Cherry Picking

This will be a continuation of a previous post. We explained what pseudoscience is and why it lures people into accepting misleading information. But, how can you be more accurately aware of its presence? What are some of the characteristics that define pseudoscientific claims? We’re here to break it down for you.

  1. Cherry Picking 


Media outlets have a tendency to cherry pick facts to report on. One scientific paper will be solely focused on, whilst the rest of the peer-reviewed research is completely disregarded. Viewers are intentionally not given the “full picture” needed to understand a certain topic’s complexities. Rather, the viewer is handed information the media thinks they ought to know. Which is a real problem because it’s usually given out of context. The Climate Reality Project provides an excellent example below:

Let’s take this statistic that’s often cited out of context: “The global mean temperature was 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit in 1998 (14.6 degrees Celsius) according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In 2012, it was 58.2 degrees (14.56 Celsius).”

The obvious conclusion here is that global warming stalled or even stopped during this period. And if you look at changing temperatures in just these 14 years, it does look like they rose at a slower rate than they did over the longer period from 1951—2012. But remember, 1998 was an unusually hot year, which skews the analysis. The bottom line: global warming didn’t stop between 1998—2012.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that the full set of data and context are absolutely crucial to accurate citations of climate statistics. This is the bread and butter of understanding climate change reporting.

In another example, Business Insider looked at a set of papers that undermine human impact on the changing climate. They found that the papers that were often cited by media outlets had in fact been leaving out a large amount of climate data. In fact, one paper completely disregarded 6,000 years’ worth of data. Why? Simply because the information did not correspond with their own idea that the lunar and solar cycle are the main causes of climate change. Cherry picking is the leading cause driving the denialist movement because it professionally deceives people into believing inaccurate theories.

Stay tuned for our next post on conspiracy theories.