The Robinson fallacy


Strong book sales suggest I might have to prepare a new edition of How to Win Every Argument.  If so, I will add a new fallacy called "The Robinson Prediction," named after the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson.  This is, of course, a self-negating prophecy.  Self-fulfilling prophecies are well known: if a Treasury minister predicts that a certain bank will collapse next Friday, it will because everyone will rush to take out their money.  Self-negating ones are a little more elusive.  If a leading seismologist predicts that the entire population of Birmingham will perish in a 7.9 earthquake next Thursday, he will probably be wrong because many Brummies will leave the city just in case.

Robinson, who disgraced himself by taking a pro-Downing Street line when David Davis resigned and re-fought his seat on a civil liberties campaign, issued his opinion last Friday that "Gordon Brown no longer appears to be under threat. The cool political climate of the autumn has replaced the heated frenzy of the summer."  Within minutes outraged backbench Labour MPs made it untrue by demanding leadership nomination papers, causing the crisis over Brown's premiership to intensify rather than diminish.  A Robinson Prediction is one that becomes untrue simply because it was made public.  It has one crucial difference from a Michael Fish moment, in that Michael Fish did not actually cause the hurricane.