Definitions

cherry-pick

Cherry picking

[cher-ee-pik]
Cherry picking may also refer to the process of collecting erroneous coins.
Cherry picking is the act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

The term is based on the perceived process of harvesting fruit, such as cherries. The picker would be expected to only select the ripest and healthiest fruits. An observer who only sees the selected fruit may thus wrongly conclude that most, or even all, of the fruit is in such good condition.

Cherry picking can be found in many logical fallacies. For example, the "fallacy of anecdotal evidence" tends to overlook large amounts of data in favor of that known personally, while a false dichotomy picks only two options when more are available.

General

To select (only what one considers to be best, most desirable, profitable, etc.) from a number of options.

In specific fields

Business

Cherry picking is also used to refer to business policies of picking out profitable customers from a large base. An example of this use is that by insuring only healthy people and refusing to insure those who were unhealthy or are likely to become unhealthy, a health insurance company can cherry pick the most profitable customers. If an auto insurance company insured only good drivers by cherry picking them from among all drivers this would enable a company to gain an advantage over a company that insures all drivers.

To prevent auto insurance companies from cherry picking only the good drivers and leaving poorer drivers without any insurance, most states in the U.S.A. require auto insurance companies to insure a certain number of drivers with poor records.

Statistics

Cherry picking can refer to the selection of data or data sets so a study or survey will give desired, predictable results which may be misleading or even completely contrary to actuality.

Software configuration management

In SCM jargon, cherry picking is used to describe the action of selecting which patches (or changesets, or commits) should be ported from one branch to another.

Sports

Cherry picking in sports is the tactic of waiting close to the opponent's goal in hope of receiving the object in play (ball, puck etc) and redirecting it towards the goal. The tactic can degrade the quality of game play, so to prevent or discourage the practice, several team sports have an off-side rule. Ice hockey, for example, requires that a player not enter the offensive zone before the puck. (See Loafing.)

Australian taxation

In the 1970s and early 1980s in Australia, cherry picking was a tax avoidance scheme based on tax deductions for company contributions to a superannuation fund. Such a fund was notionally for the benefit of employees, but the benefits (the "cherries") were picked by the company or its owners.

Acceptability

When a person is assigned to advocate a particular position, then cherry picking might be seen as entirely appropriate. For example, defense lawyers and prosecutors both try to emphasise evidence that supports their position, while minimising the impact of contrary evidence as it is often assumed to be the responsibility of the opposing counsel to present any contrary data.

Additionally, in common law, guilt has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt and thus introducing 'cherry picked' evidence is regarded as entirely appropriate, because, while such data may not prove something in general, it may be successful in introducing the needed minimum level of doubt to successfully defend the case.

However, when a person with a supposedly neutral position cherry picks, for example journalists, scientists, and judges, that is generally regarded as inappropriate.

See also

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