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.

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 Hot Air

Although we don’t mean to make generalizations inaccurate, they are not the full story. After all, these statements are, by definition, generalizations. Sometimes people generalize the generalization, but failing to remember that continual generalization moves one further from the truth – thus eventually turning the generalization into misinformation that leads to misunderstandings.

Repeat after me – Hot air does not rise.

Just to make sure, let’s try again – Hot air does not rise.

Regardless of the links you can provide to the contrary, or ever provide a reference for a reputable textbook, hot air does not rise – it never has and I very much doubt ever will. Yet, how many times have we heard or said, Hot air rises? (Yes, I cringe when I hear TV weather forecasters use it.)

Nah baby nah … hot air does not levitate. Hot air does not move upward on its own – It is pushed upward by more dense cold air that displaces it – Just has bathtub water level moves upward on the sides when one takes their seat in a bathtub. However, there is no need for you to run down the street naked like Archimedes yelling, Eureka, eureka, I found it!

Here’s the story. During my science teaching days, we were preparing a lesson for the next day. Because my colleague had not seen this activity, he took one set of the materials to the location of the ice machine – the boys’ locker room.

My colleague returned saying it worked great, but shared an interesting story. One of the physical education (PE) teachers watched without knowing any details, and then said, “This means hot air doesn’t rise.” Bingo! Meanwhile, this gave me an opportunity to have some fun with the good-natured PE teacher.

During the eventually discussion with the students after the activity – and knowing students would quickly deliver my comment – I stated, “If a PE teacher like Mr. X can figure this out on his own, surely this is easy to understand.”

We had fun with it through the years, for as students are so predictable. But the point remains the same – Hot air doesn’t rise because it is pushed upward when it is displaced by more dense, colder air.

By the way, here’s a similar activity – but ours was better. Yo, Starla, show Navar.

On Learning Something New

learningGiven the current lines of communication in the world today, both the opportunities for and the need for learning are ever increasing. No matter if for professional or personal life, learning in today’s world is more important than ever; and learning’s role will continue to increase in the days ahead.

I completed my first class through the Osher Learning Institute, a series of offerings mentioned in a previous post. I enrolled in a certain class because of the importance I placed on a topic to better understand today’s world. I admittedly didn’t know much about the topic, besides, what I do know or think I know, is probably laced with misconceptions. It seems to me that timeliness, relevance, importance, and a lack of knowledge are good reasons to seek learning.

Mentioning this class initiates interesting responses. No matter if its family or friends, most of the time I get reactions of puzzled looks, confusion, amazement, and at times even immediate sharp, negative responses. Some intentionally put me on notice to immediately defend my decision. There’s no question in my mind that biases, misconceptions, and a lack of knowledge dominate their knowledge base.

The students in the class asked questions. Although some are very good questions, many (if not most) were based on the same misconceptions possessed by my family, friends, and even myself. Interesingly, the questions is yesterday’s final class demonstrated a different tone and a sense of learning.

Not everyone I mentioned the class to has been negative as both my pastors and my wife have been the most supportive and understanding. Actually I could add encouragement from the pastors.

By the way, the name of the class An Introductory to Islam: Beliefs and Practices.

Image from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

On the Record: Vol. 2

It’s time to lighten things up,  so back to those misconceptions that lead to incorrect information. Here are 10 points of knowledge to make your life better.

  • Art Modell purchased the Cleveland Browns from David Jones, who purchased from founding owner Arthur “Mickey” McBride. Paul Brown was not the founding owner, although a minority owner at the time of his firing.
  • 5 pounds of water will float on 1 pound of motor oil – it’s about densities, not weight.
  • The British have a fourth of July, which falls between the third and fifth.
  • Plants also use oxygen.
  • White wine can be made from red/dark grapes; but red wine can’t be made from white grapes.
  • Swollen rivers aren’t caused by infectious germs.
  • Evolution and the Big Bang are separate topics.
  • “Separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution, but Thomas Jefferson used in his papers, then the Supreme Court used the phrase in 1878 (Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 U.S).
  • Koalas are not bears, nor are they biologically closely related to them.
  • Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet.

 …. and now you know.