BIAS AND CHERRYPICKING
Yesterday, Susanna presented two short profiles and asked her readers to ponder the question, “Did the early lives and ancestors of these women have much to do with the lives they built themselves? To what extent are we a product of where we come from?”
This evening, we learn the truth about those profiles, namely that both indeed refer to the young Susanna and are treated to a discussion on cherrypicking data which concludes:
Journalists do a lot of cherrypicking; their training is mostly about what to cherrypick, and how to present it. Two people good at cherrypicking and writing could write a completely factual piece on the same person and it read like two different people – because the perspective about what’s important, and how to present it, is so different. It’s only over time with the same writer or the same newspaper that you begin to get a feel for who to trust – who’s going to put together an article that is not just accurate, but fair and honest in both content and intent.
Upon re-reading the “case studies,” it’s clear that in the first instance, most of the facts are about classmates and other associates rather than the subject wherease in the second instance, it’s all about the person and her family.
Clearly, it is possible to mislead by selectively reporting the facts. One would hope that proper training–and, in the case of a journalist–editorial supervision would minimize this tendency. Just a casual observation of the major media outlets, however, makes it clear this is not the case. Of course, this phenomenon is also seen in the academy, as George Will’s commentary on polling manupulation that I blogged on yesterday demonstrates.