|Cogito ergo sum|
Logic and rhetoric
“”If anyone lists a dozen defeats in which the losing side attacked with divided columns, I can list a dozen victories in which that very tactic was employed.
|—Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book Two, Chapter VI|
Cherry picking, used figuratively, refers to selective presentation of examples or data which support an argument while ignoring those that do not. It derives from the obvious reluctance to harvest unripe, or overripe, fruit and to select only those which will make profit (or pie).
Often, cherry-picked data will be over-extrapolated and oversold to give the false impression that they are representative. The practice is more a deliberate act of deception than a fallacy, but nevertheless an extremely common rhetorical tactic.
Much of cherry picking is anecdotal evidence, using just one or two examples to make a point; statistical cherry-picking essentially uses larger-scale anecdotes, ignoring the full range of evidence on the relevant issue.
- argument by selective observation
- argument by half-truth
- card stacking
- confirmation bias
- coverup (in the form of denialism)
- fallacy of incomplete evidence
- fallacy of exclusion
- fallacy of slanting
- ignoring counterevidence
- incomplete/concealed/suppressed evidence
- observational selection
- Occam's broom
- one-sided argument
- selective use of evidence
In arguing for a position, a person cherry-picks by (deliberately) omitting important evidence that would hurt their own case.
In the case of debating creationism vs. evolution, a common suppressed-evidence argument would be "Evolution is racist". This is obviously ignoring the evidence that many (in fact most) racist groups who have existed in America are everything but supporting of evolution. Most believe in the Bible as well as creationism. One only needs to look around to see, for instance, the Ku Klux Klan or Christian Identity, which are among the most famous who believe in the statement and claim 'God created races separately', which is actually contradictory to Biblical scriptures. With that said, racism is more associated with creationism than with evolution: by simply denying people of different skin colors have a common ancestor, one is likely racist. The claim also ignores the fact that modern biologists argue that, other than skin color, "race" is not a valid biological concept.
On the other hand, there is the example of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who was a staunch believer in evolution (certainly not a "creationist") and a proponent of eugenics (the science of creating and engineering the evolution of humans through breeding those perceived as strong and desirable and eliminating the misfits and the weak).[note 1] One can also note that bringing up Margaret Sanger in an evolution or abortion debate is a genetic fallacy, anyway.
This is not to say that evolution is now perfect because creationism is racist (tu quoque). It simply points out the fact that evolution is misused by some in racist actions (eugenics and social Darwinism). It does not mean that evolution is inherently racist, nor does it refute the theory of evolution.
A variant of cherry picking is Occam's broom; which is used to sweep inconvenient facts under the rug. It's subtly different from cherry picking, because it's just one (or a few) facts that are hidden, rather than a select few that are hand-picked from a large set.
The term was coined by biologist Sidney Brenner.
It often occurs that religious fanatics are not altogether in agreement with the holy books and teachings to which they claim to adhere; thus, they are often found cherry-picking points from these holy books, harping on the ones with which they agree and hand-waving away those with which they disagree.
- Gutenberg's mass production of the Latin Bible starting in the 1450s
- The use and standardization of chapter-and-verse numbering during the 1500s, so that individual verses could be easily cited out of context.
- The translation of the Bible into vernacular languages that educated common people could read, starting with Martin Luther's translation into German in 1522
- Creationists comb the Bible for quotes that appear to have anticipated scientific truths, such as Hebrews 1:11 (claimed to anticipate the Second Law of Thermodynamics) and Isaiah 40:22 (claimed to anticipate knowledge of the ellipsoidal shape of the earth and the expanding universe), while ignoring those that blatantly clash with science.
- The Protestant and Catholic views of the Bible and the Eucharist:
- Reformed Protestants were essentially the inventors of Biblical literalism; but when it comes to verses such as Luke 22:19-20, they insist upon a symbolic interpretation, denying that the blood and body of Jesus is literally present in the Eucharist.
- On the other hand, the Catholic Church prefers broad allegorical interpretations of Bible stories, and generally downplays the significance of the Bible so as to assert a role for its own "Magisterium"; but when it comes to the Eucharist, they insist upon the literal interpretation, making cannibals and vampires out of partakers in the sacrament.
- Cafeteria Christians pointedly ignore those parts of the Bible which are clearly immoral, such as endorsements of slavery and misogyny.
- Christofelon Rollen Stewart's use of John 3:16 and John 3:16 only.
Cherry-picking is common among historical revisionists who may try to smear a group they disagree with by finding a couple people on the other side who were "bad" while only presenting a few people on your own side who were "good".
In the pharmaceutical industry, a "cherry picking protocol" can be part of the drug discovery process. Say you're looking for a drug that'll neutralize Protein XYZ. You take several thousand chemicals whose effects are unknown, and dose a small number of cells in a culture medium with each chemical individually, putting each chemical/cell culture combo in its own separate miniature test tube. You then pass them under a detector that can tell if the cells were affected or not, which records which tubes had a response you're looking for and which didn't. The act of separating out the tubes that had a response, for further testing, is called "hit picking" or "cherry picking."
Unlike other examples on this page, this is actually good science, since the entire purpose of these pharmaceutical studies is to develop medicine that can be used to treat injuries, diseases, and other such maladies without having horrible side effects, so determining which chemicals will have what effects on human cells is a worthwhile endeavor.
A mechanic who chooses to work on newer units in relatively pristine condition, leaving the more intractable and less convenient jobs for others to swear at, could be said to be cherry picking.
The same principle is applicable in almost any workplace.
This happens when someone deliberately selects from a wide variety of material only those items which support the conspiracy theory, while ignoring and discarding those which don't. When this carefully chosen selection of material is then presented as a whole, it easily misleads people into thinking that the conspiracy theory is supported by evidence. This is an especially popular tactic for the 9/11 conspiracy theorists: They will only choose those published photographs which support their claims, while outright ignoring those which don't. The Loose Change Schlockumentary is quite infamous for doing this, and pulling it out rather convincingly.
The major problem with this is, of course, that it's pure deception: The viewer is intentionally given only carefully selected material, while leaving out the parts which would contradict the conspiracy theory. This is a deliberate act. The conspiracy theorists cannot claim honesty while doing clear cherry-picking.
Just one example: There's a big electrical transformer box outside the Pentagon which was badly damaged by the plane before it hit the building. It's impossible for that box to get that damage if the building was hit by a missile, as claimed by conspiracy theorists (the missile would have exploded when hitting the box, several tens of meters away from the building). Conspiracy theorists will usually avoid using any photographs which show the damaged transformer box because it contradicts their theory. They are doing this deliberately. They cannot claim honesty while doing this.
You do not commit this fallacy if you:
- omit minor evidence which is irrelevant to your point. To call this "suppressing evidence" would be quibbling.
- omit "counterevidence" that has already been falsified. To call this "suppressing evidence" would itself be suppressing evidence, namely the fact that the counterevidence has already been refuted. Creationists do this a lot.
- Anecdotal evidence
- Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to cherry pick only facts that fit their pre-existing views
- False dilemma
- Golden hammer
- Quote mining is a form of cherry picking the statements of others
- Selective reporting is a form of cherry picking that plays up the significance of rare events
- Willful ignorance
- The genuine points used in construction of straw man arguments are typically cherry-picked.
- See the Wikipedia article on Cherry picking (fallacy).
- See the Wikipedia article on Card stacking.
- See the Wikipedia article on One-sided argument.
- Iron Chariots on cherry-picked Bible verses
- The favorite weapon of deniers, cherry picking, Skeptical Science
- CHERRY PICKING, Logically Fallacious
- Tainted Data, Bruce Thompson
- One Sided Assessment, Fallacy Files
- , Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Suppressed, Agnosticism/Atheism About.com
- Clausewitz, Carl von (1993). Paret, Peter; Howard, Michael E.; Brodie, Bernard. eds. On War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780679420436.
- Vom Krieg by Carl von Clausewitz
- Margaret Sanger Wikiquote.
- See the Wikipedia article on Margaret Sanger.
- The Necessity of Cherry Picking the Bible by C. E. Hammock (March 30, 2019) WordPress.
- See the Wikipedia article on Chapters and verses of the Bible § Verses.
- 'They're all forced to listen to us' by Ed Pilkington (26 Jan 2007 03.57 EST) The Guardian.
- See the Wikipedia article on Loose Change § Criticism.