Definition

Cherry picking is when we look only for confirming evidence for our ideas. We ignore, suppress, do not see, or do not test for disconfirming evidence for our ideas.

Examples

1) A presidential candidate mentioned all the cities where his tax policy decreased crime and failed to mention all the cities where his policy increased crime.

2) A survey of participants in a workout program gets very positive results because only those with positive results responded.

3) To prove cigarette smoking is not harmful to your health, I cite my grandpa, a ninety year old smoker who runs marathons. *Giving this type of anecdotal evidence is usually a form of cherry picking.

Discussion

Cherry Picking is also known as the seeking only to confirm fallacy or the fallacy of incomplete evidence, and it is similar to confirmation bias.

Cherry Picking is difficult to overcome because we do it at both a conscious and subconscious level. Many studies suggest we do not believe what we see, rather we see what we believe and seek to confirm our ideas in subtle ways. Being aware of this tendency is the first step in overcoming it. To become more aware of this tendency, study a book on optical illusions or paradoxes.

Consider an analogy derived from Immanuel Kant.

Imagine every human is born with irremovable green spectacles. They are part of your brain, your apparati, by which you not only view the world, but constitute it.

So, you perceive all as green…. and you are not capable of perceiving anything as “not green” because your brain spectacles colors all as green. Notice too that you think the greenness is out there in the world because you learn all things must be green from your experience of the world. However, you are mistaken if you believe greenness comes from empirical experience because the greenness comes from the spectacles (the lenses), not the world.

This is an introduction to Kant’s metaphysics, but it also explains how cherry picking may be inescapable. That is, if I see the world through my colored ideas, how can I ever question my ideas? See the Youtube video An Introduction to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason by teachphilosophy for more.

Of course, this is a deep case, and most cases of cherry picking are superficial and avoidable.

How to Avoid

Study optical illusions and paradoxes. Seek out all the data, not just the data that supports your belief. Think about what observations would make your belief false, and then test for them. If you cannot imagine what would make your belief false if it were false, then this is actually a weakness, not a strength, of your belief. See Youtube Video “Falsifiability” and “Intoduction to kant’s Critique” by teachphilosophy.

Exercise

  1. Why is the image of picking cherries used to describe this fallacy?
  2. Give a few examples of the cherry picking fallacy.

Answers

  1. Imagine picking all the red cherries and leaving the undesirable green cherries. In picking cherries, we are picking what we want. In cherry picking evidence, we are only seeing the evidence confirming our position (red cherries) and suppressing the disconfirming evidence (green cherries).
  2. Answers will vary. See above examples.