Monday, 12 July 2010

Epistemofobia: Cherry Picking.

  Cherry Picking  Cherry Picking es una técnica usada por los negacionistas y epistemófobos en general que consiste en seleccionar de la literatura científica y los datos disponibles, sólo los que sostienen su postura e ignorar toda evidencia que la contradiga. El término que podría traducirse como “cosecha de cerezas” hace referencia a que cuando un agricultor selecciona las frutas para cosechar y luego vender, sólo va a elegir las más maduras y sabrosas. Cualquier observador que ve una canasta de ricas cerezas podría suponer que son todas así, ignorando de este modo la gran cantidad de frutas podridas y feas que se pierden en el proceso. Se trata de una falacia muy difícil de detectar y contrarrestar. Para hacerlo hay que estar suficientemente familiarizado con la totalidad de la evidencia científica y con la mayoría de los argumentos de un debate particular.

Todos tenemos el riesgo de realizar cherry picking. Uno puede hacerlo de buena fe si no conoce cuerpos enteros de evidencia que contradicen lo que uno cree o si sufre de un mal caso de sesgo de confirmación. Alguien puede pensar que cada vez que piensa en una persona ésta lo llama por teléfono; si se la confronta, ésta va a contar varios casos en lo que esto fue verdad pero también va ignorar todas las veces que no pasó. Eso es un cherry picking de buena fe. Lo mismo si alguien sólo lee los artículos científicos que muestran efectos positivos de la homeopatía; si no conoce el vasto cuerpo de literatura que no muestra efectividad alguna, es posible que termine con una idea sesgada de la realidad.

Contrarrestar estos casos es relativamente simple. Si el error es realmente inconsciente o fruto de la ignorancia, lo único que hay que hacer es mostrar evidencias contradictorias. Claro que somos humanos y, por desgracia, los datos no son tan convincentes como deberían, pero presentar toda la evidencia en su contexto con suerte va a hacer que los espectadores neutrales consigan tener una idea correcta del estado de cosas.

Pero otras veces, la falacia se usa voluntariamente, con malicia e intención de desinformar. Los perpetradores suelen ser personas con un conocimiento más profundo de la evidencia y que tratan de moldear sus argumentos intencionalmente ignorando partes importante de la evidencia. Este tipo de cherry picking es más difícil de notar y de combatir ya que desde su misma concepción tienen la intención de pasar desapercibidos y ser lo más convincentes posible.

Un caso particularmente malo (y el que me inspiró a escribir este post) es el de un negacionista climático diciendo que hace 15 años que no hay calentamiento global. Es técnicamente correcto que en el período 1995-2009 la tendencia es positiva (0,12ºC por década) pero no al nivel de confiabilidad de 95% que es el necesario para definir la significatividad estadística, pero esto es porque es menos probable encontrar tendencias significativas en períodos cortos. Esto ya es suficientemente malo. Decir que la tendencia no es significativa en los últimos 15 años pero omitir que es muy difícil tener tendencias significativas en períodos tan cortos de tiempo es claramente deshonesto cuando uno sabe de lo que está hablando, pero cuando uno investiga un poco más sólo se vuelve más perverso: la tendencia se vuelve significativa si se selecciona el período 1994-2009. En otras palabras, en los últimos 16 años la tendencia es positiva. Omitir este dato clave es engañoso y deshonesto. Como comenté en el post original, es como decirle a un paciente de cáncer que, como en los últimos 7 días el crecimiento del tumos no fue estadísticamente significativo, no hace falta hacer quimioterapia cuando en el período de 8 días el crecimiento sí es significativo.

Conclusión

La técnica de cherry picking es simple de realizar. La mayoría de los estudios científicos dan resultados erróneos y buscar estudios en internet es algo trivial. Grupos dedicados a nociones pseudocientíficas pueden financiar, publicar y publicitar pequeños estudios mal realizados para confirmar sus creencias. La naturaleza segregativa de internet permite crear cámaras de eco en donde las personas pueden encontrar evidencia seleccionada específicamente para confirmar sus creencias previas. Y, para empeorar las cosas, se acopla perfectamente con sesgos cognitivos preexistentes y de muy difícil erradicación.

El cherry picking es una de las mejores y más usadas herramientas en el arsenal de los ideólogos y negacionistas.

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