On Biases

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Over the past few years in the USA, hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear cries and screams of “fake news” in a variety of ways. Although that phrase is primary associated to a shameful bloviator, it’s merely a substitute for another term that has been around not only my entire life of 66+ years, but long before. After all, it’s entomological roots are in the 16th century – and that word is bias.

During today’s tribalism, hyper-partisanship, and strong outward expressions of opinions, the biased person watching a biased news broadcast, reading a biased article/book, or listening to a biased radio pundit does not negate bias – but rather enhances it.

Often grounded in assumptions based on one’s culture, parents, peers, education, religion, geography, and personal experiences, biases are that filter leading one to predetermined outcomes. Biases are the neme, slant, lean, and tendency leading one to change what one observes into what they want. That is, the biased person makes the information fit for themselves. Biases unquestionably lead to misinformation and misconceptions; plus stronger biases enhance prejudice and bigotry.

Misconceptions are incorrect ideas grounded in a personal belief system serving as the foundation of incorrect knowledge. Misconceptions get in the way of learning by blocking new information. In order to justify their position, the learner will do whatever is necessary to fight against accepting the new information.

Here’s a simple example. All human blood is red, but the shade varies depending on the amount of oxygen present. Blood rich in oxygen is bright red, but blood low in oxygen is very dark red. In short, there is no blue blood.

A person believing the existence of blue blood will do whatever necessary to keep their belief. They point to the blue veins below the skin – drawings in textbooks showing showing red and blue blood vessels. They explain the skin turns blue after one dies because blood is not moving and getting oxygen. They believe in the immediacy (faster than eyes can detect) of blood changing from blue to red when bleeding from a cut vein. Years ago, an eighth grade classmate of mine even brought paper tissues (with blue food coloring) to class showing she had a nosebleed the night before. She went out of her way to argue her bias with the teacher.

Now expand this simple idea into more complex topics as evolution, vaccines, climate change – let alone complicated issues as health care, foreign policy, and the economy. The more complex the topic, a basic understanding requires more information than obtained from the first click on a single Google search. Now cloud the issue/topic with politically-driven partisan ideas that people blindly accept through a party-driven mantra.

Fighting bias challenges what one believes, so overcoming biases requires a conscious effort and can be personally humbling – even for those thinking they are unbiased. No matter how simple or complex the topic or issue, and no matter the age of the person involved, not only does everyone have misconceptions, only that person (the one holding the misconception) can remove that misconception and replace it with new information. In order to replace the misinformation, that person must either accept the new information from a person they recognize as knowledgeable or they must experience a learning event that alters their view.

Besides preventing learning and becoming knowledgeable and informed, misconceptions can humiliate a person. After all, nobody likes being wrong. Some bring it upon themselves by boasting incorrectly about a topic as if they know. After all, it’s the speed and conviction of the statement that validates the statement. Speak with confidence so others think you know.

On the other hand, misconceptions about a person can humiliate them – but in a different way because they are fightly personal misconceptions about their character, knowledge, and/or abilities. I keep thinking about a manager who told me that what others think of me is more important than who I actually am.

I’ve stated this before and here it comes again – The news media is biased by its very nature.

1) Media people are human, therefore have a filter (whether personal, corporate, or both).

2) Secondly, reports reduce the news event to an abstract. For instance, the media may reduce a one-hour speech into a 90-second report. This condensation is a natural bias; plus, generalizations are naturally less accurate and are not the complete story. Generalizations lead one away from the truth and generalizing generalizations can lead to falsehoods – therefore, misconceptions.

3) Thirdly, the selection of the soundbyte is an natural bias, as are the follow-up questions – but the media must do these actions. That’s part of reporting.

The listener’s bias also plays into the situation. Whether informed or not, the one holding deep convictions about a topic is not only biased against those with an opposing view, they are also vulnerable to getting sucked into generalizations based on misinformation and overgeneralizations that lacks details.

However, if the listener does not agree with the selected edits, abstract report, or the question asked does not mean the reporter or news organization was blatantly biased to favor a point of view – but it could.

On the listener’s side is the fact that if they work traditional morning-afternoon hours, they have limited opportunity to view national evening news by a major network. After that point in time, the 24/7 news channels offer shows featuring and promoting a particular point of view – for instance, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, and others. However, television isn’t the only news source.

Technology has made more information is available to everyone than ever before. Unfortunately, that also means more misinformation is available today more than any other time in history.

Social media complicates and exacerbates personal bias by increasing misinformation, justifying false claims/conclusion, and promoting conspiracy theories. Social media, biased reporting, and talk show echo chambers disengage citizens from the truth while promoting a political agenda.

There is no question that bias plays an important role in the news – and there is plenty of blame to go around. People also carry their share of the blame – actually, in my opinion, people may be the greater problem. People must take responsibility for themselves to challenge and verify the information they receive. However, instead of being proactive citizens, too many people favor reinforcing their bias over being accurately informed.

Valuing factual information is an important aspect of being human – as is the ability to learn – as is the ability to communicate. Too bad there isn’t an anti-bias vaccine. Then again, self-imposed biases would prevent someone from taking that vaccine.

 

PS: This classic scene fits.

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On Beach Walk No. 17

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I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

The vast waters keeps serving as a metaphor for knowledge. If the water represents the sea of knowledge – all that is known – am I standing on the shore of ignorance? Oh yes – the importance of lifelong learner.

My mind keeps thinking about knowledge and learning. Einstein stated, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

Passing a toy sand bucket reminds me that everyone enters a learning situation caring knowledge in 3 buckets – 3 buckets that involve filling and emptying – 3 buckets of knowledge – what they know, what they think the know (but don’t), and what they don’t know.

A good learning situation reinforces what the learner knows while adding to the didn’t know bucket. But, a just-as-important situation lies in the middle bucket – the information one thinks they know but don’t. This information serves as the foundation of misconceptions and illogical conclusions. This is the information that only the learner can declare as “incorrect”, then replace it with new correct information.

For instance, how accurate is one’s conclusion if the person starts with an incorrect assumption as the first or early domino in their logic? How willing is that person going to listen to a correct explanation? How willing is that person to admit they are wrong?

I think about the ways one can justify blood in our veins is blue. We see the blue beneath our skin. We see the red and blue diagrams of blood circulation in diagrams. If a person believes blood is blue, they will do whatever they can to justify their incorrect position by assuming the instantaneous color change when venous blood from a cut contacts the air.

The refreshing water rekindles a situation I experienced at a conference many years ago. The presenter made a point that I processed as, “Oh, that’s what it means – so I’ve been doing a good job of doing it wrong for 12 years.” Yes, that moment was a professional game changer for me. A moment that set the need for learning something new and changing past behaviors.

The bottom line is that only the learner can replace the incorrect information in their belief system. Only the learner can learn and unlearn. Not the teacher, not the trainer, not the expert – only the learner can do that.

I look across the water and down the beach at the horizons, which causes me to think of other metaphors. Is the horizon a learning boundary? Is the horizon a new level of knowledge? Does the horizon represent the distinction between the known and unknown? I’ll save the horizon for another day – another walk – because I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On a Beach Walk: No. 15

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I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

The body of knowledge known by the human race is huge – yet most of us know so little – a mere fraction of the total. What each of us know may be equivalent to a handful of sand on a long beach – if that. It is a meager few drops from the water that I see.

As I gaze down this long beach, I recall the day a fellow teacher knocked on my classroom door. She was polling the staff about their knowledge about a topic on a 1-to-10 scale – to which I paused and answered 4.

Given our past conversations and her knowledge about me, she questioned my choice. “How can you say that when I know you taken classes and workshops, and then trying and implementing these strategies?”

I verified her points about me, but then explained my reflective self-evaluation as a relative point. My reference point were the experts in the field (who I named). “Compared to them I am no more than a 4 – but compared to my colleagues I am a 10 – and there is no way most of them an 8, 9, or 10.”

Yes, knowledge is relative. I look out over the vast waters of the Gulf of Mexico, no land is in sight, yet I know land is out there, but far away. Yet, while the gulf is large compared to the small pond in the neighborhood or the nice lake at a state park, it is small compared to the Atlantic Ocean – and even smaller compared to the Pacific Ocean.

I think of all the water found on Earth – in the lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, bays, gulfs, and oceans – let alone in the ground, the air, as glaciers and icecaps, and within living organisms. The seemingly vast water of the Gulf of Mexico now seem so small. No matter how much one knows, it’s actually so little.

Yes, my knowledge is the small amount of sand that touches my feet as I stare across the water then down both directions of the long beach. While water washing ashore signifies changing times, I still like walking the beach as it is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On a Beach Walk: No. 14

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I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

The vast water is the sea of knowledge – and the water seems unlimited. There is so much to know. Identifying the shells on the beach would be an accomplishment in itself – but a small one in a relative sense. Meanwhile, the body of knowledge continues to grow.

I think of Leonardo da Vinci who was remorseful in the final days of his life because there was so much more to learn that he didn’t know. In light of his accomplishments, what I know in today’s world seems so small.

The internet brings knowledge closer to us while phones have placed that knowledge at are fingertips and made it portable. I walk on a beach that is a world without wires, yet knowledge is a fingertip away in my pocket.

Today knowledge grows at an accelerated rate while technology changes even faster. I can’t imagine a life today of someone who has never embraced computers – let alone smartphones. That could be like a person trying to operate a sailboat in the deep waters without any sight of land and without prior knowledge of what to do.

That means no understanding of basic computer operations. No concept of entry and response. No clue of open, new, create, save, and retrieve. No idea of how information gets onto the cyber highway. No notion of seeking information that is fingertips away. No sense of determining the validity of information. A sense of being lost while staring over the vast water.

For those of us with knowledge of modern technology, technology changes – and as technology changes, we must also change – a change that must involve unlearning the old way and learning the new.

Water is a metaphor for changing technology. Change is trying to navigate in the raging waters of a storm while hoping for the status quo of calm waters. Change is also the calm water going across my feet – it’s continuous, expected, and always new – never the same as currents keep water moving.

In today’s fast-paced technological world, learning begins with unlearning – abandoning the way one knows. Unlearning to let the new way lead the way. Forgetting what was to let the new lead the way. Yes, old habits are hard to break, plus we have a tendency to protect ourselves from outward self-criticism. Nonetheless, unlearning is more important today than ever.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. (Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, 1970)

Although a fast-paced technological world surrounds us, I am thankful for technology …. and I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On a Beach Walk: No. 13

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I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

The vast water is the sea of knowledge – everything humankind knows. So many topics – each with width and depth. Not separate silos because topics intersect with multiple related topics.

Although the water have a degree of consistency over the millions of years, our knowledge has greatly grown since the European Renaissance – a time in history marking a rebirth in knowledge and art – a time for scholars, new ideas, and new discoveries as the scientific age was born.

Time as demonstrated that knowledge builds on itself. In reality, science builds information on previously known information. Although the Greeks proposed the idea of matter being composed of unseen particles, evidence for the atom is relatively new. From John Dalton’s proposed atomic theory in the 1820s, scientists have built evidence-based information about the atom with great detail.

Next came the atom’s positive and negative charges in the late 1800s-early 1900s; followed by the identification of protons and electrons. Neutrons were discovered until 1932. In the early 1960s, evidence about the existence of smaller particles known as quarks and their associated forces developed. Through all of this, the atom remains as the foundational structure of matter.

As I look at the sea, I’m reminded of how little I know and how much there is to learn – but the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. The sea of knowledge seems endless.

While knowledge is good for the mind, it can also wreaks havoc on the soul. Nonetheless,I like to walk the beach for it is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.