Tag Archives: Bias

Who’s the one with a bias?

12 Apr

The email response greeted me with this first sentence:

“This site and its articles are extremely biased and on the verge of alt-right/tea party. It reminds me of Breitbart.   I have a hard time taking much of what they say seriously. ” 

I had sent a work colleague an essay about why the Swiss seem to encounter little to no terrorism in their country.  The author had posted her thoughts on a conservative website (Townhall).  Since this 8th-grade humanities teacher seeks to train his students to ask deeper questions, I thought he would appreciate the anomaly that Switzerland represents in a Europe menaced by terrorism.

I wasn’t prepared for his differing worldview, but I should have been given his youth and generational milieu and the fact that we teach in Asheville, NC.  Taken aback at first, I carefully chose my response.  Rewriting my comments in the form of questions (I reflected) might make it easier for him to read and accept my thoughts.

To his credit I realized he had indeed read the entire essay and given it some consideration. His comments bore that out.  So I complimented him on that, but asked him the logical question all of us should employ initially:  Why do you think that? (regarding his dismissive first couple of sentences)

Here is how I worded the rest of my response to his opening salvo: Why is that?  Shouldn’t we judge ideas on their merit?  I think that’s the genetic fallacy, to dismiss a viewpoint because of its source.

Continuing on gently, I spring-boarded off of his observations with some further thoughts.  In the end, I repeated my acknowledgement of his generous use of time DESPITE his skepticism about the ‘validity’ of the point of view.

What I re-learned from this encounter was this:

  • just as I and my husband and some like-minded friends believe the other side is ‘biased’, they also assume we are predisposed
  • there is no cause for fear when someone tries to marginalize one’s beliefs and reasons.  I probably know more than this young man.  I read a lot more and I’ve been at this clear thinking/reasoning work for years now.
  • asking questions is a safe and disarming approach in responding to what might FEEL like an attack

I’m grateful for the occasion to exercise some of my ‘logical gal’ skills.

 

Logical Gal and Confirmation Bias

24 Jan

Confirmation Bias – “the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses” Wikipedia link

I ran across this term the other day in a dissection of what Jesus taught about faith.   Instead of analyzing the content of the explanation on its own merits, it apparently was easier to accuse the author of having committed confirmation bias.   This form of bias seems to say that people look for evidence to support their already-formulated position INSTEAD of following the evidence wherever it leads.

Looking at the variety of contexts that employ this term, it’s easy to spot how people from all sides of any issue assume and accuse others  of this practice.

Let’s look at the first of two images: 

In this poster, the conclusion is that a Christian is someone who has an explanation for the NOs or non-responses from God when he prays.  In other words, Christians always give God an ‘out’.

The above global warming baseball bat suggests that global warming advocates don’t follow reason, but they just beat the so-called ‘deniers’ over the head with forceful rhetoric.  Being closed to evidence, they surround themselves with those who share their views.

So, can we escape this faulty way of thinking? Can one actually, objectively, follow the evidence wherever it leads?  Can facts, evidence or proof be neutral?

Two incubators of bias come to mind.  There might very well be more, but these are a start:

  • the words we choose for a term describing a concept
  • the context we place an issue, the way we ‘frame’ it, the story we build around it to offer explanations

Terms do carry baggage.  I can describe someone either as ‘poor’ or as  ‘constrained by resources’.

And since we value our time and that of our listener/reader, we often use the shortcut of borrowing an accepted analogy or context that we assume all will understand.  For example, terms such as ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ bring to mind real-life people or situations.  We then just cobble information onto that picture to flesh it out, reenforcing what we WANT to think about the issue.

For a help in understanding our lack of neutrality, you might like to read the hyperlinked blog below where the author distinguishes between INFERRING from evidence and seeking to RATIONALIZE an already held position.

Blog about how we treat evidence

So what can we do to mitigate this Confirmation Bias?  One technique that takes EFFORT might help. When we communicate with others, we could choose to use a fresh analogy to explain what we believe about something.  That would help us and the other person to think originally.  It’s like not allowing someone to always slip on their Birkenstock sandals.   You know – those German shoes that have a ‘Fussbett ‘or foodbed that eventually conforms to the wearer’s particular foot shape?

If you shaped them when you had a growth on your foot and still wear them long after the growth has been removed, they wouldn’t fit you so well any more.

Likewise, you might be misinformed about an issue and need to start fresh without prior assumptions.

Question:  where do you see how you might be suffering from Confirmation Bias?