No, You’re Biased!

Take a Buzzfeed quiz that promises to tell you how smart you are, and when it says you are a budding Einstein, you nod, smile, and think about how insightful and talented the people who designed the quiz must be. And if that same quiz tells you to go back to living under the bridge with the other trolls, and that your best option for work is smashing rocks together, you will be angry and dismiss the quiz as silly nonsense. Bias is everywhere, some of it built in to us as humans, so being aware of it is a critical part of using data and information in productive ways. Zoom out to the societal level and we see people routinely dismissing actual facts because they conflict with their beliefs. So what can you do in the face of all of this? Three things: First, try to think like a scientist. If the data indicates something to be true, especially when there is lots of data from different people and different sources, accept it. Be open to the possibility that it’s wrong, but until that’s shown, allow it in as your current understanding. Second, try to keep in the front of your mind that we like data that validates our beliefs and we dislike data that challenges them. So take that piece of information and use it to ask these questions: Why do I accept or reject this information? and, What do I know that allows me to do that? And third, the world tries to force binary thinking on us all the time. Something is one way or another. Reject this. Firmly. In most cases, an issue is a spectrum, and you will likely fall somewhere on it.

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