Moving the goalposts
Moving the goalposts (or shifting the goalposts) is a metaphor, derived from association football or other games, that means to change the criterion (goal) of a process or competition while still in progress, in such a way that the new goal offers one side an intentional advantage or disadvantage.
This phrase is British in origin and derives from sports that use goalposts, such as association football. The figurative use alludes to the perceived unfairness in changing the goal one is trying to achieve after the process one is engaged in (e.g. a game of football) has already started.
Moving the goalposts, similar to "shifting sands" and also known as raising the bar, is an informal fallacy in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded. That is, after an attempt has been made to score a goal, the goalposts are moved to exclude the attempt. The problem with changing the rules of the game is that the meaning of the end result is changed, too.
Some include this metaphor as description of the tactics of harassment. In such cases, a re-defining of another's goals may in reality be intentionally devised so as to assure that an athlete, for example, will ultimately never be able to finally achieve the ever shifting goals.
Moving the goalposts may also refer to feature creep, in which the completion of a product like software is not acknowledged because an evolving list of required features changes over time, which in extreme cases may even require rewriting the entire program. Thus, the goal of "completing" the product for a client may never occur.
The term is often used in business to imply bad faith on the part of those setting goals for others to meet, by arbitrarily making additional demands just as the initial ones are about to be met. Accusations of this form of abuse tend to occur when there are unstated assumptions that are obvious to one party but not to another.
Karl Popper coined the concept conventionalist twist or conventionalist stratagem in Conjectures and Refutations with similar use with this fallacy but in the context of the falsifiability of certain scientific theories.
In 2009, Danish football goalkeeper Kim Christensen was caught on camera moving the goalposts in order to gain advantage over the opposing team. Christensen's moving the goalposts was discovered by a referee about 20 minutes into the game, but Christensen did not suffer a suspension or any fines for his actions.
In rugby, moving the goalposts constitutes a professional foul. The officials are granted carte blanche to assess whatever penalty they see fit, including awarding the score for any attempt at a goal missed or invalidating any goal scored as a result of the moved goalposts. A comparable foul in American football is the palpably unfair act, though it would not cover moving the goalposts, which are anchored into the ground.
Moving goalposts is common in ice hockey, where physical contact with the posts is common. If the goalposts are knocked off their moorings in the course of play, play is stopped until the goal is put back in place. If the goalposts are deliberately moved to stop an opponent from scoring, the opponent may be granted a penalty shot; if the goaltender does so, the goaltender may be ejected from the game (a rule imposed at most levels of the game in 2014 after David Leggio deliberately moved the goalposts during a two-person breakaway, believing he would have a better chance of stopping a penalty shot).
- "Moving the goalposts". Phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- Clark, Jef et al. (2005). "Moving the goalposts," Humbug! The Skeptic’s Field Guide to Spotting Fallacies in Thinking, p. 101.
- Hobbs, Jeremy. "Moving the Goal Posts," The New York Times, November 21, 2011; retrieved 2013-2-19.
- Royal College of Psychiatrists, "On Bullying and Harassment" retrieved 2012-2-19.
- Field, Tim. (1995). Bully in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge and Combat Workplace Bullying, p. 60.
- Dhiren Mahiban (November 6, 2014). Report: AHL changes rule following Leggio incident. ProHockeyTalk.com. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
- "Video:AHL goalie Leggio intentionally dislodges net". CBS Sports. 2014-11-02. Retrieved 2014-11-02.
- The dictionary definition of move the goal posts at Wiktionary