I don’t much care for the term ‘cherry picking’ since I think it conveniently overlooks all other fruits. Even worse, from a climate sceptic’s perspective, it seems that those involved on the ‘right’ side of the debate are very selective when it comes to their accusations. They can see cherry picking in the arguments presented by the sceptics, but the very idea that their own camp could be similarly engaged never enters their heads. Accordingly, cherry picking features prominently in all taxonomies of logical fallacy supposedly unique to climate sceptical thinking, and no one in academia, to my knowledge, has widened the investigation to explore how both sides get up to such trickery.
Taxonomies of logical fallacy come in a great many guises, and one day I will classify them for you. But, in the meantime, I wish to focus upon one in particular: John Cook’s FLICC. Moreover, I’m not even going to bother telling you what the acronym stands for, since I am only interested in cherry picking the first ‘C’. This is the ‘C’ that stands for ‘Cherry Picking’.
Cook would like you to know that cherry picking is one of our worst vices, and so my focus would seem appropriate. We should all be desperate to know what John Cook understands by the term. No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.
As my source for determining what John Cook thinks about cherry picking I have chosen to cherry pick a paper where he sets out what he understands about cherry picking, namely: Cook, J. (2020). Deconstructing Climate Science Denial. In Holmes, D. & Richardson, L. M. (Eds.) Edward Elgar Research Handbook in Communicating Climate Change. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Unable to supress my fallacious tendencies, I am also skipping the bits where he proclaims upon such matters as false expertise, impossible expectations and conspiracy theories, in order to go straight to the cherry picking stuff. This is what he says:
“Cherry picking involves selectively focusing [upon] data that leads to a conclusion different from the conclusion arising from all available data (Cook, Ellerton, & Kinkead, 2018).”
It’s odd that he felt the need to cite himself in this definition rather than just consult a dictionary. But there you go, one should not underplay the full scope of his true expert authority. He continues:
“This technique can be a form of paltering, involving claims that are strictly true but lead to misleading conclusions (Schauer & Zeckhauser, 2009). Paltering is refuted by providing the full context (Lewandowsky, Ballard, Oberauer, & Benestad, 2016).”
I was wondering when Cook was going to allow Lewandowsky to bask in his lime light. Cook isn’t the only authority that can upstage Messrs Webster and Collins, don’t you know? Anyway:
“Two forms of cherry picking are anecdote and slothful induction.”
Okay, I’m listening. Go on:
“Anecdote is a form of cherry picking that relies on isolated examples rather than scientific evidence in order to draw misleading conclusions. The most common example of a climate anecdote is the argument that cold weather disproves global warming.”
Jesus Christ! Talk about setting the bar low. Besides which, John, I think you’ll find that what you are talking about is referred to as the ‘availability heuristic’ — as in, “It’s snowing outside, so I see no global warming”. I’m sorry to be the bringer of bad news but I think some better bullshitters got in there before you. But what about ‘slothful induction’? That sounds fascinating:
“Slothful induction ignores relevant evidence when coming to a conclusion. While this is similar to cherry picking, the emphasis is on neglecting inconvenient information while cherry picking emphasizes confirming information.”
Oh dear, now I’m totally confused. I thought slothful induction was supposed to be a form of cherry picking, not related to it. Maybe an example might help:
“One example of slothful induction is the argument that the sun is causing global warming. In order to come to this conclusion, one must overlook the more recent data finding that sun and climate have been moving in opposite directions. Over the last few decades, global temperatures have increased while solar activity decreased. While changes in the Sun’s brightness do affect Earth’s climate, any influence from the Sun in recent decades would be a slight cooling (Lockwood 2008).”
Oh I see now. Cook just means confirmation bias, i.e. what Brittanica.com says is:
“Our underlying tendency to notice, focus on, and give greater credence to evidence that fits with our existing beliefs.”
But isn’t this all just O Level psychology stuff? Did Cook really need to write a paper explaining this to us whilst dressing it up in unfamiliar jargon?
To answer my own question, I decided to look up what others were saying about ‘slothful induction’. According to Wikipedia it turns out to be a term first coined by Stephen F. Barker in The Elements of Logic:
“Slothful induction, also called appeal to coincidence, is a fallacy in which an inductive argument is denied its proper conclusion, despite strong evidence for inference. An example of slothful induction might be that of a careless man who has had twelve accidents in the last six months and it is strongly evident that it was due to his negligence or rashness, yet keeps insisting that it is just a coincidence and not his fault…Its opposite fallacy (which perhaps occurs more often) is called correlation does not imply causation.”
Appeal to coincidence? Correlation not implying causation? So what was all that crap about ignoring inconvenient data, John? This has got nothing at all to do with confirmation bias or cherry picking or even nose picking. It’s just about ignoring correlation as an indicator of causation. Of course, ignoring correlation and assuming that it indicates causation are both logical fallacies. Any attempt to draw conclusions on causation one way or the other, without a causal model, is doomed to attract accusations of logical fallacy. Wouldn’t that have been a better conclusion to draw, John, rather than inviting the reader to confuse slothful induction with confirmation bias? Oh, but I forget, I’m the sceptic here, not you. I’m the one who needs a taxonomy of stupidity to be properly understood. You, on the other hand, only need write a load of half-baked and confused psychobabble that doesn’t even demonstrate a basic grasp of terminology, and you’re up and away — another John Cook masterpiece for John Cook to cite.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s John Cook on one of his academic flights of fantasy in which he zaps the denialists writhing below him with nothing more than a glare from his laser beam eyes.
I’ll just get back in my box shall I, John? File me under ‘pissed’.