I’m Biased. So Are You.


Part of being human is the fact that we all have a tendency to believe that our opinions are always right.  The way we think, whether religiously, politically or socially, is influenced by our upbringing, our friends, our surroundings and the information we consume.  Sadly, too many of us don’t seem to understand that opinion and truth are two different things.  Worse is the fact that too many of us don’t care about what the truth or reality is these days.

A friend of mine mentioned the term “ego-casting” the other day.  It describes the tendency we all have to only consume information that agrees with our feelings and our comfort.  This leads us to live in our own world view.  It can also be described as “confirmation bias”.  It is a dangerous way for the bulk of the populous to live.

Recently I was on Twitter and got into a discussion about a bill (S-219) that the Conservatives had put forward about having our intelligence community investigate and report on Iranian terrorist activities.  The ruling Liberal majority was against this and that had set the right wing Twitterverse into a spiral.  I asked the question: “Don’t you think this is something that is already being done and is just a political stunt?”  I got a variety of rather negative comments to that to which I replied: “You do understand that we have agreements to share intelligence information with our allies, don’t you?”  Clearly they thought our intelligence units should be doing the same information gathering that the U.S., Britain, Israel and others already do.  Needless to say, the thread went dead from my comment.  I love people who complain bitterly about spending on social programs but are more than happy to spend any amount, no matter how redundant, on military and intelligence.

I use this example to highlight how people don’t look at information outside their sphere.  In another conversation I had, I was saying how media slants coverage so you have to be careful what you read as truth.  I mentioned MSNBC as being left leaning and FoxNews as right leaning.  The person laughed because they felt FoxNews was the absolute purveyor of truth.  How do you get people to see truth when they don’t even know their own biases?

I’d love to say there was an easy short-term fix for the whole thing.  There isn’t.  Think of the war against science right now.  People have done a great job of mixing up corporations and drug companies with actual science.  Science is the least biased because they do peer reviews.  If you have a scientist pursuing a theory and he/she fudges the results, the scientific community will take him/her down for it.  I understand why people don’t trust corporations.  They do not follow the same rules and money is used to get approvals.

We have to teach our children about bias from the beginning, in school.  We need that concept taught and pursued throughout the breadth of the education system.  Open minds are better minds and better at solving complex world problems.  All we get today is divided nonsense without solutions.  Where there is no ability to negotiate and compromise, there is no forward progress.  Whether there would be any ability, in this divided climate, to change a lot of adult minds, I do not know.  Honestly, I don’t know what it would take for someone who is hardened into their bias to open their mind.  When someone is presented with proof that they are wrong and they just don’t care, there’s something wrong with the world.  We are in dark times.  We need the next generation to step up and show this one how to be.  I truly hope they can and do.

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3 Responses to I’m Biased. So Are You.

  1. David Newton says:

    Excellent points Larry, very interesting!

    I especially agree with your points about news journalism…. is there really such a thing as “objective” journalism at all? After all, only 7% of reporters self identify as Republican in the US.
    How do non-progressive ideas even get heard by the majority of the population?

    It’s also the case that the most left leaning county in the US is District of Columbia ( 0.4% Republican), which is where most of the employees of executive branch agencies live. If all those people are busy exercising their confirmation bias, how well are they able to understand and take advantage of alternative and potentially better approaches to the problems they address?

    Then, look at the American universities. If you think Education will contribute to a solution to Bias, I will need a lot of convincing before I agree. At the top liberal arts colleges, Democrats outnuber Republicans by 11 to 1, and 60% of those colleges have NO registered Republicans. How can the educators in those institutions do anything to reduce Bias when they spend their lives in such deafening echo chambers?

    IMO, it’s really not human to overcome bias more than a miniscule amount. I’m not convinced it’s even possible to do so for most of the things we believe. Only on topics where we think carefully and slowly about them can we open our minds and learn from alternative ideas, and even then we have way more incentive to discount those we disagree with. Read Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, IMO he’s covered the issue very well!

    By the way, hoping you don’t take this critically, love to hear your thoughts, especially where you disagree.

    • larrylootsteen says:

      Great to hear from you Dave! Your thoughts are always welcome.
      I do believe objective journalism exists. You have to look for it and it is generally individual journalists who do it best rather than a particular publication. It’s the choice of the professional to follow the standards that are set out. Too many don’t follow those standards but you can’t assume none exist. You also have to be prepared to recognize when they present views that conflict with your own that you might be wrong.

      That you categorize a lack of journalistic integrity to the lack of professed party support is way off base in my view. Any journalist of any stripe can have integrity in reporting. Journalism is about presenting the facts and letting the viewer/reader decide.

      What non-progressive ideas are not being heard? All I hear is what the right wants to do. Are the policies being put out there with the supporting information to be reported on? I’ll need some examples to say any more on this.

      Your thoughts on D.C. don’t make sense to me. There’s a difference between elected officials and policy wonks who recommend approaches. Career policy professionals work in the government and do their best to provide approaches based on the direction they are given by the elected officials. You don’t know what they are presenting to their bosses because you only hear the decision of those officials. Could there be bias. Yes. But most of these people do a good job with minimal bias. I’ve seen a few interviews with folks like that and they struggle when bad policies are presented and they do their best to right the direction. In the current climate I don’t believe people like that are listened to much. How many policies get shot down in court? It isn’t because the inside workers don’t know that. The elected officials ignore them.

      Your comment on universities made me laugh! Read this sentence: “At the top LIBERAL arts colleges, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 11 to 1, and 60% of those colleges have NO registered Republicans.” Why on earth do you believe LIBERAL art colleges would be filled with Republicans?? How many Republicans come out in favour of liberal arts in policy? I wonder how many registered Democrats teach at Liberty U or Bob Jones? You don’t think those are also echo chambers?

      I agree and I disagree with you. The bulk of the population can’t be bothered with fighting their biases. It would require us coming together without politics and religion and anything else to have a purely information based education system, top to bottom. That won’t happen. I expect we’ll come to the brink of extinction before we might decide that sitting in our left and right wing holes may not be the best policy. I hope after this period of insanity we’ll have another round of enlightenment where we can move forward as humans but I won’t hold my breath for that in my lifetime.

  2. While I’d love to think that humans can change, and by that, I mean develop from being a biased species, unless there is some sort of genetic manipulation, I can’t ever see any of us ever changing. This reminds me of a bad joke my father used to say, sorry, it’s s dad joke, “I’m not biased, I hate everything and everyone equally”. For me, that joke sort of sums us human beings pretty well. However, I wonder if bots will be programmed to be biased?

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