The Concept of Cherry Picking - The Fact Behind the Illusion

The Concept of Cherry Picking
Of the many unintentional (or sometimes intentional) fallacies that humans engage in, cherry picking is probably the most convenient one! Find out more about what it is and how human use it, in this post.
Author: But Mom come on, all my friends keep going all the time! The rain is not so bad now, the highway is clear too!
Author's Mom: Lady do you even keep your eyes and ears open? Haven't you been watching the news or reading the papers?
Author: But come on! They just show the bad things, to keep the channel going! You know how the media is, I shouldn't have to tell you!
Author's Dad: Alright that's it. Enough has been said. You are not going on this road-trip, period. You can go next month if you'd like.
(Everybody resumes work. Author is left feeling frustrated.)
Happened in your household too? Can imagine yourself in my place? Well, join the club! I don't blame you (we are on the same side after all!); but I don't blame your parents either (no no wait, I'm still on your side!). You and your parents have - at the time of discussions like the above one - been engaged in something called cherry picking. Cherry picking is when you seem to focus on pin-point events or details that support what you are saying, or your belief or proposition, and ignore the majority of the events or details that say otherwise. You pick cherries from the fruit basket and say "Look; all fruits are red and small!" while not looking at (or choosing to not look at) the rest of the fruits in the basket!
What is Cherry Picking?
Cherry picking is a kind of confirmation bias - which in itself is a cognitive bias. A confirmation bias is when a person tends to overlook majority of things and focuses on only those that confirm his notions, his hypotheses, his beliefs or his points of view. The term is believed to have originated from the process of harvesting cherries. Cherries, being rather small in size, need to be picked off the plant. A harvester would then be obviously expected to pick only the juiciest, brightest and best looking cherries. However, a buyer - looking at a box of such 'picked cherries' would tend to assume that all the crop which that particular fruit-seller has harvested or is selling is as good as that box of cherries. This happens because the buyer wants to believe he is buying good, healthy fruits.

Cherry picking - in day-to-day life - does not have very serious complications (sarcasm intended). You get mad, call each other names, throw things at each other maybe... but that's about it (!), nothing more. In retrospect, such event may even seem funny and downright ridiculous! However, cherry picking, when done in legal matters, or medical and statistical matters even, can change the scenario completely - cherry picking may lead you to actually believe smoking is NOT injurious to health, or that someone was actually guilty when he wasn't!
Cherry Picking Instances
In Day-to-Day Life
Two people buying shoes
The above conversation that took place in the author's household is an example of cherry picking from daily life. It can be regarded by other people as being judgmental when you do it. You hear one bad thing about someone, and the person becomes bad in your mind. You have one bad experience at a particular store, and you never buy anything from there again! Cherry picking tends to happen in the negative sense more often than in the positive sense. You wouldn't be so quick in changing your bad opinion about someone if he/she did one good thing! At the base of cherry picking is the fact that you are being biased - that in itself is held to be a bad thing.
In Law
Open law book
Though it isn't something to be proud of, we all know that many a time the evidence that goes into proving or disproving someone's innocence in the court of law can and is tampered with. Circumstantial evidence is produced, and the entire outcome of a case - and probably of someone's life - is turned upside down. If a person with myopia is the only witness to a murder he saw happening on the streets in the dark of the night from his apartment on the fifth floor, do you still hold that as evidence, only because he is a 'witness'? To add to the scenario, if the accused is someone who 'can be proved' to have motive, everybody tends to believe the witness when in fact he/she could be wrong! (NOTE: This is merely a hypothetical example, with no intentions of hurting anyone's sentiments. I have complete faith in the judicial system.) In legal matters, the rights granted to different lawyers may also vary - such as those granted to defense lawyers and those given to prosecutors. This may tend to an incidence of cherry picking, which may happen subconsciously or intentionally.
In Medical Sciences
Digital tablet and stethoscope
An instance of cherry picking in the medical or scientific research field can be rather hazardous. In such cases it is considered as a part of something that is called 'pseudo-science' or 'bad science'. Sometimes scientists may become over ambitious and tamper with or segregate results and produce only those which support their hypotheses. Such scientific research then gets published in more lenient journals, which are also usually journals with low impact factors. Getting a scientific paper published may add to the scientists profile, but if this happens at the expense of publishing wrong research, one begins to wonder how justified an act it is. Morality and conscience are dangerous pillows to rest your head on.
In Enterprises and Business
Meeting seminar
The etymology of the term is in itself an example of how cherry picking comes up in business and trade. Employees of a company may also at times be trained to focus more on 'valued customers', 'special customers', 'card-holders/members' and tend to them better than to ordinary customers. This may be done for several reasons - these customers may provide the company with more business. The ordinary customers - in such cases - tend to feel like victims of cherry picking. While many find this unethical, firms justify it in their own ways. Even without the company being directly involved in such practices, employees may resort to such policies to increase their personal sales. Such an employee may be labeled as a cherry picker and may be held with low regard.
Cherry picking is a fallacy - it is an error in judgment. Most of the time, it happens subconsciously. However, it is also used to benefit by many professionals belonging to different fields. I have tried to give you an overview of these cherry picking cases - both intentional as well as intentional; however, without the intention of hurting anyone's sentiments. It is something that even the most meticulous person on guard about his behavior/judgment can end up doing. Cherry picking makes being non-judgmental almost impossible! However, personally I think we should take it in our stride and not feel too guilty about it. If you are consciously engaging in acts of cherry picking, I would suggest you to avoid doing it... it's never a nice feeling to be on the receiving end of it!
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