Dealing With Bias: How To Avoid It

Cherry picking and bias

Photo Attribution: sicfitscottsdale.com (Used with permission)

Bias Is Human Nature

I’ve spent over 10 years discussing/debating various topics including fitness and nutrition–learning a lot in the process. I have often been amazed at what I see when people view information. There can be no doubt that we have our pet ideals, philosophies, or any type of bias in general which is human nature. However, when our porcelain pedestals get in the way of verified information, we have a problem.

Part of dealing with the receiving of information, is understanding formal logic. Why is that? Well, when logical fallacies abound in one’s sonnet, it can help us to determine the credibility of what’s being presented. (Even when concerning peer reviews, which is a topic for another day) Appeals to emotion, cherry picking (data), red herrings, non sequiturs, conformation bias, etc. are some examples of the fallacies that I’m speaking of here. From this short list, though, I want to zoom in on conformation bias. Conformation bias is basically the cherry picking of ideas/philosophies/data of what one already believes to be true.

Part of dealing with the receiving of information, is understanding formal logic.

Changing A Mind Is Not Easy

I see this all too often, an ideal that is so strong that literally nothing can be said or shown to the individual, to make them change their mind. Concerning nutrition theory, I see this strongest in the vegan camp. Recently I was in a discussion with a vegan evangelist, who was trying to sell me his gospel. A nice guy he was but trying to explain some basic concepts to him was pretty much futile.

I was having a little fun with him, telling him that he should go preach his gospel to the Inuits in the dead of winter; or ship them some quinoa salad and veggie burgers. He quickly responded with an article showing the life expectancy of the Inuit being less than most other groups in Canada. I had to point out his strawman, that I was speaking to the nature of practicability of local foods rather than the actual longevity of them. Then, I read the article. I found in it that the correlation of their lower life expectancy was due to their smoking habits and injury from such a hard life in the arctic.

Missing from the article was a low expectancy of life due to eating animal products. Which, isn’t actually the case. I pointed this out to him and he didn’t care that his article had nothing of value to his position. He wasn’t concerned one iota that this information was irrelevant to our conversation.

The Devil Is In The Details

This is the stuff that drives me absolutely bonkers! It appears that he was in such a hurry to find anything to confirm what he already believes. (I suspect that he didn’t even read the article but just linked to it because of the headline) I see this even when people quote peer reviews. Most of us aren’t knowledgeable on how to properly read them but some folks don’t even try to distinguish the data at all. It’s quite common for people to snatch a headline, or perhaps just a quick blurb from the abstract to defend their position. Often I see that the peer review doesn’t even agree with their claim. It’s likely that a quick skim of the source was done.

While it’s nearly impossible to avoid bias entirely (some of it is subconscious), but we can still try our best to be objective. Here’s some tips that you may find helpful.

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9 Quick Tips: How To Avoid Confirmation Bias

  1. Take your time reading information – Hurrying to prove your point almost certainly ensures you’ll gloss over important data.
  2. Read material not from your worldview – If you’re not reading material from other positions, how can you be certain that you’ve properly weighed out all there is to know on a topic?
  3. Read a good book on logic – Knowing the ways that we process information is crucial to help us make coherent decisions.
  4. Never stop learning, get educated – Science is always changing and so should your knowledge base.
  5. Don’t assume anything – Approach each piece of information with care. Don’t assume that you’ve seen it all.
  6. Don’t get too attached to anything – Follow the evidence rather than pulling it around in a wagon.
  7. Be open to criticism/correction – No one truly knows everything, so don’t act like it either.
  8. Just say no to peer pressure – Waltzing with the herd can get one wrapped up in group think.
  9. Never fully rely on anyone – Everyone is subject to being wrong; appeals to authority aren’t always legitimate. (Ask Galileo)

Have you read any books on logic? Share below!

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