Thoughts on Confirmation Bias
I've had a couple of conversations this week which seemed designed make a rational person go bonkers. It's tough to have a reasonable conversation with "my views beat your stupid-head ones, na-na-na-na-na-naaaaaa!!!
Truth is just not a big commodity these days. In a world overflowing with opinions, we tend to pick ones we like and ignore everything else. Then when we're forced to interact with others and get a good dose of opposition, seemingly normal people suddenly get violent.
The Third Rail. And the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth...
This phenomena can be seen in any chat involving Donald Trump, Flat Earth, vaccines, racial issues or global warming, for starters. Oh, the craziness!
The violence people feel toward each other when having their biases challenged is...well, I'd say 'unreal', but even that word has lost it's meaning these days.
This is where fake news comes from. And any of us can be guilty of spreading fake news if we just try to uphold what we like and ignore what we don't.
If there's anything I've learned since beginning to blog, it's that when I want to voice an opinion, I have to confirm it by going to the enemy camp. If I'm not a direct eyewitness myself, I need witnesses who can be respected. It's hard to overcome my own confirmation bias, but I keep telling myself that if something I believe is actually true, it can stand up to testing.
What Is Confirmation Bias?
Confirmation bias is one of the biggest pitfalls to good blogging.
Oh, sorry: my opinion slipped out there. THIS is an actual definition from the Google dictionary:
The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories.
Real Truth Is Hard To Hide
Citing honest sources is one of the biggest favors a good blogger can do for their audience. When you cite sources unfavorable to you but which support your point, it's a sign that you actually have a real fact in your hands.
If something is true, you're going to be able to find and cite real evidence of it from multiple places. And if it's overwhelmingly true, you're going to find evidence even in places that don't want to admit it.
Please. Don't cite an echo chamber.
A Good Source Is Not Just Someone Who Makes You Feel Good
A blog is pretty tempting to turn into a private journal, a place to dash out a ream of personal opinions and argue with anyone who disagrees with them. Oh sure, there are plenty of links to throw in to make it look like there's a mountain of backup, but that's where a lot of blogs start to break down.
If something is worth linking to in support of your point, it can't just be someone else ranting their opinion in the same vein. There has to be something solid, something truthful, not just a morass of more opinions you happen to like. Give some facts, give the source for the facts and be honest with yourself about the biases of the sources.
As Shakespeare famously said,
"This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
When I see someone able to be truthful about themselves and their sources, I sit up and take notice.
The Value Of A Good Blog
When I'm researching, blogs are often valuable portals. I'm looking for breadcrumbs leading back to solid evidence it might otherwise take me a long time to find. I want to find new things to search for, new places to go looking, new evidence I hadn't known about. Keywords and phrases I hadn't heard before. Clarification on contradictory information.
A blog post isn't like a peer-reviewed journal: it's often like the Cliff Notes version of the real deal. But if the blog post accurately reported the peer-reviewed journal in context and linked to it, now you might have a solid witness. (Some "peer-reviewed" things turn out to be garbage - peers can be echo chambers too. Be wary!)
To write truthfully is a golden skill. We have a gigantic mountain of confusing information on pretty much any topic you could think up. Sorting through it to form an informed position is tough. When you're writing for a permanent place like a blockchain, there is particular need for good journalism: and good journalism isn't taught in school. (If you think it is, we should have a conversation sometime...)
We're All Reporters Sometime
Be truthful out there, guys. Cite your sources and cite GOOD sources. Test your opinions to see if they're true. And don't dismiss someone else because you think they might be crazy and their information is uncomfortable. Actually read their links, consider their evidence and remember we have important things to say to each other.
Don't let your confirmation bias kill the opportunity!
Lauren Turner, Wife, Mother, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, Blogger and Caretaker of Civilization