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Bias and Critical Doubt

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Jessica Smith

on 12 February 2014

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Transcript of Bias and Critical Doubt

Determining Bias
Bias is showing too strong of partisan support for one side of an argument,
in relation to the type of dialogue an arguer is engaged in.
What is Bias?
An inclination to present or hold a partial perspective at the expense of other perspectives.
Certainty, Reason, and Bias
Can bias be controlled?
Critical Doubt:

The temporary suspension of one's advocacy of one's own point of view.

A commitment to listen and to engage in perspective-taking.

A commitment to encouraging one's opponent to state his/her view freely.
Inevitability of Bias?
All information was discovered, assembled, or communicated by someone.

That someone has experiences, attitudes, opinions, and knowledge that shape how he/she perceives the world.

And all consumers of information process and interpret that information through their own perceptions.

So humans are inherently biased.
Critical questions for detecting bias
What is the purpose of the discourse?

What's the context and the norms and expectations that go with that context?

Is the purpose a critical, balanced discussion?

Or, is it a partisan debate?
Questioning the Enlightenment value of objectivity:

"There is no such thing as an objective point of view."
If it's supposed to be a nonpartisan discussion...
1. With what social, political, or professional groups is the speaker / author identified?

2. Does the speaker have anything to gain personally from delivering the message?

3. What sources does the speaker use, and how credible are they?
4. How does the speaker present their arguments?

Is the message one-sided, or does it acknowledge alternative points of view?

Does the speaker fairly and accurately present alternative arguments?
If it's supposed to be a partisan debate...
Is the speaker / author employing
critical doubt

Are they willing to temporarily suspend advocacy for their own point of view in order to consider the opposition's perspective?

Are they willing to permit their opponent to freely state their own perspective?

Are they willing to be flexible, tolerant, and reasonable as opposed to dogmatic, fanatical, and aggressive?
Advocating a particular point of view is not necessarily bias (in the negative way the word is typically used).

Being biased does not necessarily prevent you from presenting a logical, evidence-based argument.
But when does bias become problematic?
Bias becomes a problem when --

It prevents us from seeing alternative perspectives.

We refuse to acknowledge other perspectives.

We allow our self-interests to impact our examination of an issue.
In science, we move closer to the truth by seeking evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps the same method should inform our opinions as well...
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has sponsored and organized the Presidential debates since 1988.

It claims to be a nonpartisan organization...

It's responsible for making the debates bipartisan and preventing other parties from participating (e.g. Libertarian, Green, Reform)
It's co-chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf:

Headed the Republican National Committee from 1983-1989.
Now president and CEO of the American Gaming Association -- the trade group for the casino industry
Has given $23,750 to GOP candidates since 2008.
The other co-chairman is Mike McCurry:

White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton
Now a partner with the lobbying firm Public Strategies Washington.
Has given nearly $85,000 to Democrats since 2008.
Biased Argumentation -------------- Critical Argumentation

Emotional, irrational ------------------ Logical, rational

Confirmation Bias
We desperately want our beliefs to be supported and our perceptions to be "right."

So we have the tendency to seek out or interpret information in a manner that is consistent with our existing beliefs.

When presented with evidence that challenges our beliefs, we work very hard to ignore, disregard, or reinterpret it.
What are the unstated assumptions behind the claim?

How are terms being defined?

What is the quality of the evidence being offered?

Does the evidence lead in a logical fashion to the claim?

All arguments are not created equal.
Full transcript