Confirmation Bias and Politics

“Please, in the name of God, consider the possibility of you being wrong”

With apologies to Oliver Cromwell.

For those who do not know, Comfirmation Bias is a psychological phenomenon that everyone who is in science in some way is trained to be on the lookout for. We are tought that it came happen to the best of of us. Not only to the sloppy, but to the most detailed and self-honest. It is not something bad, it is just a part of being human. We just have to except that it happens, except it, correct for it, and move on.

So what exactly is Confirmation Bias (CB)? Simple put it is the tendency to except as correct information, data, that supports a currently held option or belief (see for more details). Because CB is always with us as we work and is so insidious and subtle the scientific method has come up with several procedures to counter it, the most well know is the Peer Review. The next is insisting that other researchers confirm our data/observations etc. The funny thing is CB is not something discovered by science. We have know about it for many thousands of years.

Ever since philosophers have started thinking about how we think and reason we have known about CB. One of the things early philosophers pondered is how we know what we know and how we know if it is true or not. Over the Millinnias we have developed many ways of deciding what is true, what to believe. In the since that all of these methods work in that we can decide what to believe and what not to believe most fail in that they don’t tell us what is true or not. The most fundamental problem in selecting a method of deciding what to believe is we have to have a method to make decision. Most, if not all humans start out the same way, we believe what our parents tell us and work out from there. (Unless you are like me and were born logical) Or parents tell us to believe what our teachers tell us, be they secular or religious. An this is where the problems start, we are told to believe what those authority figures tell us. To accept on ‘faith’.

While this works for religion and life philosophy it doesn’t do so well in the realm of politics. (See I did get around to it finally). Selecting an authority figure(s) in politics can be very hard. Why, because people will look for someone who will tell them what they like/want to hear. We all do. Who likes hearing uncomfortable things? It is much easier to listen to comfortable things, even when they are not true. This is where having a method for testing the validity of a statement comes in. Most folks don’t do this correctly.

Wait! I can hear you now saying “But I always look for support of what my political leaders are telling me.” An if you are like most folks who follow politics you do a fair job of finding that data/information. But this is where CB rears it’s seductive head. If you believe, or want to believe, something the CB becomes an issue. We need to look at any data/information that supports our position with a jondus eye, with supision. We must ask the question “Is this true or do I just wan’t It to be true?”

In this age of Facebook/Tweet and all the other social media we must be even more careful. Gone are the days (a hundred years ago) when you had a good idea what news you’d be reading in the “Daily Democrat, or the Workers News. How do you know just what is being told to you by the a blog like “Don’t Drink The KoolAid” or “Five Thirty Eight” or “Info Wars”? Well, one way is by recommendations from people you know and trust. Weak, but a place to start. You can do google searches on reviews, if you can find any and how do you know if they are real reviews. Remember this is the time of Trolls. Reviews can be faked as easily as anything else, even videos can’t be trusted anymore.

My recommendation is look for citations in everything. Look for independent confirmation of the posting. Once you find a news site, blog, what ever, you trust keep checking them when they report. The truely honest ones won’t mind (the dishonest one will say that but really don’t care) and if you find something you disagree with challenge them on it. Most won’t mind and many will love it. Just remember, you could be wrong.