Cherry Picking

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Cherry picking data is a common practice of persons and groups who are denying climate change and/or denying that we are facing an ecological crisis in general. This is simultaneously bad science and morally irresponsible. It is bad science because good science looks at all of  the evidence to come to the most appropriate conclusions about experience rather than choosing only those bits of data or small sets of data that agree with our ideology. It is morally irresponsible because it represents a a willful refusal to see the reality of our situation, and this contributes to our not taking appropriate steps as a society to address our serious ecological problems.  The data cherry pickers are more focused on sowing the seeds of doubt about sound science for their own economic interests than they are about coming to the most evidence-based scientific conclusions.

The practice of cherry picking data is so widespread and so obvious among apologists for the coal and oil industries that one would think more people would recognize and reject what they are doing. Unfortunately, as numerous surveys have shown , a large percentage of persons in the United States do not accept some of the most evidence-based conclusions of the science  (see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/22/opinion/welcome-to-the-age-of-denial.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0). Much of this denial of science is reinforced by both religious fundamentalism and greed. Those who reject the science based on greed often tap into the widespread religious fundamentalism for support of the denial so they can continue practices that are contributing to our ecological crisis but also contributing to their wealth. In my opinion, those who act out of greed are more morally responsible for perpetuating our ecological crisis than those who are primarily motivated by fundamentalism, but the two groups often act in tandem to promote a culture of denial in relation to the best science of the day. I was able to see this in practice firsthand yesterday when I attended a community forum and panel discussion on “EPA regulations and Your Pocketbook” sponsored by Americans for Prosperity. The denial of science based on greed and reinforced by fundamentalism was on full display with all the concomitant cherry picking of data that such denial entails.

Our inability to come to an understanding of the reality of our ecological crisis and the pressing need to address it is exacerbated by inadequate science education in our society, with the US ranking far down the list in science learning outcomes among highly industrialized nations. Denial based on the factors of the inability to know the world scientifically, greed, and fundamentalism is making it extremely difficult to muster the political will to make the necessary changes to address our ecological crisis effectively. If you are unsure about claims being made in relation to climate science and the effects of human activity on the environment in general, it is helpful to ask yourself whether the claim being made is taking into account the widest amount of evidence possible or are the proponents of the claim involved in the practice of cherry picking data. Avoiding an analysis of all the data and evidence before making a claim or conclusion is a fairly reliable sign that the conclusion is based on ideology rather than sound science. Be skeptical of the data cherry pickers.

 

 

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About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is The Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. From 2009 to 2015, Mark was dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences and Wimberly Professor of Social Ethics at Oklahoma City University. Previously, Mark was dean of the Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University and Founding Director of the Vivian Wimberly Center for Ethics and Servant Leadership. Prior to becoming dean of the Wimberly School of Religion in 2002, he was associate dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences at Oklahoma City University and chair of the department of philosophy. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University.
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