Honest and dishonest bias

Though most us might be biased, not all biases are created equal. There are degrees of honest biases, and there are clearly dishonest biases. But I’ll be generous and propose that biases are usually honest. The most common kind is Confirmation Bias: The tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms your beliefs, and ignore or discount evidence that refutes your beliefs. Political issues like Obamacare, Medicaid, Mideast policy, immigration, climate change, taxes, and whether government is a force for good or evil are certainly susceptible to confirmation bias. We usually recognize at some level when we are being biased, but we genuinely believe our position is correct and try to make the strongest possible case for it.

Perhaps a more honest and more naïve bias is what I’ll call Magic Bias: The belief that supernatural forces intervene in our natural world. In his wonderful book, “The Demon-Haunted World,” Carl Sagan argues for critical and skeptical thinking about such beliefs, while promoting science as a candle in the dark. Magic bias includes belief in gods, demons, horoscopes, psychics, tarot cards, miracles, and lots of other superstitions. People who accept some of these beliefs usually consider other magic beliefs ridiculous. I’m with “ridiculous.”

Miracle believers can find “evidence” for miracles, disregarding coincidence or luck or medical skill; psychic believers have their faith strengthened when a psychic predicts something that can be interpreted as accurate, forgetting predicted inaccuracies. While many may truly believe in magic, some just pretend to believe the unbelievable either because they are expected to play “make believe” or because they profit from believers. (Just picture your favorite charlatan.)

Continue reading at the Washington Post's On Faith >>

2 Responses to Honest and dishonest bias

  1. A clairvoyant is one who has the amazing ability to see that she has a fool for a client. – Ambrose Bierce

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>