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ETpro's avatar

Are you biased?

Asked by ETpro (34145 points ) February 10th, 2013

What do you consciously do to avoid bias leading you to accept your beliefs even if they are grounded in fallacy and reject evidence-based answers?

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32 Answers

Jaxk's avatar

It’s typically not the evidence that is in question but rather the interpretation of it. I generally stick to political questions and there is virtually always evidence to bolster either point of view. I find that many of the arguments that occur on this site are more emotional than factual. If you can deem the person as evil, you can ignore thier evidence. That is common practice here.

If you want to bolster Obama’s policies, you may point to his job creation numbers. a long string of months with positive job creation. Of course if you look at the workforce participation rate or the unemployment number, it doesn’t look so good. So which numbers are evidence based and which are not? Which numbers do you count and which do you ignore? It takes some work to figure it out unless you simply ignore those you don’t like. I try not to ignore any of them but I suspect our interpretation may vary.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I am biased. Everyone’s biased. There is no such thing as being objective.

poisonedantidote's avatar

I just try to follow the rules of logic, don’t let pride and other things get in the way of the truth. However, I am indeed biased in regards to some things, and knowingly so. The things I am biased about, are things I have debated over and looked in to so much that I can’t be bothered to look at new evidence, for example astrology, if anyone argues that it is true, my ears are just closed to it, as I would probably just end up wasting my time.

The other things I am biased about, are things that favor my personal agenda. If there is enough convenience or gain in something for me, or it favors my personal agenda enough, I will knowingly turn a blind eye to the facts. For example, if a friend is in trouble, I will deny that they did anything wrong, and if presented with evidence, I will argue it or try to discredit the source and muddy the water, even if I know the evidence shows I am wrong, because loyalty among friends ranks high on my personal agenda.

For the most part, I am less biased than many, just by knowing how logic works, and knowing how my own mind and other peoples minds work, but I am still accidentally biased at times, or biased on purpose.

wundayatta's avatar

I am biased, but which way? Most people are biased in favor of themselves. I think I am biased against myself. I typically think I am less capable and desirable and smart and attractive than I am. But I have no way of knowing what it is like inside anyone else’s head. I don’t know what smart means. External checks of human traits don’t seem to be closely related to capability, it seems to me.

A lot of people here think they are smart. I don’t think I’m smart. Yet I do think I’m smarter than most people here. So what does that mean? Either I’m deluded about how I compare to others. Other people are deluded about whether they are smart. No one has a good definition of smart, or I’m mistaken about how stupid I am.

Really, there’s no hope for it. Bias is all there is. That’s what the quantum scientists say, anyway. There is no objective reality, and any attempt to overcome bias is really people being inefficient. Perhaps, instead, we should be negotiating reality with each other. Only, instead of calling it reality, we might cal it subjectivity. We are negotiating subjectivity. I would say it this way because it might make people be more willing to be flexible.

However, there is much to be said for insisting there is an objective reality and you have the sole lock on what it is. That’s what most religions do, and it works. They make people believe they know what they are talking about because they act so certain. It’s pure nonsense, but that doesn’t matter. It works.

So I find myself using all my rhetorical tools. Sometimes I will use fallacious arguments in addition to ones that have more accepted logic to them. That’s because I’m not in a debate here. I’m in a conversation. My goal is somewhat to make friends and influence people, and somewhat to find out what I think and somewhat to entertain myself. At times I will be bombastic or instigatory or silly or serious. No real logic to is since I am seeking to satisfy many purposes, not all of which are compatible.

thorninmud's avatar

It’s the nature of bias to be invisible to the holder of the bias, isn’t it? I know I’m biased just because I’ve read enough psychological research to be convinced that I fall into pretty much the same traps as everyone else. But knowing that’s the case does very little to keep me from doing it over and over again. Even experts who study bias aren’t immune.

One’s own biases are compellingly convincing. Even when you are presented with undeniable evidence contradicting a particular bias, and you accept intellectually that it must be true, the bias still feels right.

Chalk it up to evolution. The more primitive brain regions that rely heavily on bias get the first say in making judgments.

cazzie's avatar

Hubby has been reading this book and has been amazed by it. I hope he finishes it soon, so I can read it, so I can stop listening to him explain concepts from it. http://www.npr.org/2011/10/27/141508854/fast-and-slow-pondering-the-speed-of-thought
It seems that there is quite a bit in it about how we decide things and just how biased we are without having a clue about it and how easily manipulated our behaviour can be. It makes a very clear point that, even when made aware about these things, we will not recognise the behaviours in ourselves, but we can be taught and made aware to look for them in other people and he encourages the readers of the book to be sure to point out to people when they are making bad, biased decisions. (It sounds like a recipe for lonliness to me.)

bookish1's avatar

Well, it’s accurate to say that I’ve never been straight… ;)

One of the biggest challenges I face every semester with my college freshmen is getting them to understand… Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. That all observation is interpretation. And that “bias” is not a “bad thing” that only “bad books” have. Ugh. I think that is the bare minimum of intellectual achievement they have to attain for some state standardized tests.

Pandora's avatar

As long as we have personal preferences we will always have bias. Without personal preferences than we will be prone to indecisiveness and we would not live very long. Lets take a small child for instance.
They make decisions every day when they meet strangers. Sometimes they don’t like someone because something makes them untrustworthy to them. The person can clothe or clean them and care for them all day and yet the child may still cry when the person approaches them.

Most of the time it is that they simply don’t look close enough to mom and dad. Some have a natural fear of animals when they are small and some do not. They were not taught. But the one with fear would probably survive longer than the very trusting child. The fearful child cannot be lured or convinced that it may not be in danger. So it is less likely to pet that vicious dog.

Fear is our survival instinct and it does not always answer to logic or facts.

Unbroken's avatar

Of course I am biased but that bias is capable of shifting over time.

It is not a stagnant steady thing. As I journey down life’s path, what I was once emotionally admanent about I may have shifted enough to a more balanced place to consider another side.

I generally think that most things, or at least most things I like to consider have no absolute truth. A subjective point high above us we see as ‘Truth.’ Only if we stand still will that point not shift.

I do realize a lot of time when I am being biased. I am generally more passionate, I dig in my heels and twist another’s words out of context. Or grasp sentence fragments. It is at this point I am most ignorant, angry and vindicated. Not always though sometimes I am calm and sure absolutely steadfast a feeling of superiority. This usually works better when the person knows less then me regarding the topic, or may know more and I am getting to a place where I feel safe reevaluate my positions. This usually can only happen with a person whose opinion I can respect.

But bias and irrationality often come in a package. Though it is not always the case.

I suppose I see it as a coping mechanism.

marinelife's avatar

Everyone is biased. The trick is to know your biases and not act on them. I keep them in mind when subjects come up.

Symbeline's avatar

@wundayatta I don’t think I’m smart. Yet I do think I’m smarter than most people here.
Yeah, thx bro XD lol that was a kickass sentence. :D

And yeah I’m biased. I try to look at other sides and I often succeed, but I probably don’t tolerate or accept certain things as much as I should. But this shit’s in our nature. Maybe it’s not so much a question of wanting, rather than being able. I denno.

Norway rules!

syz's avatar

Isn’t everyone?

flutherother's avatar

Being biased is just having opinions that annoy other people. It is unavoidable.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I am generally tolerant and respectful of others as individuals but I hold biases associated with certain groups of people. I work hard to avoid acting on my biases without validating that my bias actually applies to some particular individual. Its about giving other a chance by initially rejecting my biases unless they are confirmed in a specific instance. That is my scientific method applied to interacting with new acquaintances.

choreplay's avatar

@syz, your took the words right off of my keyboard.

Ron_C's avatar

I don’t see a way that you can live unbiased. Even Jesus had a bias against established religions.

I am biased against pushy religious types, hedge fund managers, and the members of any gang including official ones like the DEA, prison guards at private prisons, and all mercenaries.

Paradox25's avatar

What do you consciously do to avoid bias leading you to accept your beliefs even if they are grounded in fallacy and reject evidence-based answers? Actually I didn’t have any special preference when coming to my ‘beliefs’. I’ve changed my position over the years from Catholic to hardcore skeptical agnostic, to a nonreligious theist who now accepts the evidence for alot of paranormal phenomena and that our minds likely survive the deaths of our physical bodies. I can assure you that many in my camp do not reject ‘evidence based answers’, and replace these with faith or wishful thinking. There’s such a thing as sceptical fallacies as well.

We could give an example with the Big Bang Theory, while there is enormous evidence that the universe is expanding, and that there is detectable background microwave radiation like big bang theorists would had predicted there are massive holes in this theory too. Faith and bias exists on both sides, and even sceptics have a bias. A strong bias does not help science in any way though, and maybe that’s Max Planck meant when he stated: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

ETpro's avatar

@Jaxk Thanks. You and I have been round and round about what counts as evidence in a political debate. If you look at a criminal case in a court, there is almost always some compelling evidence brought forward by the prosecution saying that the defendant is guilty, and some brought by the defense saying the defendant is not guilty. It’s the jury’s job to weigh the evidence on both sides, and reach a verdict as to guilt.

The same applies to political debate. There is always evidence on both sides. But when weighed by an impartial jury, one side have the weight of compelling evidence in their favor, and the other side does not.

While all of us have our world views (or biases) there are those who are open to evidence and willing to change their opinion if the evidence points there, and there are those who will resort to arm waving, an onslaught of logical fallacies as arguments, name calling or just walking off in a huff and it makes no difference to them where the evidence points. Their mind is already made up, and they will not let anyone confuse them with the facts.

To deny this is true is to assert that there is no truth. It is to assert that we live in a Universe not controlled by rules but by beliefs and magic.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir That’s an intellectually impoverished argument. Those who seek to appear enlightened often retreat to that position, but arguing that is arguing that the Ptolemaic model of the geocentric solar system is just as accurate as the heliocentric model advanced by the work of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Who cares that satellite based GPS wouldn’t work using the Ptolemaic model, and it does work under the laws of General and Special Relativity. All arguments are equal. Hitler was exactly as just a leader as Nelson Mandela.

You certainly don’t believe that. All arguments are not equally right. KKK grand wizards are more racially biased than Martin Luther King was, or President Obama is, for that matter. There may be no such thing as being perfectly objective, but there are very major differences in the degree of objectivity between on person and another.

@poisonedantidote That’s what I strive for as well. I have no expectation of being bias free, but I want to always ensure that my bias doesn’t get so strong that it’s immune to evidence that contradicts it.

@wundayatta There is a quantum mechanical world, and it suffers from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. But somehow, it produces a Relativistic Universe with hard rules that are predictive and falsifiable. We don’t yet have any idea how one supports the other—how they connect. But it’s obvious they do. So not all is subject to uncertainty, and if I wanted a brake job, I would not take my car to a quantum mechanic.

@thorninmud I do not accept that. If it were true, I would never have accepted the results of the double slit experiment and the enhanced double slit experiment. It is glaringly obvious to me that some humans are far, far more biased than others.

As to the enhanced experiment, Here is what we know know about the difference between a mechanical recorder logging an observation and looking at the observation. Watch then in order unless you are already fully familiar with the double-slit experiment, in which case you can skip the first video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc&feature=player_embedded#!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0v-cvvyc-M&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfeoE1arF0I&feature=related

@cazzie Thanks for adding another book to my ever growing reading list. But I refuse tio believe that is we are able to spot bias in others and correct it to their benefit, it’s impossible for us to recognize it in ourselves. The fact that some people operate almost entirely by bias while others seek evidence and are very open to change would seem to suggest to me that this author’s view of bias was hopelessly biased. S/he failed to deal with easily observable facts.

@bookish1 Interesting answer. By the time we are old enough to think, we have a bias to expect gravity to work. Again and again, it has. We’d be truly astounded if we dropped a tool and it fell up and stuck to the ceiling. I guess the type of bias that worries me is that which is so strong it paralyzes thought. One person would say, “Wow! The wrench fell up and is stuck on the ceiling. Why did it do that.” The paralytically biased would say, “I never saw that.”

@Pandora True, biases can serve survival purposes. They can also work against survival. That’s what makes the topic so interesting and difficult to grapple with.

cazzie's avatar

@ETpro He is pointing out ways we think and make decisions. Do read it and don’t let my oversimplification put you off.

thorninmud's avatar

@ETpro I think you’ll see that’s exactly what I’m saying.

It becomes clearer when you put aside the notion of a singular “I” and see it in terms of multiple mental processes. A rough analogy would be the way Congress works: there’s a lower house that tends to take a more “popular”, reactive view of matters, and an upper house that approaches matters more deliberately and is less swayed by popular whims.

Everyone has this lower house: a gut-level, intuitive, approximative model of how the world works. This is loaded with bias because it’s overly simplistic, is based on broad generalizations, and is influenced by emotion. This is—in everyone—the first mental process to weigh in in matters of judgment. Its judgments are often good enough in routine, straight-forward situations, and it has the virtue of requiring little outlay of energy. Its judgments also have a very “right” feel to them because they satisfy intuition.

For many people, the matter stops there. It doesn’t even get referred to the upper house. The rules of the upper house are complex, and its process is cumbersome. Things tend to get bogged down there, so there’s a certain economy in not referring all matters there. Many, many people don’t ever even bother. But the thorough-going process of this upper house is the only reliable way to get at the truth of some matters. It takes time and effort to consider the subtle and unique details of a particular situation and apply the rules of logic to them. On top of it, the conclusions that emerge from this upper house are sometimes incredibly hard to accept, because they run so counter to intuition (the double slit conclusions are a prime example).

People will tend to identify with one of these mental processes more than the other. You, @ETpro, tend to see “I” as the upper house. Others see this upper house as something alien whose ways they don’t know, so their gut instinct feels more like “I”. Consider the possibility, though, that the notion of an “I” itself may be a bias created as one of the lower house’s rules-of-thumb. Like all of the judgments of the lower house, this “I” also feels intuitively satisfying—“right”.

When you say that some people are more biased than others, I agree in that some people are more inclined to refer matters to the higher mental processes. But I would still maintain that their lower house is always in session, rendering its intuitive, biased judgments. Some of these will get overruled by the subsequent deliberations of the upper house, but many will still slip through unchallenged.

bookish1's avatar

@thorninmud: Do you feel that the ‘upper house’ is, or can be, completely without bias? Or has the metaphor just reached its limits when we try to discuss the relationship between the two ‘houses’?

thorninmud's avatar

@bookish1 The “upper house” has some serious blind spots. Differentiation is its strong suit, which is a powerful tool for analysis, but that renders it incapable of fathoming reality in its undivided, primal, “empty” aspect. So you could say that it’s biased toward the partitioned view of the world that it understands.

bookish1's avatar

@thorninmud : Cool, thank you for your response. :)

ETpro's avatar

@thorninmud Fascinating answer. I will go where there is no differentiation and ponder that.

thorninmud's avatar

@ETpro I highly recommend it.

mattbrowne's avatar

Everyone is, which mostly goes unnoticed.

Jaxk's avatar

Everyone is biased but that doean’t mean thier argument is not valid. Assuming bias in others can make you miss the entire point. A quick story that demostrates this.

Shopping at the new Wal-Mart recently, I decided to continue stocking up on .38 cal., 9 mm, and .45 caliber shells.

When I was ready to pay for my purchase, the cashier at the gun and ammo department said,

“Please sir, Strip down, facing me.”

Making a mental note to complain to the manager about the anti-gun people run amok, I did just as asked.

When her hysterical shrieking finally subsided, I found out that she was referring to my VISA card.

The manager asked me to shop elsewhere in the future.

They really need to make their instructions to seniors a little clearer!

ETpro's avatar

@Jaxk Oh lord, I do hope you are kidding.

Symbeline's avatar

Holy smokes, they sell guns in Walmart? Ours doesn’t even have fake buck knives.

SamandMax's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir “I am biased. Everyone’s biased. There is no such thing as being objective.”.....do you know how funny that sounds coming from someone who teaches Sociology?

I took Sociology, so I find it pretty amusing

SamandMax's avatar

Let me actually explain that answer and why I found Simone_De_Beauvoir’s answer mildly amusing.

In Sociology, we are taught that when you’re doing coursework that involves research on a hypothesis (a testable statement), everything is a maybe, it is not a definite. Any research you do involving carrying out surveys and collating the results is one thing, but statistics are never reliable, nor can they always be accurate. Therefore you have to be unbiased. If you are biased, your research becomes entirely inadequate and will most likely not score very highly for the end result of the course. Coursework when I was taking Sociology at college counted towards a sizable chunk of the achieved grade of the course – the rest coming from the final exam.

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