What Is Cherry Picking Fallacy? | Definition & Examples

Reasoning updated on  February 19, 2024 4 min read

The cherry picking fallacy occurs when an argument highlights evidence that supports its conclusion while ignoring significant evidence to the contrary.

Presenting facts in this selective manner can distort the overall picture and yield misleading conclusions.

Cherry picking fallacy example
A climate change skeptic cites several cold weather events as evidence against global warming, while disregarding the overwhelming scientific consensus and data indicating long-term temperature trends.

The cherry picking fallacy is particularly problematic in fields that require objective analysis, such as media reporting, scientific research, policymaking, and legal proceedings.

What is the cherry picking fallacy?

The cherry picking fallacy occurs when only evidence supporting an argument is selected and presented, while contradictory evidence is ignored.

This practice harms credibility and persuasiveness by giving an impression of bias and a lack of consideration for alternative perspectives. The problem can be remedied by including an objective acknowledgement of opposing data and viewpoints.

Cherry picking is an informal logical fallacy, which means that the error stems from how the argument’s content is handled rather than its logical structure.

Several cognitive biases (i.e., tendencies that lead to illogical thought patterns) increase our susceptibility to committing or being misled by the cherry picking fallacy:

  • Confirmation bias: Seeking and remembering information that confirms existing beliefs
  • Selective perception bias: Perceiving what we want or expect
  • Availability heuristic: Overvaluing readily available information
  • Anchoring bias: Depending excessively on initial information for decision-making

Cherry picking fallacy examples

Cherry picking fallacies are prevalent in media. Even media outlets that claim neutrality tend to argue for certain viewpoints, whether implicitly or explicitly, and support these views through one-sided reporting.

This fallacy manifests in various domains of media reporting and commentary, including coverage of subjects like politics, economics, and science.

Cherry picking fallacy example in media
A political commentator reacts to reports of a protest against gentrification in New York City:

“Urban renewal is bringing life back to our city, enhancing cultural diversity, dining, and job opportunities. It’s not just beautification; it’s a push towards innovation and growth. By improving infrastructure, we’re not only upgrading spaces but also fostering vibrant communities where people thrive. There’s no reason anyone should protest this kind of progress.”

This argument exemplifies the cherry picking fallacy because it only highlights the potential positive effects of urban renewal without any acknowledgement of the significant adverse outcomes for the local community, such as dramatically increased living costs and displacement.

Similarly, discussions of history often demonstrate the cherry picking fallacy through the selective presentation of facts.

The one-sided representation of historical facts to emphasize a certain perspective can significantly distort public perception.

Cherry picking fallacy example in history
“Mao Zedong’s leadership transformed China, laying the foundation for its emergence as a global power. Under his rule, literacy rates soared, and healthcare initiatives were implemented to make medical treatment more accessible. These achievements highlight the effectiveness of Mao’s policies in modernizing China and improving the welfare of its people.”

This argument exemplifies the cherry picking fallacy by selectively highlighting positive outcomes of Mao’s leadership, such as improvements in literacy and healthcare access, while ignoring significant negatives, such as the Great Famine, which resulted in millions of deaths and widespread suffering.

Why is the cherry picking fallacy a problem?

Committing the cherry picking fallacy hinders communication and critical thinking in several ways:

  • Reinforcing biases: Arguments that commit the cherry picking fallacy are unproductive, typically serving only to reinforce existing beliefs by selectively presenting data.
  • Undermining decision-making: By skewing perceptions through an incomplete representation of the facts, the cherry picking fallacy can mislead people and result in misguided choices.
  • Eroding trust: Presenting a one-sided argument creates an impression of intellectual dishonesty and reduces one’s credibility.

How can you avoid the cherry picking fallacy?

To avoid committing or being misled by the cherry picking fallacy, consider the following strategies:

  • Expose gaps: Actively highlight overlooked evidence to enrich the discussion and challenge incomplete narratives.
  • Diversify sources: Make an effort to seek out a variety of sources and viewpoints to capture a wide spectrum of viewpoints and information.
  • Cross-check facts: Verify information against multiple sources to ensure accuracy and reduce the impact of bias.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Idioms

Parts of speech

Fallacies

Diamond in the rough

Irregular verb

Slippery slope fallacy

Idioms

Gerund

Sunk cost fallacy

Piece of cake

Infinitive phrase

Red herring fallacy

Better late than never

Infinitive

Appeal to authority fallacy

Salt of the earth

Adverb

Circular reasoning fallacy


Frequently asked questions about cherry picking fallacy

What’s an example of cherry picking data?

The cherry picking fallacy is evident in the selective presentation of data. Examples can be found in areas such as scientific research and business:

In its annual report, a company emphasizes its achievements and obscures negative data: “This year, we expanded our customer base by 30%, making it our most successful year in terms of growth.” Although the report includes a comprehensive section on financial performance, it uses complex language and formatting that makes it less obvious that the company is also experiencing a downward trend in profit margins and an increase in operational costs.

As the example demonstrates, cherry picking is often applied to data to convey a specific narrative, aiming to validate a hypothesis or portray an organization more favorably than merited.

What’s the difference between the cherry picking fallacy and card stacking?

Both the cherry-picking fallacy and card stacking (sometimes called stacking the deck) mislead by presenting one-sided information, but while the two can overlap, there are key differences:

  • Cherry picking fallacy: In reasoning and argumentation, choosing data that supports a certain conclusion while ignoring contradictory data
  • Card stacking: In propaganda, shaping public perceptions through messaging that emphasizes favorable information and minimizes negative details

While card stacking is deliberate, committing the cherry picking fallacy doesn’t require intentionality.

What fallacies are similar to cherry picking?

The cherry picking fallacy is similar to the hasty generalization fallacy and the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, which also involve arguing from poorly chosen data. However, there are key differences:

  • Cherry-picking: Selectively presenting data that supports an argument while ignoring contrary evidence
  • Hasty generalization fallacy: Drawing broad conclusions from small or unrepresentative data samples without sufficient evidence
  • Texas sharpshooter fallacy: Forming a theory after noticing specific data points, and then focusing only on information that fits this theory while ignoring the rest

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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

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