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What does "Cherry Picking" Mean?

By K. Schurman
Updated: May 23, 2024

Cherry picking has a few different definitions, but it is most often thought of as the process of selecting a small amount of information or data to attempt to prove a point, while ignoring contradicting information. When cherry picking information, a person may end up with a faulty theory or position on a topic because all relevant information was not considered. A person might choose information in this way either on purpose or inadvertently, such as when a person might inadvertently only look at data that is easy to find, presenting a false impression. The term is more commonly used with someone who purposefully ignores contradicting information, however.

The term cherry picking likely originates with the process of picking fruit from a tree. When picking a type of fruit, such as cherries, a person might search for only the best cherries, such as those that are the healthiest. By only picking the best cherries, another person who sees the harvest might make the incorrect assumption that all cherries on the tree are as healthy. In another application of the term, a person might only select the cherries that are easiest to reach, regardless of quality. By ignoring healthier cherries higher in the tree, the person might end up with an unripe or diseased batch of cherries that doesn't present the correct picture of the quality of the tree's fruit.

Within the business of insurance, the term cherry picking is common. For example, a health insurance company might want to cherry pick only the healthiest people when issuing policies, while denying policies to others, thereby potentially minimizing claims. However, government regulations attempt to prevent insurance companies from choosing unfairly among customers by forcing them to insure customers with varying illness risk levels.

Various sports use the term cherry picking, too, in a somewhat negative light. It refers to an athlete who bends the rules or violates the spirit of a game to gain an advantage. For example, in basketball, a player who stays close to his basket in hopes of receiving a long pass from a teammate and scoring an easy basket, rather than strongly defending his own basket, is said to be cherry picking. The player is not violating the rules of the game, but he is going against the spirit of the game, which says all players should defend the opponent's basket at all times. The term has a negative connotation because a player who is cherry picking points seems to be more interesting in improving his individual statistics by scoring easy points, rather than helping his team win by playing strong defense.

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Discussion Comments
By vogueknit17 — On May 08, 2011

I think I dislike team sports because of the athletes who practiced things like cherry picking in gym class in school. They were more interested in showing how good they were than giving other kids a chance. I like individual sports because you can't just be a cherry picker; you have to work to win.

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