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Friday, July 14, 2006

Comment Type #28: Cherrypicking

A Cherry PickerCHERRYPICKING

The art of responding to other peoples' comments or a blog entry is one that takes time to refine. The best kind of responses make it clear what and two whom the post is responding to, using blockquotes or italics or some other technique to set the quote apart. Many message boards make quoting other people a matter of clicking on a button. But those are just the mechanics of the deed, a proper response takes more thought.

For example, taking a single thought or isolated clause from someone's post and responding to it can be a problem. If it's done out of context, it can be greatly misleading if not outright deceptive. If you pick a single sentence out of a post, it can appear to mean something that when in context it does not - newspaper reporters are infamous (fairly or not) for doing this. For example:
The best kind of responses make it clear what and two whom the post is responding to, using blockquotes

This is idiotic, you can use a lot of different ways to show who you are quoting, you're a retard!
-by Anonymous
As you can see, this would be taking only a portion of what I typed and responding as if the rest of the sentence did not exist. This sort of comment is brushed aside as being illiterate and foolish by most people. Many examples are a bit more subtle and clever than this, however. They may not necessarily be the result of a poor mind or someone trying to cause trouble. It could simply be that they didn't read very carefully and responded to what they quote without being aware it is out of context.

However, there is another kind of cherrypicking that is even more problematic and common. This is where in a discussion or argument, someone will pick a minor, unrelated, or side point and attack it as if this somehow refutes the main point of the argument. In this kind of cherrypicking, the respondent will pick a portion of the argument that does not greatly or even slightly affect the point being made and attacks it. The easiest and most common of this kind of arguments is to attack spelling or grammar. If someone mis-spells a word or uses the wrong word, this is easier to attack than the points being argued, especially for someone who is less intellectually robust.

Unpicked CherriesAnother kind is to pick a side point made that may be weak, unsupported, or mistaken and attack it, ignoring the main points of the argument. Some people make this a hallmark of their commenting style, roaming wildly from point to point and misleading everyone on intellectual wild goose chases. What was the original point? Everyone lost track at the tenth side track. This might be an honest mistake, but more likely it's simply someone who is caught up in the sheer fun of arguing rather than actually trying to accomplish anything useful or beneficial.

Some argue side points because they hate to be wrong, so much so that they'll push and push until they can find some sort of victory, then act as if their main point and the entire start of the argument was never demolished. This happens a lot in political arguments, with the truly clueless returning to previous points as if they never have been dealt with already.

Cherrypicking can be acceptable, as long as it is not taking things out of context, not too greatly or improperly off topic, and is part of the conversation at hand. Cherrypicking because your argument is weak, you were too hasty to read carefully, or are simply too dim to follow what's being said is not so acceptable.

This is part of the Profiles in Commenting series

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