Pre-Bunking: Cherry-Picking

Cherry-picking is another favorite method applied by climate change deniers everywhere. Per Skeptical Science cherry-picking is

Carefully selecting data that appear to confirm one position while ignoring other data that contradicts that position.

Cherry-picking done deliberately to confuse the debate is particularly devious because it pretends to be scientifically sound, and serious. Cherry-pickers often provide citations, quote experts (or fake experts), and mention scientific studies to appear legit. And frankly, who has the time to check all that stuff to determine whether it is true or not? Especially since determined cherry-pickers often spend an enormous amount of time and energy on “massaging” and selecting the data to come up with the message they want to convey.

Cherry-picking can also be done unintentionally because of confirmation bias. People like to be able to confirm what they believe and cherry-picking the information that indeed confirms their beliefs is easier than being challenged by contradictory evidence.

Cherry-Picking in the Climate Change Debate

Here is a classic example of cherry-picking data by deniers: They claimed for the longest time that starting in 1999 the earth was cooling using data that showed that 1998 was hotter than the following years. Now 1998 was an exceptionally hot year in the US and not surprisingly the following years did not match that year in terms of temperatures.

Does that mean that global warming is not happening? No, it means that by using 1998 as the base – rather than looking at average temperatures over longer periods and worldwide – the following years were slightly cooler but the warming trend still continued when data over longer periods and more locations were continued.

This cheery-picked argument is used less now, simply because many years since the temperatures beat previous records and so it doesn’t fly anymore. However, this example illustrates cherry-picking nicely.

Have a look at this blog for a more detailed discussion on how numbers can be fudged to get the result people want.

Cherry-Picking and CDR

CDR opponents also use cherry-picking. They will, for example, point out how expensive CDR is by using the highest possible cost they can find anywhere (mostly related to the still very young and therefore still expensive direct air capture) leaving out cheaper approaches and the fact that technology does become cheaper over time (cost of solar is down 88% over a 10-year period).

Another approach is to cherry-pick one component needed to realize CDR (again, often related to DAC, esp. the CO2 capture materials) and then calculate how much of that component or an intermediate component would be needed in say 2040 if all CDR would be done using that one method with no technical improvement whatsoever. Obviously, that cherry-picking approach leads to absurd numbers that are then used to say “see, can’t be done!”

Spotting cherry-picked data is hard to do and debunking it is even harder. One approach is to point out the fallacy or rely on data from credible sources. If somebody claims the earth is cooling and quotes a YouTube video by Joe Shmoo, pointing out that NASA, NOOA, IPCC, the US military, etc disagree might do nothing to convince the cherry-picker but at least make those who read the cherry-pickers nonsense think twice before buying into the BS.