Sunday, August 07, 2016

Confirmation Bias

confirmation bias [kon-fer-mey-shuh n · bahy-uh s]
1. the tendency to seek-out sources that support one's current theories, positions or beliefs and reject those in conflict with those theories, positions, or beliefs
2. the tendency to interpret evidence in such a way as to bolster of one's current theories, positions, or beliefs
3. the tendency to selectively remember sources, evidence, or experiences that support one's current theories, positions, or beliefs

I read an excellent article this week about Confirmation Bias and how it works. In this article David Ignatius of the Washington Post discusses what it is and how it goes a LONG WAY toward explaining the tendency of Trump supporters to simply ignore his many, many misstatements. According to this article, telling the person suffering from Confirmation Bias, rather than correcting the fallacious beliefs, has the tendency to make them hold the errant opinion all the more tenaciously.

So, for example, telling a Trump supporter that far more of the statements that have been objectively fact-checked by a non-partisan organization proved false than those of Hillary Clinton (to pick a name more-or-less at random) does no good. Rather than allowing the person to learn the error of their opinion, the person suffering from Confirmation Bias will simply refuse to believe the evidence as it does not support their belief.

Alternatively, they will assert that the organization is biased itself (as it does not agree with their personal bias) and formulate the belief that the organization supports one candidate (say, Clinton) over the other (Trump). And the fact that the source presents non-partisan evidence to support their claims is dismissed as not fitting their preconceived notions.

Presenting multiple sources for these facts (even when they agree) is likely to be dismissed as a conspiracy. Rather than seeing you as reporting objective fact they see you as part of a massive conspiracy to spread falsehood. Interestingly, I have had a friend recently accuse me of Confirmation Bias and that is an accusation one cannot fight. Is it possible – sure! But wait! No that is a bullshit argument that is meant to confuse the issue.

If there are actual and verifiable facts, they can prove or disprove a position. Confirmation Bias depends on the hazing of the line between fact and opinion. It is – to take an example – an opinion that “The Donald” is simply “telling it like it is!”

The fact is that many of his statements are so easily disproven. He claims that the crime rate is on the rise. This is not born-out by the statistics. He claims that violence against police is on the rise. This also does not fit with the known facts. So yes, you could be right – I may be suffering from Confirmation Bias – but then, so is reality. But then, if you’re a Trump Supporter and believe that he is “telling it like it is” then it is more likely that Confirmation Bias is your issue than it is mine.

Wherever you are today, I hope that you will consider whether you are stating fact or opinion when you make statements about who you are voting for.

Don Bergquist - August 07, 2016 - Lakewood, Colorado, USA

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