Cherry-picking is the act of carefully selecting data that appear to confirm one’s position while ignoring other data that contradicts that position.
DEFINITION OF CHERRY-PICKING
Cherry-picking is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone selectively chooses certain evidence to support their argument while ignoring evidence that contradicts it. It is a type of confirmation bias that seeks to confirm pre-existing beliefs and dismisses evidence that does not support them.
Intentional cherry-picking occurs when people use the technique to make their arguments more persuasive and support their stance. This approach carries the risk of backlash if people discover the omission of evidence, but the rhetorical value of this technique often outweighs this potential risk.
Unintentional cherry-picking is driven by the flawed manner in which humans process information and make decisions. Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to process information in a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs. Additionally, cherry-picking is generally easier, from a cognitive perspective, than processing all the available information, and therefore more appealing.
This fallacy is often used in various domains, including media, politics, and research, and can affect how people present misleading rhetoric and conduct their reasoning process.
In the media, cherry-picking can be used by less reputable media bodies when they present only one side of a story or give it disproportional coverage while ignoring facts that could support alternative viewpoints. For example, a reporter who engages in cherry-picking might mention only the fact that some scientists disagree with the consensus position on a phenomenon while ignoring the fact that the vast majority of scientists support this position.
In politics, cherry-picking is also frequently used in political discourse. For instance, politicians might cherry-pick information regarding the success or failure of policies used in other countries when arguing for or against the implementation of those policies in their own country.
In the scientific community, cherry-picking is a prevalent phenomenon that affects the way people conduct research. This fallacy can be a part of the problematic HARKing process, whereby people search through data to find measures, analyses, samples, or interpretations that offer the strongest possible support for their initial hypothesis, despite the fact that doing so affects the validity of their research.
The problem with cherry-picking is that it involves analyzing and presenting existing information in a misleading way, which fails to take all available information into account. Cherry-picking might cause someone to conduct an improper analysis of scientific literature on a certain topic if they take into account only the few studies that support their pre-existing stance, while ignoring all the studies that contradict it. Similarly, cherry-picking might cause someone to paint a misleading picture of the outcomes of a scientific study if they mention only one of the possible interpretations for those outcomes while ignoring all the others.
Cherry picking can be a serious problem in scientific research. For example, in the case of systematic reviews of randomized clinical trials, cherry-picking can significantly influence the results, leading to incorrect conclusions. The problem of cherry-picking in scientific research has been referred to as Occam’s broom, whereby inconvenient facts are swept under the carpet in the interests of a clear interpretation of a messy reality. This represents a misapplication of the well-known Occam’s razor, which suggests that, all things being equal, you should prefer the hypothesis that requires the fewest assumptions.
HOW TO DEAL WITH CHERRY PICKING
There are two main ways to respond to the use of cherry-picking: call out the fallacious reasoning and bring omitted information into consideration. It’s important to remember that people’s cherry-picking might be unintentional, and it’s reasonable to implement the principle of charity and assume that the person who engaged in cherry-picking did so unintentionally.
To reduce the likelihood of unintentional cherry-picking, ask yourself if there is any additional evidence or possible interpretations of existing evidence that should be used in your analysis. Avoid forming a hypothesis too early on, before you’ve had a chance to look at all the available information, and use general debiasing techniques, such as slowing down your reasoning process.
In conclusion, cherry-picking is a common fallacy that can be used intentionally or unintentionally. It’s important to be aware of it and to respond appropriately when it occurs. Additionally, individuals should take measures to reduce the likelihood of unintentional cherry-picking by considering all available evidence and using general debiasing techniques.