Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cherry Picking

I had an interesting thing happen at church on Sunday. Before I get into specifics I wanted to talk about the rhetorical tool of cherry-picking. Cherry-picking is the process of picking only the data the supports your position while ignoring or under emphasizing the data that goes contrary to your point.
To illustrate my point today I took a Wikipedia article about an individual and picked only the positive and neutral points. From the information below see if you can identify the subject of the article.

An avid downhill skier while in high school.
He studied law at Utah State University.
In college he was baptized a member of the LDS church.
He worked on Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaign.
He liked Volkswagens.
He enjoyed spending time outdoors.
He died at age 43.

Okay. He sounds like a pretty good guy, doesn’t he? Well yeah. Anybody would if you only use the details that make him seem like a nice guy. Now take a look at the rest of his profile and see if I left out anything important.

Big difference isn’t it? Even though everything above was technically true by cherry-picking the data, only picking the positive, I was able to create a false picture of who this man really was.

Now back to my experience Sunday. July 24th is Pioneer Day. It’s a Mormon holiday to celebrate those who made the trek west to help settle the Salt Lake valley. It’s typical for the Sunday talks to tell personal anecdotes about ancestors who made the trek and have them make comparisons to their own lives. This Sunday it became a textbook example of cherry-picking. The closing speaker did indeed have an ancestor who crossed the plains and helped settle the west. As he began to list the positive attributes of his great-great-great-great grandfather his name rang a bell. I pulled out my iphone and did a quick search for him. Now here is a short list of the details that the speaker shared with us.

He learned to hunt as a boy.
He converted to the church as an adult.
He was a close confidant on Joseph Smith.
He crossed the plains with Brigham Young and was one of his most trusted friends.
He was a proud defender of the LDS Church.
He was shot several times and eventually died from complications of his gunshot wounds.

I’m going to spare the actual name of the ancestor mentioned because I don’t want to identify the speaker. However, Suffice it to say that the comparison I made to Ted Bundy is not unfair. He was Danite and essentially a hired assassin. This speaker’s ancestor actually confessed to killing more people than Bundy is suspected of killing. Yes, he was a member of the church but he was excommunicated and became an opponent of the church.

My point here is not to criticize Sunday’s speaker. I just seriously am intrigued by the amount of cognitive dissonance that it takes to spin this character into a hero. It’s one thing to cherry-pick data in order to convince somebody else. But I think that more often than not people unconsciously sort that data. They just actually do not even see the disconfirming evidence. Or if they do they minimize it or rationalize it to the point that even a negative becomes a positive.

Monday, July 25, 2011


It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. As usual this isn’t because nothing has been going on. Actually it’s quite the opposite. I just haven’t been able to slow down enough to give a report.

Emergency Surgery

A year or so ago I was having some recurring abdominal pains so I went to the doctor. She did a CT scan and noticed that I had a few kidney stones and a gall stone. I passed the kidney stones and then the real fun began. I started having gall stone attacks. For the most part they were just an annoyance that made me lose a lot of sleep and consequently vacation days. But after a few months they started getting rather intense. Went to the doctor again and she gave me some drugs for the pain and told me to try to manage it with diet. Well anything with any fat at all could trigger it and after further reading I found out that just laying on your left side could also trigger an attack.

Well the first weekend in July I came home from work a little early because I couldn’t stand sitting in my chair. It was getting painful but I was trying to tough it out. I knew exactly what the problem was and exactly what the solution was. I just didn’t have time for it. I had multiple projects in the works and my house was still substantially less than complete. Plus I didn’t have much of a buffer on vacation days if we were going to be able to go at all.

I tried to make it get better and nothing would work so Victoria called our neighbor over, she’s and EMT, and she persuaded me to go to the ER. After painfully waiting for hours in the ER they finally saw me. They kept asking me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I had a hard time with this and kept thinking about the Brian Regan comedy routine. So I told the nurses, “Well a broken femur is supposed to be a 10 and I did that in ’97. This is far worse so how about 35.” An x-ray, EKG, and ultrasound later they admitted me. They gave me some morphine so I could sleep and scheduled me for surgery Saturday morning.

The next morning the doctor came in and explained what was going on. She used the phrase, “If you want to keep on living…” and the word “gangrenous” in the discussion. As if I needed more persuasion, but I was even more convinced after that.

The surgery was laparoscopic so I have 4 little scars that look like bullet holes. The doctor said that my gall bladder had a large stone and showed significant scarring. So it was good that I didn’t wait any longer. I healed up pretty quickly and only missed a few days of work the next week. The next Friday the doctor approved me for driving so our vacation could go on as scheduled. We left pretty much as soon as I got back from her office.

It’s been three weeks since the surgery and three weeks without an attack. That’s the first time in about a year that I can say that. At its worst the attacks were coming about every 5 days. I sure hope those days are all behind me.

I doubt any of them are reading this but I just wanted to give a tremendous thank you to all of the staff at the hospital. Everybody, without exception, was very nice and pleasant. I don’t ever want to have to do something like that again, but if I do I’ll pick the same folks to help me out.