Stopped clock

From RationalWiki
(Redirected from Stopped clock fallacy)
Jump to: navigation, search
This still clock image has the correct time at 0040 and 1240.
We control what
you think with

Icon language.svg
Said and done
Jargon, buzzwords, slogans
Not to be confused with an Inverse stopped clock moment.
Even in a book of lies, sometimes you find truth.
—Andrew Ryan, BioShock

The phrase "stopped clock" (also "broken clock" or "sudden outbreak of common sense"[1]) comes from the proverb "even a stopped clock is right twice a day", thus implying that even cranks, denialists, or conspiracy theorists that are literally wrong at every other time of the day can theoretically be correct once in a while especially in spite of their bad reasoning.

When is a moment a stopped clock?[edit]

Application of stopped clock moments should be careful. It is unreasonable to expect those that have differing or even badly-formed ideologies and frameworks to be wrong on every subject. Also, since people change minds all the time, moments of assholes that later take responsibility and apologize are not stopped-clock moments. Finally, any moment where someone displays decency, but such decency originates from a bad framework, is not a stopped-clock moment. For instance, a racist can condemn animal cruelty but the thought is fueled by racism against the Chinese (which in some small provinces raise dogs for food).

The best application for a stopped clock moment would be to illustrate the fallacy fallacy, which is the mistake of assuming that any conclusion derived from fallacious reasoning must be false. A clock stopped at 3:48 will always conclude that the current time is 3:48. In spite of its faulty premises, though, this conclusion happens to be correct for two minutes a day, or 1/720 (roughly 0.14%) of the time.


Grigori Rasputin's magical cure for hemophilia was instructing the emperor and empress to discontinue medical treatment, including receiving aspirin. It's unlikely that Rasputin knew that aspirin was worsening the condition, yet his advice probably prolonged the tsarevich's life.

Another broader example would be an unhinged conspiracy theorist accusing a government of an elaborate cover-up for ridiculous reasons such as alien interference, but later on, the government has been involved in a cover-up (but through more mundane methods such as bribery).

See also[edit]