Biased? You Betcha

March 11, 2020

Fact checkers probably have one of the hardest jobs, especially with today’s 24/7 access news stream. Determining what the facts are is difficult and requires proper research. Fact checkers, however, have a tougher nut to crack with confirmation bias a.k.a. this article from Nieman Lab: “The Fact-Checker’s Dilemma: Humans Are Hardwired To Dismiss Facts That Don’t Fit Their Worldview.”

The article opens with a poignant statement about polarized, insulated ideological communities ratified by their own beliefs. Some examples of these communities are autism is caused by vaccines, global warming is a hoax, and different political mish mash.

Refuting false information should be simple, especially with cold, hard facts, but that is not the case. Political, religion, ethnicity, nationality, and other factors influence how and what people believe. What is the cause behind this behavior?

“The interdisciplinary study of this phenomenon has exploded over just the past six or seven years. One thing has become clear: The failure of various groups to acknowledge the truth about, say, climate change, isn’t explained by a lack of information about the scientific consensus on the subject. Instead, what strongly predicts denial of expertise on many controversial topics is simply one’s political persuasion.”

What is astonishing is this:

“A 2015 metastudy showed that ideological polarization over the reality of climate change actually increases with respondents’ knowledge of politics, science, and/or energy policy. The chances that a conservative is a climate change denier is significantly higher if he or she is college-educated. Conservatives scoring highest on tests for cognitive sophistication or quantitative reasoning skills are most susceptible to motivated reasoning about climate science.”

While the above example is about conservatives, liberals also have their own confirmation bias dilemmas. This behavior is also linked to primal human behaviors, where, in order to join a social group, humans had to assimilate the group’s beliefs and habits. Personally held prejudices do affect factual beliefs and these can be anything from politics, religion, etc.

Unwelcome information also increases people to cling to wrong information. Anything that threatens an established system encourages close minded thinking. This also gives rise to deniers and conspiracy theories that can also be regarded as fact, when there is not any information to support it.

It is basic human behavior to reject anything that threatens strongly held interests, dogmas, or creeds giving way to denial. Politicians manipulate that behavior to their benefit and the average individual does not realize it. “Waking up “ or becoming aware how the human brain works in relation to confirmation bias is key to overcoming false facts.

Whitney Grace, March 11, 202


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