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Conviction by Counterfactual Clue

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Never mind that the girl standing directly behind him now knows the barber's name.

"Encyclopedia Brown? What a hack! To this day, I occasionally reach into my left pocket for my keys with my right hand, just to prove that little brat wrong."
ericbop, MetaFilter

This is a specific kind of Artistic License, where a pivotal clue in solving a mystery or puzzle is actually erroneous. This is related to Conviction by Contradiction, where a single thing wrong with an alibi is sufficient to prove guilt, but goes further: the key that makes the claim or alibi wrong is itself factually incorrect.

For example, a guy's alibi is that he was caring for his pregnant mule, and he is immediately revealed to be lying, since mules can't get pregnant. We've got him! To the jail! Not so fast: there are a handful of documented real life casesnote  where a female mule has given birth. Thus, there's a problem with this "revelation": it's simply wrong.

An incredibly common example of this is the bog-standard mystery-story reveal that a suspect is left-handed and simply couldn't have performed the murder in question since it was done by a right-handed person (or vice-versa.) True enough as far as it goes, but this ignores the existence of both ambidexterity (a person with the ability to use either hand interchangeably, admittedly incredibly rare) and cross-dominance (someone who uses one hand to perform some tasks but the opposite hand to perform others, such as writing with their left but throwing a ball with their right; this one not only exists genetically but also due to many left-handed people learning to use right-handed tools such as scissors out of a matter of necessity.) Exploring the possibility of this never happens; someone sees a suspect pick up a pen with the "wrong" hand and they're cleared.

When adding examples, keep in mind that a fact has to be actually wrong to qualify for Conviction by Counterfactual Clue. If there's simply a way to explain away the objection without calling factual rightness into question, it's Conviction by Contradiction. Many examples, especially ones with complex contexts, have some aspects fall into one, and others into the other.

This can be sometimes excused by Science Marches On. In many cases, the "clue" started out as Conviction by Contradiction, then science marched it right over here. When this happens, but the ultimate conclusion is demonstrated to be correct, it overlaps with Right for the Wrong Reasons, especially when other clues in the story are skipped over, but are both factual and more useful.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman 3D: In "Ego Trip", a receipt is found that mentions delivery of "zzxjoanw" to the victim. The cops figure it must have been some garbled message to someone named "Joan". Batman, armed with encyclopedic knowledge, knows that a zzxjoanw is actually a Maori drum and deduces that the victim was a collector of obscure musical instruments. The problem is that in real life, "zzxjoanw" is actually a fictitious entry in a 1903 music encyclopedia that managed to make it into two other books of "interesting words" over the next 50+ years, and no such instrument actually exists (Maori doesn't even have the letters Z, X, and J).
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Hewey, Dewey and Louie see a celebrity order carrots in a restaurant, and — since said celebrity hates carrots, as stated on every magazine — they deduce that he must be an impostor, and the original has been kidnapped. The story ends with them freeing the real celebrity, who invites them to dinner as a thank-you... and orders a dish of carrots. When Hewey, Dewey and Louie express their incredulity, he answers "Why, do you really believe everything magazines print out?"
  • Lampshaded by "Inspector Bougret", an occasional feature of Gotlib's strip Rubrique-à-Brac. Presented with two suspects, one of whom is blatantly guilty, Bougret accuses him for an absurd reason. In one case, the murder weapon is a brick of a material unknown on Earth; Bougret accuses the one who willingly shakes his hand, because only an extraterrestrial would shake a cop's hand — not because he's visibly not human.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, the Swedish edition of The Phantom had a page of reader-submitted material, of which one of the more popular were crime mysteries. One of these had the culprit give himself away by referring to the banana as a fruit. Even though banana trees are herbaceous plants, a banana is biologically considered a fruit. Even when using the culinary term for fruits (which is probably the term most people outside of the fields of biology, botany, and horticulture are familiar with), this still doesn't exactly excuse the conviction, as the banana is one of the most classic examples of a "Culinary Fruit." (For a more specific description, a culinary fruit is any edible fruit that is sweet. Biologically, a fruit is a plant structure that contains seeds. This is why things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers are classified as fruits by botanists, but not by chefs.)
  • Supergirl: Power Girl (2009) #21 featured an exploration of this, when Bruce Wayne gives the corpse of a supposed suicide victim an autopsy. He points out that the bullet wound is on the forehead, at which Dick Grayson points out that it's not unheard of in suicides. He then points out that the exit wound suggests the bullet came from straight-on, and Dick again points out that it's weird, but not impossible. Then he points out that the angle suggests the gun was being held in the victim's left hand when they were right-handed, and Dick points out that the victim was a Badass Normal and reasonably able with his left hand. Bruce responds by pointing out that, yes, it's possible that the victim held the gun to his head at a bizarre angle with the wrong hand, but it's not likely, and Dick keeps focusing on the least likely possibility - which is what causes them to conclude that they're being influenced mentally. And just to nail the coffin, he gives a much less disputable bit of evidence; namely, the bullet hole is too neat for a gun-to-the-head shot.
  • Superman:
    • In Superman (1939) #76, wherein Superman and Batman learned each other's secret identities, Batman concludes that someone was lying about being an electrical engineer because he wasn't wearing rubber-soled shoes (an electrician is someone who works hands-on in electrical systems installation, maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair, while an electrical engineer is usually someone who designs such systems but does not physically work on them).
    • One Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen comic featured Jimmy crossdressing to test the detective skills of his fanclub. They found him out in part because "Jackie" had tied a bowtie into a garter, to show "herself" as a member of the club, and according to them, "girls don't wear neckties and never have the practice to tie them that well."
  • The British "Adult" comic Viz ran parodies of this, among others the "Spot The Clue" strip. A whodunnit situation is shown, with the reader being asked to work out who the perpetrator is. Each time the villain is the one who made an innocuous error, ranging from incorrectly describing the era of a piece of furniture, to claiming to have been sending emails on a piece of hardware that everyone knows is too unreliable to work.
  • The trope is invoked and lampshaded in Welcome to Tranquility. Emoticon is in jail and being questioned with regards to the murder of Mr. Articulate, a crime-solving member of the community who was legendary for his intellect, wit and long and storied history of traveling the world. However, Emoticon points out that a lot of the stories of his adventures were "culturally insensitive", and he recounts one of the detective stories from Mr. Articulate's youth that always stuck in his mind: Mr. Articulate discovered the identity of the murderer because the "Korean" man at dinner left his chopsticks in his bowl of rice, something no actual Korean would do since it is a symbol for death and, therefore, he must not be Korean, but Japanese instead, and thusly the killer. However, Japanese culture has the same custom. "So the ending doesn't work. It's a cheat." Koreans eat rice with a spoon, so there's one more reason it doesn't work. They eat other dishes with chopsticks.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Lance Lawson strip, a clerk at an office says he was held up up by two armed gunmen. One tied up the clerk, while "Mac" went into the payroll office to deal with the guard. When a shot rings out, the unnamed gunman complained that Mac shot the guard. Then the two robbers took the money and left. Lance decides to arrest the clerk for suspicion of murder. The solution? The unnamed gunman in the story couldn't actually see who shot who from his position. Even though Unnamed could've just...assumed.
  • In an old Slylock Fox Mystery puzzle, Slylock investigates some stolen roses. Another character has some roses in a vase that she claims were a gift from her boyfriend. He deduces that she is lying, and that she is actually the flower thief. The reason? Well, aside from the fact that she is one of the recurring "villain of the week" characters, the roses still have thorns on them, and a florist would have removed them before selling the roses. Never mind the fact that many florists don't remove thorns from flowers because doing so makes them wilt faster (as does excessive handling of cut flowers, so thorns shouldn't be too much of an issue). Nor the fact that her boyfriend could have picked them from his own garden and given them to her, or that he might have been the flower thief, and her story about receiving the flowers as a gift could still be true.

    Films ― Live-Action 
  • L from Death Note (2017) does this many times. He concludes that Kira must be in Seattle because Kira's first victim was a man whose crime was only broadcast in the Seattle area. However, we see that Light found this case just by googling "live crime scene", so it would have been accessible outside of Seattle. In addition, Kira's actual first victim was the school bully, whose death by decapitation should have been noteworthy enough for L to take notice.
    • In the anime, L during a live broadcast challenges Kira to try and kill him. Light does kill the person he thinks is L, then L reveals the ruse and challenges him again, but this time Light doesn't manage to kill him. Because of this sequence of events, L correctly deduces that Kira cannot kill people whose names and faces he doesn't know. In ''Death Note (2017)", L during a live broadcast challenges Kira to try and kill him and, when he doesn't drop dead on the spot, "deduces" that Kira cannot kill people whose names and faces he doesn't know. Instead of much more likely explanations such as: Kira wasn't watching the broadcast, Kira has no interest in killing L to begin with, or even Kira's killings need more than a couple of seconds of prep time and L will only drop dead in an hour or so.
  • Danny Roman breaks out the "liars always look in a particular direction" nonsense in The Negotiator, while interrogating Neibaum. As mentioned several times on this page, there is no simple and universal indication that a person is lying, let alone one that can be inferred from the way a person glances while answering. Further, the explanation given in the film has a pretty glaring hole in it already; Danny asserts that your eyes always go in one direction when recalling, and another direction when inventing something. But if you're recalling a lie you already created and committed to memory, then if this system worked (and, once again, it doesn't) you could only catch someone with it when they were forced to create a new lie on the fly. Somewhat played with in the film, since Neibaum appears to be convinced that Danny did in fact kill his partner - he stares dead-level at Danny while throwing that accusation at him - and the real smoking gun is the discovery of incriminating wiretap recordings on Neibaum's computer.
  • In Rear Window, the main character Jeff and his girlfriend Lisa suspect that a man living in an apartment near Jeff's place has murdered his wife. They ask a police detective friend of Jeff's to investigate the case, but he comes to the conclusion that the woman has simply gone on a trip. Lisa then argues that if they can find the woman's wedding ring in the apartment, that would prove that she was murdered, as no woman would go on a trip and leave her wedding ring behind. Lisa eventually sneaks into the apartment and finds the ring, which is enough to convince the detective that the woman may have been murdered. In real life, there might be numerous reasons why someone wouldn't wear their wedding ring, especially if they're going through marital strife, which was the case with this woman.
  • In the movie Soultaker, a cop investigating a fatal car crash finds it odd that the doors of the car are both wide open. He doesn't buy that a closed, even locked car door could fly open if the car were to crash, and asks his partner, "What are the odds?" (It's because the ghosts of the passengers opened them.) In reality, the odds of both doors of a two-door car being flung open in a high speed head-on collision are pretty goddamn good. This didn't escape notice when the movie was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • In The Spider Woman (1944), Sherlock Holmes deduces that a series of apparent suicides were really murders because "suicides invariably leave notes behind them," and none of these people did. Actually, no more than about 20% of suicides leave a note.


By Author:

  • Isaac Asimov:
    • "The Dying Night": Wendall Urth, Phone-In Detective, deduces the killer's identity through the now-incorrect evidence that Mercury is a Tidally Locked Planet. The killer had assumed they could safely store a light-sensitive recording in starlight and retrieve it days, or even years, later without the recording being exposed to sunlight. Current astronomical understanding is that Mercury has about three days for every two years it experiences. Asimov acknowledged this in afterwords of later printings, but said he couldn't figure out how to fix it without rewriting the entire story, so jokingly blamed it on the scientists for changing their minds.
    • "Hostess": Mr Smollett, who works as a sort of "police officer" for the World Security Board, claims that humans have adapted too much to the non-physical parasite/virus to survive, citing cancer. In-Universe, Dr Smollett realizes that his claim is bunk, because while cancer is unrestrained growth (as opposed to the decay caused by the parasite), cancer occurs even in creatures which aren't hosts to the parasite. She's a biologist while he isn't.
    • "Mirror Image": R (obot) Olivaw catches the In-Universe counterfactual when Detective Baley claims that the robot that suffered a Logic Bomb when asked to admit they had been lying is proof that they had been ordered to lie, instead of being the robot that had not been ordered to lie. Baley admits that, because he isn't a robopsychologist, either one is probably just as likely. His goal wasn't to accuse the owner of the robot who broke down, but to use whichever robot broke down to accuse the older mathematician of trying to commit Plagiarism.

By Title:

  • One entry in The Armchair Detective series stated that one true way of knowing if a pre-World War II telegram is false is if the phrase "World War I" or "The First World War" is ever mentioned, on the assumption that nobody could have foreseen a second World War before it started. However, it was used by some almost immediately after hostilities began. Note that the series in general isn't particularly prone to this. In his defense, those were not common terms, and would hardly be included in a telegram where they could easily say "The War" or "The Great War" with fewer letters. It may not be rock-solid evidence, but it's a good reason to be very skeptical. It should be noted that using them as the actual name of the War would be even more suspicious—although the First World War was, indeed, used, it at first was more of a descriptive term (IE, describing the War as the first World War in contrast to previous, non-global, wars, and, as in the case of the first recorded use of the term, the early-war term 'The European War').
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Zigzagged in Ghost Story. While confronting Aristedes Butters pretends to be a Warden. Aristedes notices that Butters doesn't have a sword, and therefore isn't a Warden. Although said magic swords are standard Warden equipment, a situation from earlier books means they are currently unable to make new ones, so any more recently appointed Warden won't have one. Dresden notes that since neither character knows about this situation, it doesn't matter that he's technically wrong.
    • In the short story "The Warrior", Harry saves a girl from being hit by a car. When her mother comes to see what happened, Harry spots a bruise on the girl and asks if he gave it to her when he pulled her out of the car's path. The girl says no, she was bruised when she fell off her bike. Harry then asks how that happened without her scraping her hands, making the mother's eyes go wide and she promptly marches the girl home. Later Harry learns that her father had been hitting her, and Harry's comment brought it to the mother's attention. Of course the girl could have easily fallen off a bike without scraping her hands. While the mother may have known or suspected what was going on, there was no real reason her to think it was particularly suspicious.
  • Detective Joe Sandilands: In The Palace Tiger, a vital clue hinges on the murder weapon being a bagh nakh (Hindi for "Tiger's Claw"), which leaves a broken tiger claw in the wound. The weapon is described as being an actual preserved tiger paw mounted on a handle, hence the clue. In fact, the bagh nakh is a set of metal claws attached to rings which slip over the fingers; the name is metaphorical.
  • Encyclopedia Brown, the former Trope Namer, often bases the solution of mysteries on assertions that a certain event could not have happened as described for a particular reason. In some cases, the reason would make the event unlikely but not impossible. Other times, the reason is simply false.
    • Book 1, chapter 3 ("The Case of the Civil War Sword"): Bugs Meany claims to have a sword from The American Civil War, and says it's authentic due to the engraving showing that it was given to Stonewall Jackson by his men after the First Battle of Bull Run. The "correct" answer was that the sword was fake, because nobody would have called it FIRST Bull Run until there had been a Second Bull Run. Given how long it can take to commission, make, retrieve, and engrave a sword, it's entirely possible that the second battle a year later already happened by the time the sword was actually finished—though the inscription is dated 12 August 1861, just a month after First Bull Run. There's a much bigger hole in the story that would have made better clues: The Confederate forces did not refer to either battle as Bull Run at all, but rather as the Battles of Manassas. The novel used the Union's preferred nomenclature, which refers to a creek that passes through the battlefield, but the Confederates usually referred to battles by the name of the nearest settlement, in this case the town of Manassas, Virginia.
    • Book 1, chapter 5 ("The Case of the Bank Robber"): Encyclopedia Brown deduces that the blind witness is lying after visiting him in his hotel room since the lights are on and the day's newspaper is on the table despite the man not expecting visitors. Ignoring all the reasons one might have a newspaper one can't read in one's room,note  it isn't even necessarily true that blind people can't read newspapers. Most legally "blind" people still have some amount of vision, and depending on the exact nature of the vision loss, it's entirely possible to be able to read a newspaper (perhaps with magnification).
    • Book 2, chapter 8 ("The Case of Excalibur"): One kid with a cast on his left arm is accused of stealing a penknife, and in fact it's found in his pants pocket in his locker. However, the "proof" that he didn't do it is found in that the knife is in his left pocket, and, according to Encyclopedia, it's impossible to put something in the opposite pocket of the hand they're in while running, as Bugs Meany claims happened. It might be more difficult for some than others, and there would be very little logical reason to do so, but it's certainly not impossible for everyone. Though in a technical subversion of this trope, the pants pocket scene isn't actually the final conviction per se.
    • Book 4, chapter 9 ("The Case of the Murder Man"): In the Show Within a Show (a two-man stage show) portrayed in the chapter, the solution to the crime lay in the fact that the murderer didn't leave prints, and "it was too hot for gloves," so they arrested the guy in gloves. Plenty of people wear gloves for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of weather.
    • Book 5, case 3 ("The Case of the Wagon Master"): The solution relies on a frontier fort in 1872 following the U.S. Flag Code, which wasn't published until 1923 and wasn't adopted by Congress until 1942.
    • Book 7, chapter 1 ("The Case of the Electric Clock"): The culprit's alibi was that, when he walked past the victim's house, he heard the electric clock (which was unplugged when the crime was committed) ticking, the contradiction being that electric clocks don't tick. When this was first written, (back in the 1970s), this was Conviction by Contradiction, though questions like "How loud would it have to be ticking to be audible outside the house?" and "Exactly how is this an alibi anyway?" might arise. Today, we can skip straight to the fact that some electric clocks — particularly analog clocks in which the second hand jumps from one mark to another and an early kind of digital clock where numbers were written on flaps that showed in succession (as shown in Groundhog Day among others) — do make sounds that, while distinct from pendulum-regulated clocks, are described as "ticking". Additionally, some digital clocks that indicate seconds will play an artificial ticking sound.
    • Book 9, chapter 6 ("The Case of the Tooth Puller"): Encyclopedia pins a crime on a magician because he was wearing short sleeves. He claimed that all magicians wore long sleeves so that they could pull objects out of them... except good magicians don't need anything of the sort. Many, in fact, wear short sleeves solely to impress people with the undeniable fact they have nothing up them, and at least one group performs magic in the nude. There are entire styles of magic that depend on (for example) marked cards, psychological tricks, or props with trap doors, for which sleeves are completely useless. Even in cartoons, stage magicians as a whole tend to have the catchphrase "nothing up my sleeves", as they roll them up before a trick.
    • Book 12, chapter 5 ("The Case of the Mysterious Thief"): The case was "solved" (by Sally, not Encyclopedia) because a couple sat in a restaurant with the man's back to the wall rather than the woman's, from which Sally deduced that each was actually a member of the other gender in disguise. This is because of a rule of etiquette that the woman should sit against the wall, so she can see and be seen. For this to be evidence, it would have to be the case that people followed this "rule" with no, or at best, very few exceptions; only Sally had ever heard of it, and it was falling out of favor in the real world even when the books were published. This same solution supposes that the victim is a woman so strong that only a man could've knocked her out with one punch, ignoring the fact that the victim is, well, a very strong woman, which by itself admits that very strong women exist.
      • From a meta perspective, this "solution" also ignores what a big piece of the books' internal logic "girls can be even tougher than boys" really is. The canonical reason the bullies Encyclopedia outsmarts don't try to get even by just punching his teeth out is his partnership with Sally, who beats up anyone who tries. The books go so far as to actually call her his bodyguard whenever they explain this.
    • Book 15, chapter 5 ("The Case of Hilbert's Song"): The solution relies on the fact that the culprit had used glycerin tears that fell from the outside corners of her eyes instead of the inside, thus revealing them to be fake, as "If only one tear falls, it will run from the inside corner of the eye, by the nose, and not from the outside corner." Only, none of that is true; how tears flow from a person's eyes is a function of the physical shape of their eyelids, nose, and cheeks, not to mention the orientation of the head relative to gravity's pull.
    • Book 15, chapter 6 ("The Case of the Crowing Rooster"): The solution is based entirely on the supposed 'fact' that roosters only crow when they saw light, apparently based on the urban legend that roosters crow at sunrise. The crime was a con man trying to convince kids he found a way to make roosters crow on command, but actually uncovering the cage so they saw light and thought it was sunrise. Anybody who has been around a rooster for an extended period of time will know full well that they crow whenever the heck they want, whether the sun is out or not.
  • Woody Allen parodied this in a story called "Match Wits with Inspector Ford", where Inspector Ford deduces that a man didn't kill himself, because there was cash in his pocket, and someone who is about to commit suicide would use a credit card.
  • In a Mike Mist Minute Mystery by Max Allan Collins in the early 1980s, the title character supposedly identifies a crook because she claimed that she cashed a check using an automatic teller machine, which Mike claims is impossible. The readers wrote in to note that it's done all the time; you enter the value of the check into the machine as a deposit and you are free to withdraw from that amount, with the bank staff confirming the accuracy and legitimacy later on; in modern days the ATMs are smart enough they even handle the verification process. In another strip, an autoshop owner received a threatening letter and Mike interviews one of his employees first; it's taken as an accidental admission of guilt when the mechanic says it's high time somebody put a scare in his boss, indicating that he knew the contents of the letter before Mike mentioned them, but isn't it reasonable to assume it was a threat if a detective's been hired?
  • In the Monk Tie-In Novel Mr. Monk in Outer Space, one of Monk's deductions that makes him conclude that a person was killed in a different hotel room and moved downstairs to a different room in a maid's cart hinges on the fact that insulin must be refrigerated. Except it doesn't; diabetics commonly keep vials of insulin currently in use at room temperature, usually due to the discomfort of injecting cold insulin. Refrigerating insulin mostly has to do with preserving it longer: Doctors recommend keeping insulin at room temperature for a month at most, while keeping it cold extends this to six months. He also incorrectly states that all diabetics take insulin, when some Type 2 diabetics can control their diabetes through diet and exercise alone, and most can control it with the help of oral medication.
    • One of the subcases in Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop that is mentioned in a few paragraphs takes the Encyclopedia Brown example used as the page quote. What is known about said case is that it is a man who tripped over a crack in a parking lot and broke his arm, which is locked at a 90 degree angle according to his doctors, yet it is possible to see his car keys in his right pocket, which should be inaccessible to that hand. For all we know, this person could just easily grab their car keys with their left hand—but it is at least good reason to look closer and see if the man's arm were truly injured.
    • The above also ties in with Monk's general tendency to avert this trope as Monk will often quickly find a series of points that leads him to believe that a suspect is the culprit but more often then not most or all of them could be explained away very easily. Monk will agree that all of the counter points are valid but use their improbability as the basis to do further investigation for actual proof ("He's the guy. I don't know how, but he's the guy.").
  • In The Murder on the Links, the second Hercule Poirot case in terms of internal chronology (and of publication order), Poirot sees a stage act consisting of twin sisters (one blonde, one brunette) and deduces that one of them must be wearing a wig. Because of course it's impossible that twin sisters could be fraternal, or that their parents could be a blond and a heterozygotic brunette (or two heterozygotic brunettes), or hair dye was used. While the twins are repeatedly stated to be identical in appearance, very close resemblances do happen in families, even among brothers and sisters born at separate times to the same parents.
  • In a Nancy Drew book, a dog eats a box of chocolates and dies—this is treated as a plot point because the box of chocolates shouldn't have killed the dog alone. Actually, chocolates are not good for dogs! While its toxicity to them is often exaggerated, a full box of chocolates could easily poison a small pooch to death (white chocolate is the only exception, as it contains no cocoa solids and therefore has only negligible amounts of the toxic substance). In fact, it's a somewhat frequent cause of accidental death for dogs, because despite it being bad for them, the bastards love how it tastes and gorge themselves when able to.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • In "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", Sherlock Holmes deduces that the owner of a lost hat must be an intellectual, because it is a big hat, and so he has a large head. This was partly Science Marches Onthat was actually a serious scientific theory at the time — but even in the context of the era, it ignores the possibility that the hat's owner might simply have a very thick head of hair atop an average-size head, or a simple preference for oversized hats.
    • In "The Adventure of the Priory School", Holmes deduces the direction a bicycle was heading by the fact that the hind tire track passes over the front tire track. However, the hind tire would pass over the front tire tracks regardless of the direction (unless the bicycle was in the process of turning at the time). This article explains an actual way of figuring out the bicycle's direction. Conan Doyle himself checked that theory after getting some mail from the readers, and admitted that this is, indeed, his mistake; he also said that Holmes could've used a different clue: on an uneven ground the bike leaves a deeper track when going upwards than downwards, and that is enough in the context of the story.
  • From Two-Minute Mysteries by Donald Sobol.
    • The "mule" clue was used in "The Case of Molly's Mule". Sobol would later reuse this clue in an Encyclopedia Brown mystery called "The Case of the Gold Rush". The first time can be excused as a common mistake, but the second time less so.
    • A Two-Minute Mystery had a deaf witness's testimony that he read the suspect's lips and took special note of it because the suspect was whispering called into question, because supposedly, he shouldn't have been able to tell the suspect was whispering. However, whispering is just when instead of using your vocal cords normally, you create turbulence with them, producing a hissing sound. This then requires you to use your lips and mouth to create sounds that your vocal cords normally would, and is very noticeable to a lip reader. You can easily demonstrate this by saying the same word as a whisper and in normal voice, and feel how different your mouth moves. Then try freezing your jaw and lips in place and speaking, something you can do mostly understandably with operating your vocal cords normally, but you can't produce meaningful sounds at all if you try it while whispering.
    • In one Two-Minute Mysteries story, a man relates how he leaned over his train bunk and read a headline on the newspaper the man below him was apparently reading. His companion deduced that the man with the newspaper was the perpetrator, because the only way the first man could have read the headline is if the newspaper was held upside-down (and therefore upside-up, relatively speaking, to the first man's eyes.) However, many people can read upside-down text just fine, especially if the text is in a large font and the message short (like a newspaper headline). Many dyslexics can read upside down almost as fast at reading the normal way, sometimes even faster. Even without any skill at it, everyone who can read can decipher upside-down print letter by letter. It may take a few minutes, but what's time to someone sitting bored in a train? Or, even easier, the top half of the paper may have been folded back while the man read the bottom.
    • In "Murder at the Zoo", Haledjian meets with a zookeeper after a doorman working at the zoo is found killed. The zookeeper claims to have been alerted to the murder when he heard the scream of a giraffe, since one of them had been caught in the crossfire. Instantly Haledjian declares him to be the real murderer, because according to him, giraffes have no vocal cords. In reality, giraffes have vocal cords so large that they usually make sounds too low in pitch for humans to hear. This is why biologists for a long time thought that giraffes made no vocalizations. While adult giraffes usually seem silent from our perspective, calves can be quite noisy.
    • An alleged suicide note from a linguistics professor is determined to be a fake due to some grammatical "mistakes" that a true linguist would never make, including the use of a split infinitive such as "to boldly go". First, correctness of split infinitives is a matter of great debate; while some do abhor them, many have no problem with them at all. Second, Sobol mixes up linguists with grammarians; the former being a study of aspects of a language such as what sounds are meaningfully distinct, how it expresses things that will take place in the future, and other stuff like "are there separate words for 'hand' and 'arm' or do they use only one word?" while the latter being the study of restraints on words and the order they go in. Finally, that's before you have to wonder if a person contemplating suicide is in the correct frame of mind to even consider proofreading.
    • In one of the Two-Minute Mysteries, a man's death is taken not to be suicide because he had recently suffered a heart attack, so a salt shaker on his table would mean another person was present, since the man himself would not be adding any to his food. A man intending to take his life could easily have ignored health concerns. In addition, couldn't he have just left it on there and never used it?
    • One story overlaps with Conviction by Contradiction - where an inspector has an upset stomach and asks for "Bicarbonate of soda" at a bakery. When they say they don't have any, he somehow deduces they're a front since that's baking soda and no bakery would be without it. On top of all the various reasons for why the baker may not have any (they're out, he doesn't know what it means since it was called "Sodium Bicarbonate" instead), the bakery is also stated to have been one for pies - pies use baking powder, not baking soda. While baking soda can be used to raise the pH of acidic ingredients (such as lemons and limes), it's not often used for pies and one can easily replace it with more baking powder since Baking Powder is just baking soda with cream of tartar.
    • One of the Inspector Berkovich storiesnote  has a witness claim he saw a man being murdered while a clock was ticking — except it was digital. The twist is, the man was completely honest; he was hearing a particular radio station which always transmitted a metronome's ticking for a few minutes before its regular broadcasts started.
  • In the battle between Archmage Gromph and Dyrr the lich in the War of the Spider Queen series, Gromph realizes Dyrr's shapeshift spell means he's not undead anymore, so negative energy spells can and do work on him. The kicker? He'd polymorphed into a construct, which is still immune to negative energy and a Lich, unlike most undead, CAN polymorph himself as an explicit part of the runes.
    • In one of the Avatar Trilogy novels, a ghostly figure appears in front of Cyric's mercenary band and threatens them. Cyric, observing that none of the witnesses has aged as a result, concludes that the figure isn't a genuine ghost (which had an aging aura under then-current D&D rules), but a harmless product of wild magic. Not only is there no clear reason for him to assume a product of wild magic would necessarily be harmless, but there are several dozen other ghost-like creatures in the Forgotten Realms Verse that it could have been, that would not age witnesses yet would be extremely dangerous in other ways. There's also some Hilarious in Hindsight with this situation, as later editions dropped the aging aura as a ghost ability completely.
  • One Encyclopedia Brown-esque story concluded that the suspect was obviously lying because he claimed he was at a laundromat putting clothes into a top-loading dryer. The detective claimed that all dryers are front-loading. This is incorrect; top-loading models existed on the market even in the time period when the story was written.note 
  • There's an old story, occasionally found in some advice books, about a business owner who would take his prospective employees out for a meal. If the prospect put salt on the food before tasting it, he'd know they were someone who made assumptions, and therefore not someone he wanted to hire. Problem is, the prospect could simply be familiar with the restaurant and how they season their food. Or they could be someone who seasoned their food by reflex, out of nervousness. Not to mention how business and brunch are two different things. It would be like assuming someone who forgets to use their turn signal once has memory problems.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Columbo titled "An Exercise in Fatality" has a key piece of evidence that a fake accident was really a murder hinge on how the victim's shoes were tied. This actually could have been reasonable evidence, except that the way the evidence is framed and explained is self-contradictory and counter-factual in places. The problems with Columbo's explanation are as follows:
    • Firstly, Columbo explains that when right-handed people tie their own shoes the big/top loop ends up over the big toe every single time, whereas if someone else ties the shoe the loop lands over the little toe. note  He demonstrates this first on his own shoe, then contrasts this with a "backwards" knot on a pair of his old sneakers, tied with the heel pointing away from himself as though he was tying someone else's. The problem? Not everyone ties their shoes the same way. If the victim tied his shoes "bunny ears" or dressed the knot afterwards for aesthetics, the way it sits might not accurately reflect the handedness of its tying.
    • Next, Columbo explains that the running shoes the victim was wearing were tied with the big/top loop over the little toe, and contrasts this to a pair of the victim's dress shoes from his locker, tied with the loop over the big toe as expected. Thus, a right-handed person must have done up his shoes for him, because they would be doing their usual action backwards. The problem with this? The victim was clearly stated and shown to be left-handed, reversing the expected knot direction. The knot on the running shoes was tied "backwards" for a right-handed knot but correctly for a left-handed knot, while the knot on the dress shoes was obviously tied while the victim wasn't wearing them, implying that they were tied in the same manner as Columbo's old sneakers from just a moment before—heel pointing away.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • In "Machismo", the BAU travels to Mexico to assist the local police force in arresting a serial killer that is targeting elderly women. They find that the killer is also a previously unreported serial rapist, and that he is killing the mothers of the women he raped, because each of the elderly women's second surname is the same as the younger women's first surname. In Spanish naming customs, every person has their father's first surname as their first, and their mother's first surname as their second—the opposite to what happens in the episode.
    • Reid insists that a person who kidnapped a child and then makes threatening phone calls to his parents utilizing a voice changer is in fact a woman, because the caller didn't taunt the FBI, therefore the kidnapper isn't competitive and ego-driven, and because they insisted on describing certain aspects of the child's clothing, such as his shoes being teal, the idea (which Reid actually spells out) being women wouldn't be competitive and ego-driven, and only women notice or call attention to small details like colors. He turns out to be completely right on all points as regards the perpetrator, which, of course, ignores the alternate possible explanation that people are individuals, plenty of men are not competitive by nature and notice small things like shoe colors, especially if it's an unusual color like teal. The kidnapper having been a shoe salesman might've been an interesting reveal.
    • Generally, most of the times they figure out the unsub is a woman fall into this. As soon as they see poison, even if they have to stretch the definition of "poison" (sometimes acid counts, sometimes it doesn't) or a lack of sexual motivation, they're convinced they're dealing with a woman. Despite all the times they've had men killing victims for non-sexual reasons.
    • In one episode, Blake and Reid definitively declare an old rape accusation was false based entirely on the "inconsistencies" in the victim's statement. Said inconsistencies are purely grammatical (she said she was "really, really scared" when he "kind of" put his hands on her, so she's both overselling and underselling her experience). Because it's not likely that teen girl who's been through a trauma is going to be at all confused about how she's feeling, especially when the person she's accusing is her boyfriend, who she might be afraid of getting in trouble. Sure, it raises the possibility that it's a false accusation, and in this case the man is innocent until proven guilty so skepticism is appropriate, but outside circumstances (a coverup perpetrated by the accused man's family and a witness's call to police) back up the statement. It's a blanket declaration that the girl had to be lying because she didn't talk like they thought a rape victim should.
    • An in-universe one: In "A Higher Power", the BAU is called to investigate a recent spike in suicides in a small community in Pittsburgh, the victims of which had lost their children to a huge fire months prior and had apparently succumbed to their grief. They are called in because the lead officer's brother was one of the victims and the cop is adamant that his brother would never have killed himself so suddenly and suspects foul play. The team investigates and discovers that the suicides are actually staged murders, caused by an "Angel of Death" type who had been attending the victims' group therapy sessions looking to "save their souls from their grief". After the catching the killer, the cop thanks the BAU for their help and for vindicating his suspicions. However, the team reveals that they had looked into his brother's suicide as well and it turns out that he had never been to the same support groups as the killer and his suicide did not match the killer's MO, meaning his death was very likely an actual suicide, something the cop is heartbroken to hear.
  • CSI:
    • In perhaps the most memorable chain of cases ever, the identity of the Miniature Killer is revealed by bleach, the only linking thing in the four mini-crime scenes. However, one of them was listed not under the name "bleach", but by its chemical name, NaCl. NaCl is sodium chloride (table salt) while bleach is sodium hypochlorite (NaClO).
    • Lampshaded in another episode. Captain Brass decides to reopen an "accidental death" case after he sees the supposedly bereaved husband coming out of a club to hop into a brand new sports car. He later tells the husband that his (Brass') suspicions should've been aroused earlier—when he interviewed the husband, the man said that he "loveD" his wife, and Brass' experience was that innocent people never referred to their loved ones in the past tense so soon after their death. note  While this obviously (as the accused's lawyer specifically points out) means little legally, it did give Brass more reason to pursue his new suspicions.
    • And there's an episode where Catherine suspects a mother assisted in a murder her son took part in because a body bag found at the crime scene was neatly folded, and Catherine said, "Teenagers never fold things, mothers do!" Apparently clean freak teenagers (or sloppy mothers) do not exist in Catherine's mind.
    • In another episode Catherine (again) catches a woman who killed her daughter by which way the woman was looking when she was talking to Catherine. Catherine deduces that the woman was looking left and therefore lying. To be fair, she only brought it up after using a forensic demonstration to learn that no-one but her could've drowned her daughter, but it seems very weird that she'd use eye direction as evidence after that.note 
    • In another CSI series (New York?) someone deduces that a person was murdered and her corpse re-dressed because she's wearing an "expensive" bra with panties that don't match. Aside from the fact that the stated $35 isn't expensive for a bra, plenty of people don't care whether their underwear matches.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Pandorica Opens" has an in-universe example: The Alliance believes the Doctor to be responsible for the impending reality-ending catastrophe caused by the TARDIS exploding because "only the Doctor can pilot the TARDIS". Not only does the audience know this is not the case, the episode makes sure to remind people that this logic is faulty by showing River Song flying the TARDIS after the Doctor sends her to go get it.
    • "World War Three": The Doctor determines that the Slitheen's farts smell like halitosis (yes, really), therefore they are made of calcium and can be dissolved by vinegar. Except that's not true at all, for several reasons. Halitosis is caused by oral bacteria metabolising traces of food, not by the breakdown of calcium salts in teeth. This is the same way that flatulence is created, except in the mouth and not the colon. Because of this, the main odour compounds (methanethiol and hydrogen sulphide) in bad breath and flatulence are the same, and therefore they smell roughly the same. Finally, vinegar shouldn't be enough to instantly kill the Slitheen, assuming they're made out of the same substance as tooth enamel. If that was the case then our teeth would dissolve whenever we ate anything acidic.
  • On an episode of Forensic Files, "Yes, in Deed", the prime suspect saving a movie ticket stub to establish an alibi was one of the reasons the police, and one of the prosecutors, believed that he was the culprit of a murder and arson. One of the detectives interviewed remarked that nobody ever keeps their movie stubs, eliminating all who might do so for any number of reasons. It was mentioned that the suspect wasn't in the habit of keeping receipts, though.
  • An interesting in-universe example in House. House suspects an amputee is lying about being a Vietnam veteran. When he discovers that the guy is from Canada, he confronts him and triumphantly points out that Canada didn't send troops to Vietnam. The guy angrily points out that Canada did send troops to enforce the Paris Peace Accords, resulting in him losing his hand to a grenade. This also fails to account for all the Canadians who enlisted in the US Military and volunteered to go to Vietnam (around 30,000 in all), much like how many Americans volunteered to fight for Canada and other Allied countries before the USA entered WWI and WWII.
  • In an episode of Judge Judy, a man is trying to collect money owed to him by a woman who rented a room from him. He says he provided her with an invoice each month and brought copies showing how much the woman owed him. The invoices had the invoice date on each of them, but they also had a date in the header or footer showing the date they were printed. Judge Judy points out that these invoices are fake because they all have the same date. The guy made the argument that the invoices were created when he said they were, pointing to the invoice dates, but the other date was the current date, the date he printed them. Judy said something like, "I'm not stupid, you know," and ruled in favor of the woman who owed him the money, because apparently to her it's impossible that anyone printing a copy of something would record the date the copy was printed. Never mind the fact that Microsoft Word has a feature where a date within the document can automatically update itself each time the file is accessed.
  • Frequently done on Law & Order as well. In one episode, the detectives have found the remains of a woman believed to have died in the 9/11 attacks (her hand was found at the scene, along with her purse). The prosecutors are trying the man she was having an affair with. Serena, a woman, notes two things—that the purse in question was an evening bag, not something that a woman would be carrying for a day of work, and that her boyfriend had claimed that it was her work bag. The inconsistency reveals that he is the woman's killer. Because, apparently, no boyfriend in history has ever misidentified which purse his girlfriend uses for which occasion or failed to notice any difference at all.
  • Law & Order: UK:
    • A murder suspect's alibi is that she and her girlfriend spent the day shopping and having lunch. They claim to have paid for everything with cash (to explain the lack of credit card records) and to have thrown out the receipts for their purchases. DS Ronnie Brooks scoffs at this:
      Ronnie Brooks: I've been married twice. NO woman throws out the receipts for clothes she just bought!
    • CP Alesha Phillips gets leery of a defendant's claim that she acted in self-defense — killing the victim after he raped her — when the girl is completely blase about having to testify, citing that most rape victims are usually terrified at the prospect, as she was. Depending on which study you read, anywhere from 12 to 60 percent of women who are sexually assaulted have their emotions "lock down" during the attack, as a form of reflexive mental/emotional self-protection, and frequently maintain that low-emotion reaction later. Overall, it never occurs to Alesha that the girl is in shock rather than lying (though she actually WAS lying). Nor does it occur to Alesha that what most rape victims find so terrifying about testifying in court is having to confront the rapist they're accusing, which wouldn't apply to a woman who'd killed hers.
    • In another episode, a murder suspect claims to have left his job at "5 o'clock. On the button." When the detectives question his boss, DS Matt Devlin gets suspicious when the man uses the exact same phrase. While he's correct in suspecting that the two are lying and rehearsed their stories, the thought that either man could have simply picked up the phrase from the other after years of working together never occurs to him, or that it's simply a common enough expression for them both to use it whether or not one got it from the other.
  • This is often invoked on The Listener when Toby has to make up some story of how he figured out a person was lying to him since he cannot reveal that he figured it out through telepathy. Knowing it would never be accepted as evidence in a court of law, Toby and the cops must then find other evidence in order to make an arrest.
  • The Monk episode "Mr. Monk Is At Your Service" has Monk and Natalie meeting with her parents when they mention that two of their friends died in a car accident and that the car was a Morgan. Monk becomes suspicious because Morgan is a British manufacturer, the British drive on the left, and their cars are right hand drive (the steering wheel is on the right) as a result which doesn't correspond to the positions of the victims' bodies. Apparently, Monk doesn't know that most British car manufacturers, including Morgan, build left hand drive cars for export to countries that drive on the right. Also, wouldn't the position of the steering wheel be noted in the accident report? This is a variation in that instead of the evidence pointing to the guilty party, it points to the fact that a crime was committed at all, but the resulting investigation leads to an arrest.
  • Murder, She Wrote:
    • A man dressed as a Roman Catholic priest is giving Jessica what might be important information. Jessica quotes Henry David Thoreau, but attributes the quote to St. Thomas Aquinas. The "priest" doesn't call her on it — and supposedly any real priest would know. Apparently imagining that all Catholic priests immediately recognize everything St. Thomas Aquinas did not say and always call people out on it, Jessica "knows" he's not really a priest.
    • In another episode, Jessica and the local sheriff find a matchbook inside a woman's car after the car was pulled out of water with the woman deceased. The two argue as if the only and mutually exclusive possibilities are that the woman stopped there the night she died, and that the matchbook was planted or placed there. This is treated as an important clue, as if there are no other ways a person might have some detritus like a matchbook in their car.
    • In a first-season episode, Jessica solves a murder by realizing that the police Lieutenant who was investigating the murder dismissed a spot where a framed item had been removed as having been nothing more than a family picture could only have known that if he had been inside the home prior to being summoned, as the victim's daughter had removed the picture as soon as she found her father dead. Except that he could have potentially learned that from the various people who were in the house when the body was discovered. This is a bit downplayed, though, as the Lieutenant does not think to offer this excuse and instead pulls a gun — the murder weapon — on Jessica, who (after he is disarmed) acknowledges that this is the only real piece of evidence.
  • NCIS:
    • One episode has Cate determining a suspect is lying because he looks to his left, so he's obviously recalling a concocted story. Had he been telling the truth, he would have looked to the right. This is as biased as the belief honest people always make eye contact; in practice, everything from culture to personal habit can influence which direction people look in when searching their memories or considering answers.
    • In another episode, they get a tip that a man's wife and daughter might have been kidnapped, so they go to the house to investigate and find the daughter's sweater lying on the walkway. Cate declares that it's proof that "Either she left in a hurry or she was forced to" over McGee's objections, because "little girls aren't typically slobs." Where to begin?
      • First of all, small children of any gender aren't particularly known for caring too much about messes (granted, the girl was closer to seven than two, so she was old enough to take responsibility, but that doesn't mean she likes to).
      • Second, by Cate's own logic, little girls "aren't typically" slobs. So she's even acknowledging that there are little girls who are slobs, and since she knows almost nothing about this child, it's entirely possible she's one of the supposedly rare messy ones.
      • Also, one of the few facts she does know about the girl is that she's blind. Now, blind doesn't mean stupid, so yes, she'd notice if a sweater she was currently wearing or one she was holding fell, and it was in the middle of the walkway, so she'd probably trip over it if she walked past, so she'd find out it was there eventually, but a blind person isn't necessarily going to notice something being out of place. Maybe her mother was carrying a pile of clothes to the dry cleaner and dropped it while walking behind the girl. Are little girls supposed to have a sixth sense regarding things being messy? Is that why they're not typically slobs?
      • She also presents an alternative theory right there in her comment: "Either she left in a hurry..." The kid plays piano. Maybe the mother forgot a lesson or recital until the last minute and was rushing to get there in time and didn't feel the need to stop and pick up a sweater off the ground.
      • Now, the fact remains that the sweater was the only thing lying out in the yard, and since the girl was blind, it would be unusual for her or her parents to leave things out where she could trip over them, and there was evidence inside the house to confirm that the mother and daughter were taken against their will, but Cate doesn't consider any of those facts. "Girl + Mess = Foul Play" is the entirety of her logic.
  • Sherlock:
    • "A Study in Pink" has Sherlock deduce that the former owner of John's mobile was his brother and a drunk runs entirely on these. He assumes that people not wanting to pay the entire rent of a flat would be frugal in every other aspect of their lives despite flat mates being quite common among people of varying financial backgrounds. He assumes that older people don't have cell phones, which was sort of true in the time period when the show was made but the phone being a gift explains that. The scratches on the power connection are a shout out to the same deduction being used in the original stories but for watch winding. However as most cell phone owners can attest, the tiny plug of that style of cell phone is difficult to find and people often plug their phones in in the dark, most cell phones over six months old will have scratches around the outlet, whatever the owner's intoxication level. In fairness, he did admit the last one was a "shot in the dark," and later explicitly stated he wasn't expecting to get everything right (again, as in the book), and was surprised that he did - apart from it being John's sister rather than his brother.
    • "The Blind Banker" has Sherlock deduce that a suicide was actually a murder because the person was left-handed and was shot in the right side of the head and it would be awkward to twist the left arm around to right side of the head. This runs on the assumption that left-hand dominant people are completely incapable of using their right hands. Putting a gun to your head is a simple motion easily completed with the non-dominant hand. There's also the fact that most guns are designed for right-handed people, and as a result it's not uncommon for left-handed people to shoot right-handed — Watson himself is shown writing with his left hand and shooting with his right. On top of that, powder burns and blood splattering could have easily revealed the distance and angle of the shot to rule out suicide, which makes the police unquestioningly buying Sherlock's deduction unrealistic.
    • Another episode has him deduce that a man must be cheating on his wife because his phone had a waterproof case, reasoning that because he didn't have the tan of a man who works outdoors, that must mean he takes his phone into the pool with him, which must be because there's something on it he wants to hide from his wife, which must be text messages from a secret lover. Because apparently there's no other possible reason to take your phone into a pool.
  • A rather amusing in-universe example in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. When O'Brien is marked for death by some crazy aliens because he's one of the last people alive who knows how a forbidden superweapon works, they send a bogus video back to the Federation that shows him dying in an accident. His wife realizes something's fishy because he's drinking coffee in the video and she knows he never drinks coffee in the afternoon, when the video was supposedly taken. But then after the plot is foiled and Miles comes back home, as he's settling in he asks for a cup of coffee. She reacts with astonishment, and he says he drinks coffee in the afternoon all the time!
    • In 'Heart of Stone', Odo claims he knew 'Kira' was not Kira because Kira would never say she loved him. In 'His Way', they become a couple.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation. At the beginning of the episode "Ship in a Bottle", Data, playing Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck, says that the suspect has to be guilty because the attacker was left handed. Data throws an object at the suspect, which the suspect catches, proving that the suspect is left handed. Except, as Geordi points out, the object is in the suspect's RIGHT hand. Data notes that there must be a glitch in the holodeck switching the dominant hand of the holodeck characters. This actually becomes a critical clue later in the episode.
  • Unsolved Mysteries: A segment featured a missing woman whose husband claimed that she had walked out on him, citing that several of her things and her suitcase were missing. When her suitcase was found, it contained exactly what he said it would, piquing the cops' suspicions, as they found it highly unlikely that any man could know exactly what was in his wife's suitcase, as he himself had no idea what was in his own wife's purse. (It's actually a very sad aversion, as to this day, the woman remains missing, and despite the cops' strong suspicions that he killed her, they have zero evidence to support this, meaning he remains a free man.)
  • The X-Files: In the episode ''Die Hand Die Verletzt'', Mulder realizes that there's supernatural forces afoot in a town when he sees water in a school fountain going down the drain counterclockwise. He claims all water in the northern hemisphere drains clockwise. But while the "Coriolis Effect" is a real phenomenon, you need specially-designed test apparati or to drain a small ocean to reliably observe it. Water can drain in both directions in both hemispheres, because things like convection currents, basin design, and residual swirl from filling the sink have a much greater influence.

    Video Games 
  • In Criminal Case: World Edition, the same clue is used twice to link Brother Klaus to pieces of evidence. Both objects have traces of sunscreen on them, which when analysed turns out to be unusually strong (the bottle shows SPF 250). This means that it would have been used by someone highly Prone to Sunburn, and Brother Klaus just happens to have albinism. Problem is, sunscreen that powerful doesn't actually exist, as it's against EU regulations to advertise sunscreen as having an SPF over 50 due to this being potentially misleading.note  SPF 50 is very widely used and so wouldn't link the evidence in question to any specific person.

    Visual Novels 
  • Virtue's Last Reward has weird in-universe example when the clue is counterfactual to story's rules rather than real life ones. When Luna asks Sigma how he knows that Dio killed the Old Lady, Sigma replies that Dio confessed to it in another timeline. When Luna calls him out on using knowledge from different timelines Sigma replies that it doesn't matter when he found the information since events that happened in the future of different timelines cannot change the past. Except they can and it's a major plot point.


    Web Original 
  • A sketch by Pete Holmes mocks the use of this in Sherlock, calling out the "phone scratches" example explicitly (nope, the guy just has trouble putting it on the charger in the dark). Eventually, his Sherlock Scan yields a lot of info that is so loose as to be flat-out wrong, culminating in his attempt to chart out the man's entire upbringing and extracurriculars based on his posture (it starts with him claiming that the man had Abusive Parents based on the fact that he blinks somewhat quickly).

Alternative Title(s): Encyclopedia Browned