daren't make the leap. Y'see... y'see, he's afraid of falling. So then the first guy has an idea... He says, 'Hey, I have a flashlight with me! I'll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk across the beam and join me!' But the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says... he says 'Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You'd turn it off when I was halfway across!'"
Someone makes a conclusion based on what they perceive are facts. Their conclusion
is correct but the assumed facts themselves
The Gettier Problem
is a well-known issue in epistemology that uses this scenario to mount an attack on the definition of "knowledge" as "justified, true belief" — a conclusion reached this way is justified and true, but intuitively we wouldn't call it knowledge.
Supertrope of Worrying for the Wrong Reason
. Compare and contrast Framing the Guilty Party
, where the facts are known
to be false, but the conclusion is still correct. Also compare Conviction by Counterfactual Clue
. Can sometimes overlap with Accidentally Accurate
when it happens on a meta-level. Dismissing the conclusion because of erroneous facts would be the Fallacy Fallacy
. When the premises and the conclusion are correct, but the logic connecting them is false you have a Bat Deduction
. For the direct inverse, where the logic and premises are perfectly sound, but the conclusion isn't, see Entertainingly Wrong
. May be a reason for Don't Shoot the Message
. Often the case when the Cloud Cuckoo Lander is right
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Anime and Manga
- In A Certain Magical Index, the villain Terra of the Left notices that Touma is not using his Imagine Breaker's full potential, and concludes that Touma has amnesia. He mocks him, saying that if Touma didn't lose his memories, he would have been much more powerful. While Terra was correct that Touma had amnesia, Touma did not know Imagine Breaker's full potential before he lost his memories.
- In School Rumble, when Yakumo is helping Harima with his manga, she realizes that the main characters (who are love interests) are based off Harima and her own sister. When she brings this up, Harima, horrified, concludes that she has the power to read minds. She can read minds, but she's never been good at reading Harima's. She figured it out simply because it's really obvious.
- A meta example in Naruto. The masked ninja Tobi spends the majority of his appearances claiming to be Madara Uchiha, somehow living beyond his natural years to cause all the problems preceding the story. He states a lot of facts that support this, until it's revealed that the real Madara was dead and Tobi is actually Obito Uchiha. While it seems like Tobi may have been lying this whole time, when you see his backstory you realise he was technically telling the truth he was only lying when he applied it to himself.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: When Madoka says that she dreamt about Homura before actually meeting her, Sayaka remarks that perhaps the two met in a past life. Assuming a given value of 'past life' (one that involves time travel), she is correct.
- In Detective Comics #373, "The Riddler On The Roof", Elongated Man visits Gotham while Batman's busy elsewhere, and Commissioner Gordon shows him the Riddler's latest clue. He stops the Riddler shortly before Batman, who has finished his own case and seen the clue, shows up. However, when they compare notes, they have completely different interpretations of what the riddle means, although they both connected it to the same crime. Basically, either Batman, Commissioner Gordon, or both were Right for the Wrong Reasons—and out of sheer spite, the Riddler won't say which.
- A story from the 90s saw Batman deal with a clay Golem destroying Jewish business in Gotham. A large clockwise swastika on the golem's belly led Batman to believe that the Golem's creator was being forced to send it out and the Buddhist-style swastika was a clue to his identity (someone educated enough to know about Yiddish traditions and the swastika's history). When Batman tracks down the creator (a Warsaw ghetto survivor being forced by a gang of Neo-Nazis), the man tells Batman he knew nothing about Buddhism: the swastika was a Stealth Insult to his captors, as he couldn't bring himself to draw the counter-clockwise Nazi swastika and his captors were too ignorant to tell he drew it wrong.
- In Batman R.I.P., Batman deduces that The Joker was leaving him a hint that whatever the Black Glove Society was up to, that the colors red and black together would be a sign of danger. The Joker had no such intention, however, as he later admits he was deliberately leaving him riddles with no answer.
- The Killing Joke, as quoted, has an example of a crazy person achieving this to show just how far the trope can go.
- Unlike everyone else who just thinks of him as a benevolent philanthropist, Rorschach is very suspicious of Veidt, which turns out to have been warranted. However, this is because Rorschach has some fringe right-wing views, and so he naturally assumes the Ambiguously Gay and liberal Nice Guy must be up to something evil.
- After the Comedian is killed, Rorschach suspects that other superheroes will be targeted for murder from a "cape-killer," so he warns the surviving Crimebusters. Sure enough, an attempt is made on Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias's life. Veidt is behind it all. He killed the Comedian because he knew too much about his plans and sent an assassin against himself to throw off suspicion
- In a Jack of the Tales comic, Jack correctly believes that Goldilocks is actually an agent for Mr Revise, but comes to the conclusion because all of Revise's known agents wear glasses, which he assumes has some significance, so is immediately suspicious of the bespectacled Goldilocks. As she exasperatedly tells him, she wears glasses because she has bad eyesight.
- An unintentional example occurs in ''Runaways - Klara warns Molly that hanging out with someone like Xavin leads to problems. While she bases this on prejudice - because she thinks that Xavin is an "abomination" - Xavin does end up causing the team a lot of unnecessary problems when they have a run-in with Xavin's former mentor and then get attacked by Majesdanian survivors of the war that Xavin's family started.
Films — Animated
- In Disney's Mulan, the leader of the soldiers sings, "Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons?" He had no way of knowing Mulan was a girl at the time. His song was meant to be question the abilities of the men.
- Despicable Me 2:
- When one of Gru's adopted daughters, Margo, falls in love with a boy named Antonio, Gru is incredibly suspicious of Antonio, not for any specific reason but just because Antonio is a boy putting the moves on his little girl. But while Gru's actual motive is that he was just being paranoid, he turns out to be right about the fact that Antonio isn't a good match for Margo, because Antonio is a huge flirt and Margo is just another pretty girl to him. But Gru didn't actually know that at first.
- Gru is also initially suspicious of Antonio's father Eduardo because of his similar appearance to a villain named El Macho. Despite no evidence is found at Eduardo's restaurant, Gru insists he's right more as a chance to get Eduardo's son in jail as well. Turns out he's right about Eduardo being El Macho and being behind the crime, but not about his son being in on it.
Films — Live-Action
- In the 1995 Assassins (Antonio Banderas / Sylvester Stallone), the evil assassin is searching for the escaping female hacker who has the secret data. He touches the front hoods of several parked cars, uttering for himself "Cold... Cold...", until he stumbles upon a car with warm engine. This leads him to the conclusion that that's the apartment house where she will be. However, the hacker was running on foot for the last 10 or so minutes and didn't use a car to get home. The car belongs to a neighbour who just happened to return home for completely unrelated reasons.
- There was a massive scene in Hot Fuzz where Nick Angell accused Tim Dalton's shopkeeper character of committing the murders, complete with motives. He didn't identify the correct motives, and the shopkeeper had a watertight alibi, BUT - and it's a big but - in TWO twists, not only was he right all along with the shopkeeper being complicit with the murders, but he'd actually namechecked all of the REAL motives in passing over the course of his original speech. So it was right for the right reasons, and while he did acknowledge the right reasons, he didn't identify them as being the right reasons until the very climax.
- In Without A Clue. Holmes' (and Watson's) contrived method of solving the final clue turns out to be true, but the real solution is far simpler. To elaborate: Holmes and Watson read the final clue, a partial serial number (234) as being part of a kidnap victim's code. The victim's favourite book of the bible was the book of Psalms. Psalm 23, verse 4 leads them to a passage that referenced an In-Universe famous play: The Shadow Of Death, which played at a local theatre which was, in fact, where he was being held captive. Of course, 234 was also the address of the theatre, which was what the victim really intended.
- It is left to the viewer to decide, which conclusion Professor Moriarty drew. He just said "very clever", but then said that the only other man able to solve the riddle, Dr. Watson, was at the bottom of the Thames. An educated guess would be that he arrived at the conclusion the same way Watson and Holmes did. The solution being the address just seems a bit - pedestrian.
- In Star Trek, Kirk connects several events that have occurred as meaning the Narada is attacking Vulcan, and even Spock says his logic is sound. He's right, but his conclusions such as "lightning storm in space=Narada" are wrong (the lightning storm being Spock Prime coming through a black hole in this instance, which Kirk simply can't know of at this point).
- Bonus points for this being a double case. Kirk's desire to raise shields may be born out of his unwarranted certainty in his conclusion but the circumstantial evidence is enough to suggest that raising shields and proceeding with caution is still a good idea.
- At the end of the Burn the Witch! scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it's revealed that the woman really is a witch, despite all the fabricated evidence and Insane Troll Logic the peasants have used against her. Also, when someone suggests making a bridge out of her to see if she's made of wood, he's shot down because bridges can be made of stone as well.
- In The Princess Bride, Inigo is able to track down Westley when he hears his scream, and when questioned by Fezzik how he knows it's him, Inigo replies that it is the sound of ultimate suffering and he is the only one who could feel it that night due to his true love marrying another. Technically, it's because he was just tortured to mostly-death.
- In Just Cause: Bobby Earl Ferguson is convicted because he was beaten into confessing and is a black in the deep south. However, even the jury convicts him because they're racist pricks rather than because of any evidence Bobby Earl actually IS GUILTY.
- In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, after the new incarnation of Godzilla has defeated King Ghidorah, one of the onlookers says "would you look at the size of that thing, its not going to be friendly." He makes the odd assumption that if a creature is really big, then it is evil, which contradicts the portrayal of other notable Toho giants like Mothra and Sanda, who have been friendly. But the onlooker turns out to be correct, as Godzilla proceeds to go on another destructive rampage.
- In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Chance says they should just stay at the farm because they've been abandoned. Of course he's right all along that they should have stayed, but not because they were abandoned but because their owners were coming back for them in a couple of weeks anyways.
- In Jingo, there's a Framing the Guilty Party of the "plant obvious clues against yourself to make it appear a frame" type, where the evidence they find is so stereotypically Klatchian that it's laughable. Colon and Nobby, naturally, conclude that since the evidence points to Klatchians, it must be Klatchians. Vimes, however, takes the "quality" of the evidence to mean someone in Ankh-Morpork is doing a bad job of framing the Klatchians for the attack. Later, he finds out it was Klatchians behind it, who deliberately faked the frame up because they knew Vimes would "see right through it".
- In the science sections of The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day, there's a footnote which humorously "explains" how you get from the Schrödinger equation to Schrödinger's Cat by combining two versions of the equation, one in which Ψ=A (for "alive") and one in which Ψ=D (for "dead"), and showing this leads to an equation where A=D. Any equation would do that, since you're starting by assuming A and D both equal Ψ.
- In The Leaky Establishment by David Langford, Tappen has a Eureka Moment near the end when he connects the surprisingly high radioactivity of Roger Pell's home-made whiskey with a few other pieces of circumstantial evidence to conclude, correctly, that Pell has been pinching plutonium from work to create a nuclear reactor under his house. However, when he explains his chain of reasoning to Pell, Pell replies that the whiskey is carefully shielded from the reactor, but may have been made with pure ethanol stolen from a lab near the nuclear fuels store.
- A story in Sideways Stories from Wayside School has a character who always comes up with the correct number when counting, albeit by counting completely random numbers (example: "three, ten, nineteen, sixty-four, five. The answer is five!"), lampshaded by the teacher's odd reaction (nodding, but saying "No"). When told to count "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten", he takes it to Literal Genie-level conclusions and counts all ten numbers regardless of the number of objects he's attempting to count, giving him "ten" for everything, resulting in him only counting right when he counts wrong and vice-versa, or something.
- In a later book, the same character multiplies five times twelve by writing the number five on a piece of paper and tearing it into twelve pieces. He gets the right answer too.
- In the Wild Cards novel Inside Straight, Hardhat deduces that Noel Matthews's hidden superpower is shapeshifting because Noel was able to pass as an attractive woman during the exercise, and Hardhat would rather deal with Shapeshifting Squick than accept the Unsettling Gender-Reveal. Noel really is a shapeshifter but was not in fact in a female form during the exercise. When informed of some of the facts, Hardhat drops his theory.
- In Foucaults Pendulum during a discussion on the "four types of people in the world", this principle is lampshaded as the province of 'Morons'.
- In Isard's Revenge, smuggler Talon Karrde visits the Errant Venture, the converted Star Destroyer belonging to ex-smuggler Booster Terrik. Terrik believes the visit is regarding one of Karrde's associates, Aves, getting his own ship. Terrik is absolutely correct about Aves getting a new ship (and also correctly identifying the ship he's getting), even spelling out his line of logic (which is partly based on the fact that Karrde came to his ship). Karrde's visit, however, has nothing to do with Aves or his new ship; instead, it concerns two functional astromechs from X-wings presumed destroyed, belonging to two people presumed dead. Specifically, the astromechs belonging to Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn. Karrde even invokes the name of the trope, saying "this is why you're dangerous Booster, you're right for all the wrong reasons."
- Grand Admiral Thrawn makes a few of these. Thrawn's The Chessmaster and a Manipulative Bastard who is often magnificent, and usually he's spectacular at gauging what any given individual will do in response to the situation. As the trilogy goes on and unforeseen events crop up with more regularity he starts being wrong about the why, but still right — until the end, when he's not.
- This is Dirk Gently's standard operating procedure; it reaches its apex in the second book, when he spontaneously decides his client's death is someone else's fault simply so he can stop feeling guilty about it. It turns out to be directly her fault.
- The ever-suspicious Efficient Baxter from P. G. Wodehouse's Blandings Castle saga frequently takes the right course of action after drawing the wrong conclusion. For instance, he'll assume two characters are accomplices helping one another steal the same object, when in reality they're rivals trying to steal the same object, thieves-for-hire unaware that they were hired by the same employer, or unrelated thieves who don't decide to team up until Baxter has already marked them out as conspirators.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, when King Robert wants to make Jaime Lannister the Warden of the East, Eddard Stark is suspicious of him; he remembers seeing Jaime slouched on the Iron Throne after betraying Aerys, and takes this as evidence of Jaime wanting the throne for himself. Robert jokes that Jaime was probably just tired and needed a place to sit... and is completely correct. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to either of them, Jaime had previously tried to murder Eddard's son, leaving him crippled, in order to keep his incestuous affair with Robert's wife a secret.note
- In the Jack Reacher novel The Enemy, Major Reacher arrests a general and some subordinates for murder. His vague statements about evidence convince them that he knows about their massive conspiracy to murder numerous military officers, and fear they stumbled on their secret papers; in fact, he's arresting them for a Love Triangle gone horribly wrong and hasn't found the papers. Reacher was confused about why they surrendered so easily.
- In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Unfinished Tales there is a sequence describing a meeting of the White Council, where Saruman becomes irritated over Gandalf's smoking, and Gandalf responds by praising the halfling's herb and blowing small smoke rings through a large one. It's almost comical how Saruman reads layers upon layers of hidden meanings into this gesture, coming to the conclusion that Gandalf's visits into the Shire and his smoking of pipeweed somehow relate to a secret plot involving the One Ring, and hobbits must somehow be involved with the matter. He proceeds to send spies across the Shire and starts to secretly smoke pipeweed himself to discover Gandalf's secret, to no avail. The kicker is that Gandalf was unaware that Bilbo's old ring was the One Ring at the time, and the smoke rings had absolutely no hidden meaning behind them.
- In the novel The Day of the Jackal, the manhunt for hitman the Jackal starts with the police discovering his real identity, Englishman Charles Calthrop. It works, but in the epilogue the real Charles Calthrop turns up alive and well, completely unconnected.
- In the Harry Potter series:
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has one by way of sarcasm: the Trio are trying to figure out why someone named Tom Riddle got an award fifty years ago, and Ron suggests he killed Myrtle, an annoying ghost. Turns out he did do that, though the award was, ironically, for supposedly catching Myrtle's killer.
- In the same book Dobby, a house-elf, tries to convince Harry not to come back to Hogwarts, claiming it will put him in great danger; he later tries to force Harry to go home. Ron suggests that Dobby belongs to Harry's rival, Draco Malfoy, and is trying to trick him. It turns out that Dobby does belong to the Malfoy family, but he's not lying about his motives—it's just that the Malfoys are involved in the danger Dobby is trying to protect Harry from.
- in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry anonymously receives a very expensive Flying Broomstick for Christmas. Hermione believes that it's from Sirius Black, the escaped convict who is believed to be trying to kill Harry. She's right, but Sirius actually wants to kill somebody else and legitimately intended the broom to be a gift for Harry.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort assumes that Harry is going to sacrifice himself because he doesn't want to see the others die around him. While that technically is true, there is another factor at play; Harry has to let Voldemort kill him, so the part of Voldemort's soul inside him would be destroyed. At the same time, Harry is sacrificing himself for the other students the same way his mother did for him.
- During the final battle, Voldemort assumes that the Hogwarts defenders are all fighting and dying to protect Harry because the boy asked them to do so, his reasoning being that any rational person would sacrifice everyone they know rather than die themselves. While he is correct that they are all fighting and dying at Harry's request, it is so he can get enough time to destroy the diadem Horcrux and then commit suicide via Voldemort and save everyone else. This is Lampshaded numerous times, as Voldemort cannot understand acts of love, loyalty, or friendship.
- The Exile's Violin: Clay is suspicous of Gunslinger because he sees the man as a rival for Jacquie's affection, instead of genuinely believing him to be untrustworthy. Gunslinger is The Mole.
- In The Name of the Rose the Sherlock Holmes expy theorizes that the killer is copying a pattern from the Book of Revelation. In fact, the initial pattern was a coincidence, and the murderer maintained the pattern as misdirection once the detective noticed it.
- This is also a Shout-Out to "Death and the Compass" by Jorge Luis Borges, where the murderer uses the detective's deduced pattern to lure the detective to a specific place.
- In Tris's The Circle Opens book, Shatterglass, the people of Tharios strongly believe that dead bodies cause pollution. Bodies and places where death has occurred are cleansed with powerful magic (which causes problems, as it erases evidence the police need to find a serial killer). When questioned, one citizen says that such cleansing kept Tharios safe from a plague many years ago. However, they believe that the contamination is spiritual rather than pathogenic.
- In the Honor Harrington book At All Costs, when President Pritchart is seeking a face-to-face summit with Queen Elizabeth III of Manticore in order to negotiate a peace treaty, Theisman recommends that she specifically request that Honor Harrington be present for several reasons, including that "all reports indicate she has a rather uncanny ability to tell when people are lying to her." When Mike Henke delivers the summit proposal on Pritchart's behalf, however, Honor assumes that the Living Lie Detector being invited is the treecats Ariel and Nimitz.
- In the Relativity short story "In Search of the Liber Seed", Michael reassures his friends that the howling they hear in the woods can't possibly be a werewolf, because werewolves only come out at night.
- In the Alex Cross book Along Came A Spider, Alex's grandmother objects to his relationship with Jezzie Flanagan because Alex is black and Jezzie is white. Unbeknownst to both Alex and his grandmother, Jezzie is responsible for the kidnapping and murder that Alex is investigating. After Jezzie's perfidy is exposed, Alex's grandmother notes that she cannot say 'I told you so' because she had not predicted this development.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, O'Brien's wife thinks some footage of him is fake because he does not drink coffee in the evenings, which he is doing in the video. The footage is fake, but when he gets back safely one of the first things he does is ask for a cup of coffee, since he does drink it in the evenings.
- When the crew goes back to the early 21st century, Dax has to get her com badge back from one of the residents of a glorified slum. He deduces she is a "good alien" from talking to her. Not because he had any medical knowledge or figured out she was a Fish out of Water, but because he is utterly insane.
- Law & Order's ADA Southerlyn was fired not because she was a lesbian, but for becoming convinced a defendant was innocent essentially due to white guilt, and spending most of the episode playing for the other team.
- Gregory House came up with an effective treatment for a soap opera actor's quinine allergy while convinced that the patient had something else. Cuddy was called out by an inspector for giving him as much leeway as she did. Which included, um, kidnapping the patient.
- This is because the treatment for all kinds of allergies is essentially the same thing, but more important is stopping exposure to the allergen, which is how House figured out he was wrong.
- On the Game Show 1 vs. 100, a contestant was give the question, "How many US states do not touch any other state? One, two, or three?" Thinking out loud, the contestant said that Hawaii is in the ocean, and one of the Great Lakes states is completely surrounded by lakes, so the answer must be two. The answer is two, but it's because the two states in question are Hawaii (which is indeed surrounded by ocean) and Alaska (which borders northwestern Canada).
- Crops up often enough on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?:
- One woman was asked "True or False: The female seahorse carries her baby in a pouch". Although seahorses are quite famous for the males doing this, her answer was no, because she'd never seen a pouch on a seahorse. (Which raises the question as to how many seahorses she's seen!)
- On a celebrity edition, Kellie Pickler was given a question regarding which of the Founding Fathers went on to be a president. Of the choices given, she reasoned it had to be Franklin Pierce because... all the letters in his last name were in HER last name! How that was supposed to be relevant, we'll never know. The most common theory is that Pickler a lot smarter than she seems and has gone the Jessica Simpson route of playing dumber than she is because it gets people talking about her and is good for business.
- On the Brit game show Perfection, which is all true/false questions, this tends to happen at least Once an Episode.
- In The Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," weird things start happening in a suburban neighborhood. All the residents start suspecting the problems have been caused by aliens and start pointing fingers at one another until one of the residents shoots another one. Then, it's revealed that aliens really were causing the strange things, but none of the residents were aliens themselves.
- On CSI, a woman who'd made a living as a psychic was murdered after she'd been hired to contact another murder victim's spirit. The killer believed that she'd succeeded in this, and had learned that he'd hidden the body on his property in the Las Vegas neighborhood of Summerlin. In fact, she hadn't divined any such thing; rather, she'd said that the victim's spirit was in Summerland, a New Age-style counterpart to Heaven.
- Used in another episode where a man suspects that his neighbor kidnapped and killed his daughter plants an already-dead body in the man's chimney to focus police attention on him. Turns out the dad was right and the neighbor not only killed his daughter, but her body was actually in the same chimney hidden behind a brick extension and is uncovered by the CSI team during their investigation of the planted body.
- In another episode the team investigates the murder of several monks in a Buddhist temple, all shot between the eyes. They determine that they were all on their knees and didn't try to flee, but were praying for their aggressor, and hypothesize that the murderer frequented the temple and is a Buddhist himself because the place between the eyes is the sixth chakra in the Buddhist religion. They correctly pin the murders on the East Asian janitor, but when they ask him why he shot them in their sixth chakra, he shrugs and says "I shot them between the eyes".
- In Criminal Minds episode "A Higher Power" the detective who called the team in started investigating the spike in suicides because he didn't believe that his relative would have committed suicide. Turns out the unsub was faking the suicides but didn't have a trophy from the detective's relative... suggesting it really was a suicide that time.
- The MythBusters have occasionally come to this conclusion regarding certain movie scenes. For example, the bus turn in Speed could have happened as depicted...but the turn would have been made even if the passengers aboard had not shifted to the inside of the turn. Also, shooting the milk in Kiss The Girls wouldn't have helped...but the spark from the gun could never have ignited the methane. Both scenes were labeled as "Busted" because the reasoning behind them didn't fit with reality, even if they would have happened as depicted.
- The same applies to the Crocodile Escape. Running around crazily on land does help you escape crocodiles, but it's because crocodiles are ambush predators that rarely engage in a chase on land in the first place. About all you have to do is stay out of the water and only run if one actually does lunge at you. Which all the crocs were too laid-back to do. The myth was Busted not because the maneuver failed, but because it was unnecessary.
- In the Doctor Who serial, "The Myth Makers", Vicki and Steven assume the Doctor will be inside the Trojan Horse because he's going to want to be sure he can get access to the TARDIS (currently inside Troy). The Doctor is in the Horse, but only because Odysseus forced him to be inside.
- In the NCIS episode "Leap of Faith," Tony is convinced that a suicidal naval officer was killed by his wife simply because he always suspects the wife, especially if money's involved. It turns out that Tony's half-right—the wife did kill him, but it was because she was a Syrian Mole and he was a loose end.
- In Season 3 of Grimm, when the Royals are tracing Adalind's flight from Europe, they notice it passed over Oregon, and conclude that she's decided to go home. Actually, she ended up in Portland because Nick's mother thought Nick could protect her, and if Kelly had realised who Adalind was, and that she came from Portland originally, she probably wouldn't have made that decision (for all sorts of reasons). Appropriately enough, the episode is called "Synchronicity".
- On Glee, before Kurt and Blaine started dating, Blaine was briefly attracted to Rachel and questioned whether or not he might be bi. While Kurt was correct that they have incompatible orientations, he also claims that bisexuality doesn't exist at all and is nothing but a coping mechanism for closeted gays. And since no one ever calls him out on such an ignorant statement or the fact that he was acting out of jealousy the whole time, he is vindicated at the end when Blaine realizes he's gay after all.
- On Suits the various legal stunts the characters have pulled definitely warrant an SEC investigation into the way they do business. However, the SEC investigator is highly biased and focuses his investigation on things that are completely innocuous and/or taken out of context.
- In the fourth season of Downton Abbey, the new nanny for the children gets short with butler Thomas. Thomas, not caring much for her attitude, engages in a scheme to get Nanny West fired, throwing something of a Hail Mary by fabricating a story to Cora that he suspected she was neglecting the children. Upon telling Cora, she walks by the nursery one night... where she hears Nanny West verbally abusing baby Sybbie, calling her a "chauffer's daughter" and a "wicked little cross-breed" (her mother was English, her father Irish.) Nanny West was gone the next morning.
- This Dilbert comic where the Pointy-Haired Boss finally makes a right decision because "his ignorance clouded his poor judgment".
- In a Mafalda strip, when Mafalda's mother unplugs the TV while Gui was watching, he tries to keep watching the show by peeking through the power outlet. When Mafalda recounts the incident to Manolito, they both start laughing...until the latter says "The images come through the wire so small! How was he supposed to see anything?"
- In Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities, he uses the sum 1/4 X 8/5 = 18/45 as an example of the result being right (18/45 can be simplified to 2/5, the correct answer), but the methodology being completely wrong.
- A similar idea is to simplify the fraction 16/64 by cancelling out the 6s to leave 1/4, which again just happens to be the correct answer.
- 26/65 is yet another option.
- An old joke: Three old men go to the doctor for a checkup (please don't ask why the doctor is giving all three men their checkup at the same time). Since they're getting on in years, the doctor decides to check their mental faculties as well. So he asks the first man, "What's three times three?" And the old man says, "273." So the doctor moves on to the second guy and asks the same question. "Tuesday," is the reply. Finally he asks the third old man. "9." "That's great!" says the doctor, "How'd you get to that answer?" "I subtracted 273 from Tuesday."
- On an episode of the Newlywed Game, a woman was asked how many decades old her mother-in-law was. The woman smiled and said, "10," getting a laugh from the audience. When the host asked the husband how many decades old his mother was, he said, "I don't know what that is, but my mother is 44. If there are four years in a decade, she's 10 decades."
- A woman was asked, "If a car is traveling at 80 miles an hour, how long would it take the car to go 80 miles?" The woman makes a lengthy calculation, beginning with, "I run the mile in about nine minutes," as part of her calculation. She says a tire turns about 400 times in a mile. In the end, she says "About 58 minutes," which is pretty close considering the factors she used to get there.
- In RosenkreuzStilette, Spiritia finds out that the RKS's rebellion was indeed a waste of time and a potential downer for human-Magi relations, but not because (as she initially assumed) Count Sepperin had turned against the empire. Instead, his daughter had planned these machinations for her entertainment, along with her desire to usurp GOD!
- In Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, Rozalin comes to the conclusion that her "father", "Overlord Zenon" is a fake for completely arbitrary and selfish reasons. It's helped by the fact that he doesn't exactly deny it when she confronts him, but she completely misses all the real hints that her father really is a fake and that Overlord Zenon has reincarnated into none other than Rozalin herself.
- Early in Ghost Trick, the protagonist and Ghost Amnesia sufferer Sissel learns his name as he infiltrates a foreign base where the people present call him by that name while viewing data on him. It turns out that not only was Sissel merely a pseudonym that the foreigners were given to refer to him, but the main character isn't even the man in the picture. Despite all of this, the protagonist's name really is Sissel.
- Ace Attorney does this a lot, often realizing the culprit before fully understanding their motive or method. The most notable is Adrian Andrews—she actually did stab Juan Corrida and frame Matt for the murder, but she did it after Juan was already dead.
- There's also a weird "non-culprit" example in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies . In case 2, much of the case revolves around the fact that nobody is supposed to enter the Forbidden Chamber because supposedly, an evil demon named "Tenma Taro" is locked inside. Naturally, some characters treat this as mere superstition, and some characters treat this as real. It turns out that yes, it's just superstition, there is no demon. But, there is a good reason not to go into the Forbidden Chamber anyway: it turns out that "Tenma Taro" is actually the name of a gold ingot that, when it first appeared, caused the villagers to fight over the gold out of greed, as if they were possessed by monsters. So there's actually a good reason to keep the Forbidden Chamber locked up, because if people saw there was gold in there, they'd start fighting over it again.
- Another example in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Drew Misham, an art forger, had a postage stamp framed for whatever reason. Said postage stamp happened to have a powerful poison on its back. Seven years later, Drew dies from licking the stamp to use it. It's suggested that the art forger had the stamp framed because he knew it was poisoned. Apollo, assuming this to be true, makes quite an impressive leap of logic: Drew is not the art forger, but rather he acts as the face of one, namely his daughter Vera. SHE had the stamp framed, allegedly suspecting the poison, and later Drew, who suspected nothing, used the stamp and died of the poison. Almost all of the above is true... except the stamp was framed because Drew's daughter liked the picture on it.
- In Mass Effect 3, during the first part of the game, one of the ongoing conversations that a player can eavesdrop on is a volus by the name of Rupe Elkoss talking with a human woman named Sarah about "Sanctuary", the much-advertised "safe haven" from the war. Elkoss, himself a successful CEO of a multi-planetary corporate combine ("Isn't that that company that makes... everything?") gives several reasons as to why Sanctuary is obviously a fraud, all based on his presumption it's some amoral, unscrupulous businessman seeking to make money off of people's fear. Sanctuary is a scam alright... but it's not a racket. It's a front for a Cerberus operation; the refugees are either indoctrinated into Cerberus soldiers, turned into husks as part of experiments with Reaper technology, or simply slaughtered outright. Oh, and there is "some amoral, unscrupulous businessman" running it, who just happens to be Miranda Lawson's father.
- In BioShock Infinite, the Order of the Raven manages to correctly guess that their leader Comstock has Indian blood in him. Yet the way they discovered this is through usage of the laughably debunked "science" of phrenology.
- Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines: Alistair Grout, a vampiric psychologist, first comes across as rather enlightened for dismissing a lot of Freudian theory. Then he starts supporting phrenology and begins to wax lyrical about "the sedate gurgling of the lobotomised" in the insane asylums of yore.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir is hated by the nobility of Ferelden, despite his deserved reputation as a war hero, because of his assumption of the regency after the king's death. They view it as a power-grab, and they're absolutely right, but the nobles are more upset that an up-jumped farmer presumes to lead them than they are that someone seized the throne. Consequently, despite his accomplishments, he starts with almost no allies who are not simultaneously serious liabilities, and his gross political ineptitude means that he never really gains any support.
- In Ōkami, Issun hesitates in giving Rao the Fox Rods because owning them would make her a target for evil creatures. Rao is actually being impersonated by one of their most powerful enemies, which makes him right that her having them would be a bad thing.
- In Star Control 2, the Spathi are terrified of a so-called "Ultimate Evil". Their "proof" that it exists is that their sensors have never picked up any signs of its existence. Meaning it's hiding, which is just further proof of its nefarious intent. Turns out their next door neighbors, the Orz, are apparently manifestations of an actual (likely malevolent given the fate of the Androsynth) extradimensional being.
- Belkar from The Order of the Stick correctly guesses that Durkon isn't himself after becoming a vampire. His reasoning? "He had a spell prepared that will actually solve our problem! That proves that he can't possibly be Durkon!!" Belkar later reveals that he also is also aware of the more relevant fact that Vampire Durkon behaves like a Fully-Embraced Fiend in unguarded moments.
- Quentyn Quinn from Tales of the Questor believes that a bunch of human coins are forged because the heads face the wrong way. Unbeknownst to him, the direction the heads face is irrelevant, but the coins are indeed fakes.
- The premise of Request Comics #23.
- Touched upon in this episode of Dinosaur Comics.
- Also seen in this xkcd.
- In Homestuck Betty "Batterwitch" Crocker is an evil alien empress, plotting dominion over the entire world, and was also the cruel stepmother of John's Nanna and Jade's Grandpa. John knows none of this, but has a deep dislike of her because he doesn't like cake very much.
- In Kevin & Kell, when Corrie is disguised as a wolf by using Ralph's skin, Fiona notices something suspicious about her. Corrie thinks it's that Fiona has discovered her identity, but Fiona says that Corrie is Ralph's daughter. Corrie dismisses this theory, reasoning that Fiona only came to that conclusion due to Ralph's scent on the skin, until Bruno later finds out her origins, and discovers that this is the truth.
- Played with in 8-Bit Theater, while the group is searching for an invisible flying castle, Fighter points to a castle in the sky thinking maybe it's the one they're looking for.
Black Mage: Does that LOOK like an invisible sky castle?
Fighter: Sure, maybe. I've never seen one.
Black Mage: Can you imagine why?
Fighter: ...Because they're quite rare?
Black Mage: I...
Black Mage: You...
Thief: Technically he's not wrong you know.
Black Mage: But he SHOULD be.
- In Drowtales, the Kyorl'solenurn Clan oppose tainting (the merging of one's aura to a nether being) on religious grounds, believing that it goes against the will of the Goddess Sharess, and make a point to kill any tainted they come across and Mercy Kill members of their own clan who may become tainted by accident. They also oppose the mandatory tainting at the local Wizarding School that's given as a sort of "vaccine" for nether summoners, which turns out to be this trope because almost all of the seeds being given out are intentionally faulty and will kill their users within 50 years but the Kyorl don't know this.
- Also, Quain'tana's opposition to her daughter Mel'arnach's relationship with Snadhya'rune Vel'Sharen is primarily based on Snadhya being the eldest daughter of Quain's greatest enemies, but now that Snadhya has let her Mask of Sanity slip, and it's heavily implied is only using Mel as a pawn, including coldly leaving her to to essentially become a Baby Factory, it's become a case of this.
- El Goonish Shive:
- Tedd correctly guesses that Larry is crushing on him. He also assumes it's because Larry is gay. He's wrong about that.
- In an earlier strip, the maths teacher says Grace and Ellen are a mystery that needs solving, and makes a whole bunch of calculations based on their statistics. To their shock, he claims the result is "a duplicate squirrel of some sort", before admitting he was just messing with them and the whole thing was gibberish.
- In Girl Genius, the abbot deduces that the woman one of his monks is trying to kill is the Lady Heterodyne, because why else would Storm Lord assassins be on the train? The monk in question admits that she is the Heterodyne, but the assassins were after a completely different woman.
- Used in Red vs. Blue Reconstruction, when the reds are fighting Washington and Church.
Sarge: Alright, men. Stand down.
Grif: Stand down? We outnumber them three to two. That's like a three with a two. That's... 32% advantage... if you carry the one.
Simmons: I don't want to know how you came up with that, but you're actually right!
- Used again in Revelation (Season 8), when Sarge guesses that Washington killed Donut and Lopez and took Simmons prisoner, do to Simmons answering the radio wrong, using an obvious lie about said radio, and a lack of tinking glasses in the background, but this trope comes into effect when he analyzes Simmons "coded messages":
Sarge: He also mentioned that the weather was rainier. And as we all know, Mt. Rainier is the biggest landmass in the state of: Washington, and how many Washingtons do we know?
Griff: Wait, did he mean Agent Washington?
Sarge: And who's the biggest mass we know, associated with Washington?
Griff: The Meta!
Sarge: So the Meta and Washington have teamed up to kill Donut and Lopez, and now they're holding Simmons and Doc prisoner.
Griff: We have to help 'em! Wait, Doc? Ha- how do you know he's there?
Sarge: Please, Grif, it's so obvious. I don't wanna insult your intelligence by explaining every little detail.
- In Bravemule (a Dwarf Fortress story that's out there even by DF standards), Kou the warrior is told to raise crops. This is the rationale she presents for watering the field:
Kou's narration: "Drowning fire that murders the crop murders the fire, therefrom I surmise drowning the seeds would unmurder the crop."
- In Dragon Ball Abridged, Bulma starts hitting on Trunks. Who, unbeknownst to her but well known to the audience, is her Kid from the Future.
Bulma: So hey, like just gonna throw this out there. You're really cute.
Trunks: Well, you know, my mom always said I was a cute kid.
- Played for Drama in Demo Reel, as Uncle Yo assumes Donnie's mother told him to stay out of Hollywood and that's why he hates it so much. He does hate Hollywood because of his mom, but only because the unfair system made her kill herself.
- One segment of AMV Hell pokes fun at some E = MC Hammer equations on a blackboard by pointing out all the algebraic mistakes in them. It further notes that the final question actually turns out to have the correct answer, despite making several mistakes in the solution.
- In Dangan Ronpa Abridged Thing, an "abridged parody" of Dangan Ronpa, during the first trial Touko Fukawa says the murderer has to be a guy, because only "cis white male" scum are capable of doing something so horrible. (She blows Naegi off when he points out that they're all Japanese). It later turns out that the murderer is male, but Fukawa reached that correct conclusion through an idiotic train of logic.
- The Cynical Brit: TB concludes that Wheatley in Portal 2 is untrustworthy...because of his accent.
- The Nostalgia Critic asks Evilina in The Cat in the Hat if the movie has broken him. The reason why he's asking is because he has no jokes to make for a scene, but he's right for other reasons; like how it made a Papa Wolf (Critic's best redeeming quality) hit a child and make her cry.
- When Turpster plays Trouble In Terrorist Town with Sips, Hat Films and the other members of the Yogscast, he has a habit of murdering people without reason when playing as the detective. Quite a few times when he commits RDM (killing without good reason, long story short), the person in question actually was the murderer or a traitor, although it still counts as breaking the rules and earns him a lot of flak from the other players. He ends up pressing Lewis Brindley's Berserk Button in particular, and gets killed twice for this.
- The Noob webseries and comics has Dark Avenger getting regularly beaten by Sparadrap's Invincible Incompetent. This has lead Dark Avenger to be convinced that Sparadrap is actually an elite MMORPG player displaying Obfuscating Stupidity. One of the things Dark Avenger's superiors have against the theory is the reason for which an elite player would pretend to be a Noob. Dark Avenger's reply to it is that Sparadrap is probably a spy for his faction's elite guild. Actual facts: Dark Avenger's defeats are 95% Sparadrap's Invincible Incompetent and 5% Sparadrap's elite player younger brother taking over his avatar. The brother in question has a record of showing up with his own avatar or taking over Sparadrap's at the right time on other occasions precisely because he'd been keeping an eye on Sparadrap's screen.
- In an episode of King of the Hill, Peggy gets a lawn gnome which Hank despises, so when Bobby accidentally damages it while playing Hank uses this as pretext to get rid of it. Seeing how upset this makes Peggy, Hank confesses but claims he did the whole thing. Peggy correctly guesses that he's lying to protect Bobby, but wrongly believes that Bobby is wholly to blame and thus punishes him very harshly. Later on, Hank goes out and buys a new gnome, then gives it to Bobby to try and smooth things out. Again, Peggy figures most of this out, but assumes that Hank did it out of pity rather than guilt, ultimately deciding that Bobby's been in the doghouse long enough.
- South Park:
- This trope is named explicitly in the episode "Best Friends Forever". At the end of the episode, Stan delivers An Aesop about how his group - which wanted Kenny kept on life support - was wrong for the right reasons. Cartman's group, which wanted Kenny taken off life-support (though only Cartman had the selfish reason of wanting Kenny's PSP) was Right for the Wrong Reasons.
- Also shows up in "The Snuke". When Cartman's racist suspicion that the new Muslim family in town are terrorists sets off an investigation that ultimately uncovers and foils a real terrorist plot being carried out by Russian mercenaries to help the British take back the United States, he concludes that his bigotry actually saved the day and thus he was doing the right thing. Kyle argues that he isn't right, "not in the way you're saying".
- In "Cartman Finds Love" Cartman tries to force Token and Nicole together just because they're both black, but it turns out they're perfect for each other anyway.
- In Adventure Time Flame Princess eventually realises that the reason Finn has been putting out her fires is because fire is harmful to him... and reasons that it's because he's a water elemental.
- In Winx Club, Tecna grows suspicious of their new teacher Avalon over his lack of wings. Her investigation soon points him to be the evil Angel of Darkness, but most of the evidence was coincidental or false. So it seems Avalon is actually good, except that he was actually Lord Darkar's spy in Alfea, so Tecna was right that Avalon was evil.
- A variant in Ultimate Spider-Man, in which Spidey is right for the wrong reasons when he's not trying to be right. In "For Your Eye Only", Spidey taunts the Zodiac goons by giving them nicknames based on their animal-head masks. The ones in the lion masks he calls "Leo", and he never realises that that is actually their codename.
- In the episode of SpongeBob where he loses his name tag, SpongeBob and Patrick are trying to retrace SpongeBob's steps that led up to him losing his nametag. Spongebob says he put an apple on Mr. Krabs's desk, then two guys threw him in the dumpster. Patrick says the nametag must be in the apple and that they should go to Mr. Krabbs's desk to find it. Spongebob says Mr. Krabs would have thrown the apple away by now and suggests checking the dumpster for the nametag. When they get there, they discover Spongebob is wearing his shirt backward and that he's had his nametag on the whole time. They had been wrong about the nametag being in the apple, but they did find it in the dumpster (because that's where they were when they found it).
- In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode Test of Time, Billy asks for the Grim Reaper's help so he could actually study for his history report that he failed to do. Grim's response?
Grim: (spots a bottle of shampoo, then points to his bald skull) I've got to wash my hair!
: (starts walking off) Aw man, what're the chances of-(stops himself
) HEY WAIT A MINUTE! Do you think I'm stupid
Grim: Well, uh...
Billy: When I asked you to be my go-go dance partner the other day you said you couldn't because you had to "wash your hair". Nobody could wash their hair that much!
- In Gravity Falls' first episode, Dipper concludes that his sister's new boyfriend, Norman, is a zombie. It turns out he's actually a bunch of gnomes in a Totem Pole Trench.
- In Hey Arnold! the Grandpa discovers that Dino Spumoni is not a ghost based on the fact that ghosts can't take showers....they take baths.
- In Archer, Lana hates new agent Conway Stern because his arrival stole her thunder and spends quite a bit of time attempting to find evidence that he's dirty. Given it's on this page, she's actually right and he's The Mole, but her reasons for suspecting him were entirely petty.
- Likewise in the case of Cecil Tunt, Cheryl's brother, who is introduced looking for evidence that she's insane to get her committed to a mental institute. As several characters point out, Cheryl is quite thoroughly crazy and having her committed might not be such a bad idea... but Cecil was only doing it because he wanted her money, having wasted most of his own inheritance.
- This is why in formal logic, "fallacious arguments" are considered to be not synonymous with "false conclusions": see also Fallacy Fallacy.
- During the plague epidemics of Europe from the 17th to the 18th century, plague doctors used a protective garment of thick waxed- or greased-fabric overcoat, gloves, leggings, boots and a head cover with a mask fitted with glass eyepieces and a beak filled with aromatic herbs to filter the air. People were convinced back then plague spread itself through contaminated air. As plague spread from rats to humans via fleas, the primitive gas mask of the beak was useless in this respect - but the all-enveloping thick clothing still kept fleas away from the body and the mask kept them away from the face, increasing slightly the chances for the plague doctor to escape unharmed. On the other hand, this costume was rarely cleaned so its voluptuous layers of cloth ensured that the doctors carried bodily fluids and other filth from wherever they had visited on their robes, making them inadvertently spread the plague wherever they went. The widespread superstition at the time that the visit of a doctor was a sign of impending death wasn't far off the mark.
- Victorians believed malaria was caused by bad (mal) air. Missionaries in Africa wrote home about the primitive superstitions of the natives, who foolishly believed malaria was caused by evil swamp spirits. Both groups were wrong, but closing your windows at night and staying out of the swamp is a very effective way to avoid mosquitoes, which are the real vector of the disease. In a way, the mosquitoes can be seen as evil swamp spirits and especially if there are many of them attacking you.
- More than one ancient city mitigated their malaria problems by filling in their local wetlands. This wasn't because they knew what caused malaria, but that the seasonal nature of it and the fact that a high number of mosquitoes tended to presage outbreaks of it was not lost on them.
- The bad air (or miasma) theory of disease led to attempts to stave off disease by burning incense. This proved very effective against diseases spread by mosquitoes.
- Florence Nightingale did a lot to improve sanitary conditions in hospitals. Although her work was based on miasma theory, better sanitation is better sanitation and death rates fell.
- Conservapedia founder Andrew Schlafly has started the "Conservative Bible Project", an attempt to remove what he perceives as "liberal bias" from the Bible (it is exactly as blasphemous as it sounds). One of the stories he has removed from his version is the adulteress story, on the grounds that it could be used as a justification to sleep around. Amusingly enough, he's actually right this time. This passage is currently believed by scholars not to have been in the original documents (albeit not for the same reasons Schlafly thinks)note .
- Mongols believed that boiling water would appease the water spirits and keep them from cursing them with sickness. An amusing thought occurs that driving off germs wouldn't sound any less odd to people used to thinking about spirits but who never thought of germs. Sort of like Playing With Arbitrary Skepticism.
- For hundreds if not thousands of years, popular wisdom dictated the person who happens to be in the path of a brown bear should lie down motionless and play dead, supposedly because bears avoid eating corpses. This is wrong: bears can and will eat carrion if hungry enough (and may actually prefer decaying meat) and can easily tell the difference between living and dead. What's actually happening is that the bear tries to examine the human and decide if they are dangerous and should be killed or not. The one who lies down, does not move, and does not fight back is usually left alone. Certain Native American tribes got closer to what's actually going on with the same technique that includes an apology to the bear often to the effect of "I did not mean to disturb you brother/sister."
- Union General Sickles at Gettysburg, in a completely unsound tactical maneuver, scooted his unit forward after the first day of battle, leaving a gap in the Union line and leaving his force unsupported. Predictably, it was completely ravaged by the Confederate assault and quickly ceased to be an effective fighting force. However, its unexpected positioning out in the front of the main defense line threw off the (already problematic) timing of the CSA advance as several units took a much wider path to get around Sickles, or else used up time going through him.
- The common explanation for not quoting the horsepower of Top Fuel and Funny Cars dragster engines is "they are too powerful for a dynamometer". In practice, there are marine dynamometers able to measure tens of thousands of hp. But a Top Fuel engine lacks a cooling system and other features can't run at maximum horsepower for more than 10 seconds, so it can't perform a full multi-minute dyno run, whatever dynamometer is used. So, it's much more accurate to say they are "too powerful to last long enough for a dynamometer", which doesn't imply that the power ratings are off the scale.
- The Titius-Bode Law was based on the distances of the known planets from the sun, though there was a gap between Mars and Jupiter. The discovery at Uranus at about the right distance was considered proof that the law was correct, and astronomers assumed there had to be something between Mars and Jupiter; so certain were they that the hypothetical planet was even given the name Phaeton and the astronomical community began searching in earnest. In 1801, Ceres was discovered at the predicted distance. In the next few decades, plenty more was found at that distance, and the whole thing was dubbed the Asteroid Belt. As for the Titius-Bode Law, it was thrown into doubt by the 1846 discovery of Neptune (which is nowhere near where it "should" be), confounded by the discovery of Pluto (which is where the law states Neptune should be), and pretty much discredited by the Kuiper Belt.
- As for Pluto, it was discovered while searching for Planet X, which was considered to be causing disturbances in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. It was later determined that Neptune and Uranus's orbits weren't being disturbed at all—but the existence of Pluto was an established fact all the same.
- Joseph McCarthy and his career reads almost like a deconstruction of the trope. He came to historical infamy by violently lashing out at "Communist Infiltration." He claimed to possess a list of "proven" infiltrators, and championed a drive to crush them. Most if not all his "evidence" was based on Blatant Lies and motivated by cynical political posturing (and maybe a sliver of good intentions). As it turned out, the Soviet Union did indeed control a vast network of spies throughout the West that did include local Communist Parties that were internally totalitarian and downright treasonous, and they combined did vast amounts of damage. Indeed, most rational people knew that the Soviets would've been absolute idiots to not build such a network. The problem was that McCarthy jumped from the rational supposition that the Soviets were spying on the United States to the insane conclusion that everybody was a Soviet spy (especially anyone who tried to call him out on his claims and arguments). The resulting witch hunts basically broke the prestige and cohesion of those networks and probably gained the US the upper hand for the first decade or so of the Cold War. The kicker is that in doing so, they also inflamed hysteria and harmed many, many innocent people while McCarthy himself did not catch a single Communist agent and continued a series of hysterical accusations until he committed electoral suicide by taking on the US military in the shadow of the Second World War, the Korean War, the Elbe River Crisis, *and* the Berlin Airlift. Both Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower made similar, sarcastic jibes that McCarthy's hysterical methods made him "the best agent the Kremlin ever had" because of the way he made his cause look irrational.
- Economist Adam Smith noted that sometimes merchants may end up benefiting the public good without ever actually intending to, simply by making the most efficient market decisions, therefore benefiting society in the long run. Smith did believe that often merchants would be fully aware of how their decisions benefit society, but his point was that even when they were unaware, and doing it only for the immediate money, it still ultimately benefited society to see market forces running efficiently.
- The discovery of the Bystander Syndrome in psychology after the murder of Kitty Genovese. The popular story that people still know goes that thirty-eight people watched by and did nothing, not even call the police, as she was stabbed to death for half an hour in their yard. This prompted research into the psychological phenomena that could cause people to behave like that, which are still recognised as real. However, in this case, the story as it was was apparently nothing but lousy newspaper reporting, and the witnesses had in fact a) not been able to see what was really happening and b) called the police.
- Christopher Columbus wasn't the first person to realize that Earth was round; that's been known since 200 BC. He merely miscalculated its radius, and by dumb luck happened to get the circumference wrong by about the width of the Pacific Ocean, so when he ran into the Americas at about the "right" distance, he assumed he was in Asia. The actual reason that Columbus had difficulty getting funding for his expedition was that European intellectuals were aware of Earth's correct radius but weren't aware of the American continents, thus believing there was a single vast ocean that ships of the era couldn't possibly carry enough food and fresh water to reach.
- Aristotle argued already that the Earth was round in On the Heavens (350 BC), a century and a half before Eratosthenes first calculated the Earth's radius. His reasoning was that there were elephants in Libya (i.e. North Africa west of Egypt) and also in India; since there were no elephants in the Middle East, Africa and India must be connected on the other side. He was thus not just unaware that Africa is not connected to Asia by the West, but also that African and Asian elephants are different species, possibly that there were elephants in Africa south of the Sahara (or maybe, like other Greeks of his time, he believed that Ethiopia, the only part of Subsaharan Africa Greece had some vague knowledge about, was part of, or lied close to India), and that (Asian) elephants had actually lived once in the Middle East, but had been driven to extinction there around 500 BC.
- In the 17th century, there was a practice of publishing new discoveries with the letters scrambled, giving the writer time to get confirmation. Galileo sent two such letters to Johannes Kepler (one announcing his discovery that Saturn had rings and the other that Venus had phases like the moon). Kepler tried to decode these and came up with totally different sentences, one claiming that Mars had two moons, and the other claming that Jupiter had a moving red spot. Both of those claims were absolutely right, but there was no way to know that for at least another century.
- Science and medicine operate on the assumption that it reasons from ever incomplete premises, and newly discovered facts can prove it wrong in principle even when right in practice.
- A mixed example: Justice Harlan I is famous for being the lone dissenting voice in the US Supreme Court civil rights case of Plessy v. Ferguson, saying that the doctrine of "separate but equal" was wrong, inherently discriminatory and Unconstitutional. However, he spent a lot of time arguing about the evil and dangerous 'Chinamen' that, at that time, were considered so foreign and alien to American culture that they were not allowed to become American citizens. He noted that according to the law as written, even they would be allowed to sit in the white carriages of the trains, which he considered a huge demeaning slight to Blacks.
- After Europeans mapped Africa south of the Sahara and found North and South America, it became common wisdom that there was a sixth, unknown continent, that was dubbed "Terra Australis" or Land of the South. The reasoning was that the Earth needed to be balanced, so just like South America balanced North America and Africa balanced Europe, there had to be a southern continent the size of Asia to balance it. As we know today, there was indeed a sixth continental mass, Australia (whose name is in fact derived from Terra Australis), but even if we combine its surface with the rest of Oceania and the seventh continent, Antarctica, the result is still only half of Asia's landmass.
- Anyone who believes horses are native to the Americas because the Plains Indians had them. Domestic horses were introduced by Europeans and adopted then by the Native Americans. The domestic horse's wild ancestor, however, did evolve in North America and colonize Eurasia from there, but became extinct in North America at the end of the Pleistocene, and was never domesticated in America as a result.
- A commonly-heard slur against toy dogs in general, and Chihuahuas in particular, is the claim that they're more like rats than dogs. Take a close look at a Chihuahua and a rat side by side, and it's hard to spot a single characteristic they have in common that's not universal for all mammals. However, the way some Chihuahua-owners stereotypically handle their dogs, carrying them in handbags or held against their own bodies, is exactly how well-socialized pet rats, which crave close contact with their humans and enjoy the enclosed feeling of riding in a bag, prefer to be handled.