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Determining Bias in Information

When I read someone's writing and I see a message about how they are not biased, it is something I find annoying. Everyone has bias one way or another, regardless of the subject. There is no way to be completely impartial and keep the bias out, because at some point your opinions are swayed towards one side or another. This is an inevitable part of life, and it is just something we have to get used to. I am therefore not annoyed when people show their bias, but rather when they claim they have none. This is especially true in situations where we are talking about people, companies, etc., and even more so when it leads to what could be a major decision that someone has to make. Through this article I want to look at bias and how it affects us as writers, as well as our readers and can give the completely wrong message.

What is Bias?

Bias is when you have a special interest or tendency towards something. It also generally involves trying to get others to agree with you by pushing those ideas on to them in an “unfair” way (what is unfair anyways? We will look at that another time). So basically, if you are biased for or against something, you are saying that you admire or hate it; your decisions and what you listen to will therefore always cater to your view. If you like what is being talked about, you will discard negative statements. If you hate it, you will accept them.

The problem here is that even when people feel as if they are not biased in one way or another, they are. No matter what, you always sway towards one side more than the other, even though it may just be slightly. And this causes differences in your opinions.

Places People Show Bias

We see bias everywhere: the news, in reports for businesses, books, teaching, etc. A good way to look at it is that if someone is telling you something (even myself right now), they are biased. In some way, they are and that is inevitable. Attempting to avoid it is futile.

You have probably read an article in the news paper, for example, in which you completely disagreed with what was being said. Maybe the writer felt that something was great, and you thought it was bad. Maybe it was the opposite. Maybe you just felt as if they were blowing something completely out of proportion. In all of these cases, you are simply dealing with bias, which is what is leading to your difference of opinions.

Cutting Out Bias

To avoid reading biased material, you need to pay attention to only what is objective, rather than subjective. For example, 1+1=2. We know this because we can prove it. We can not prove, however, that 2 is a “small” number because that is relative. It is small compared to who? Or to what? Maybe someone else feels that 1 is a large number and 0.0001 would be a small one. Since neither you nor them are wrong, both are considered as right. So now when you discuss what is a small number of something, you have to quantify or there will be a communication wall there where someone is going to be inferring some improper information.

What About Facts?

Facts are facts, and are therefore objective. This means, however, that you are attentive to what you are reading. For example, a blue car is blue. But a car is fast? Not necessarily, as our definitions can vary. What one may find fast another might not. On the same token, cold can differ, although frozen can not.

I am bringing this part up because of history classes. We learn a lot of things in history that are heavily biased depending on who is reporting the information. For example, there could be a war where one side feels that they won and the other side feels they do. Or one side thinks the other one started it, and vice versa. In all of these cases, it is biased; the only fact between all of that is that the two sides had a fight, or a war among each other. Past that, the rest of it was all subjective. This is also why if you visit both sides, you would find that they teach the event in completely different ways. Understanding how to separate what is true vs what is felt is imperative towards cutting bias out.

What About Math?

Math is really the only subject I can think of that does not have bias within it. Everything we learn in math can be verified by each person, and there is no real opinion involved. Either 2+5=7 or it does not; there is no middle ground there. On top of this, different people will not come up with different results (at least not if they are doing their mathematics the right way). So when we read about math formulas, we know that they are true and verifiable. We never have to question whether or not someone else will disagree. Note: there may be some formulas that are based on theories, but these are still usually proven. Off the top of my head I can not think of anything that is claimed but not proven in some way.

Is Bias Bad?

Well, my answer to this question is going to be biased in its own way. But I feel that it is a normal part of life and there is nothing wrong with it. To me, what is more important is to differentiate between what is biased and what is not. To understand what you can take as fact and what can not be. All too often we make decisions or teach others incorrect information because we are not able to separate the two from one another. The first step is to adapt yourself to understanding the difference between the two. This makes it much easier to teach others, and it also helps keep the incorrect information from being absorbed.

It is definitely not going to be possible to omit all bias, and you do not want to. There is nothing wrong with using subjective terms and explaining your feelings about things. If you feel that a bird goes fast because it is flying at 5 MPH, that is fine. If someone else believes that is a slow speed, that is fine too. But it should help open up your questions when someone says that they found a fast bird, since you are not sure if their version of fast is the same as yours.

Conclusion

Everything we watch, read and hear is biased. Understanding how to separate that from what is objective is important when it comes to fact checking and teaching, but it is something we are not taught to do in schools. Instead, we are told things that are “fact” even though they may not be, and we are to treat them as such. Realizing that what you have learned, heard or seen may not be interpreted the same way to others is important as it can greatly affect the way we communicate to one another and how we feel about things.

Literature


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