How Bias Operates Within Us

Tim Harford’s The Data Detective is a wonderful read on the topic of data analysis. A financial journalist from the United Kingdom, Harford describes various anecdotes where data proved to be misleading.

I came upon a short passage that concisely describes how we mislead ourselves.

When we encounter evidence that we dislike, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe this?” More detail will often give us more opportunity to find holes in the argument. And when we encounter evidence that we approve of, we ask a different question: “Can I believe this?” More detail means more toeholds on to which that belief can cling.

We often think of bias as the result of having a skewed source of information, but Harford’s insight suggests that even a richly balanced flow of information can lead to a biased outcome if we don’t place equal weight on evidence that contradicts our prior expectations. Try to make yourself less biased today by placing more weight on conflicting evidence to what you think is true.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there