I bet your first thought is: “I’m not biased.”

But do you consider bias and agenda when you access health websites? When you speak with colleagues? Or even when you read a new clinical trial?

This question harkens back to the question of where information comes from—it’s important to remember that information doesn’t come from a pure infallible source in the sky.

It comes from humans.

And humans have biases. (Yes, even you. Yes, even me.) And humans have agendas. (Like money, fame, or notoriety, but also happiness, safety, or connection.) Agenda is, essentially, a form of bias, in that it sways our opinion one way or another based on the need to fulfill that agenda.

So, yes. You have a bias. The information you’re receiving has a bias. This blog? You guessed it. Bias just is.

Bias is not bad. The desire to feel safe and in control is innate and legitimate. But, bias and agenda need recognition, especially by those supplying information, and especially especially if those supplying the information are bench researchers, major influencers, teachers, or clinicians.

Why?

Once we are responsible for passing on knowledge or care to others, this responsibility must push us to become as aware as possible of the biases that run us, or our organizations. Period.

Only when we become conscious of these hidden drivers are we able to obtain and pass on more balanced information in a more balanced way. This balanced way directly relates to us having an accurate and complete view of the world. And, a greater capacity to help more people, including ourselves.

The number one prerequisite for positions such as practitioners, teachers, and researchers should be the ability to recognize and pass on multiple sides of a subject in a practical way. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m saying it’s possible and ideal.

For better or worse, science isn’t black and white. And, more and more I’m convinced that our trying to make it so is only muddying an already muddy water.

Now, of course, there are caveats—really reasonable explanations for why one would eschew a balanced perspective and go the way of unconscious bias. The very real (and in some ways very problematic) agenda of trying to keep an academic job via the requirement of newly published research, for instance.

Decades of professional and/or personal commitment to research on a particular subject and the attachment to that subject being one. certain. way.

Having one’s entire financial well-being based on a niched blog with thousands of followers or supplement line that preaches the aforementioned one. certain. way.

Heavily relying on personal experience alone to inform thought patterns or information gathering.

The list goes on and on. It goes so on that you can purchase a (beautiful) poster listing every form of known bias.

So, what’s the takeaway?

It’s simple in word, but pretty dang complex in action: we have to work, all the time, to prove ourselves wrong. And we have to rely on, and even ask others to point out when we’re wrong. Or, when another point of applicable information exists.

This is the easiest rule that I’ve developed to understand my biased brain and the biased information and experiences that it seeks out. If I work hard to prove my own beliefs wrong, then a whole new world of non-conformational information opens up to me.

Though, come to think of it, Non-Conformation Bias may just be a newly discovered form of bias. 🙂

5 thoughts on “What’s your bias?

  1. Love this. As I transition back and forth between information gathering and information disseminating I’m noticing that I often communicate information with the same patterns and bias of the source I learned it from, without running it through my own critical thinking filter. Something to work on!!!
    I’m curious where you see the line being draw between bias (a natural and unavoidable part of human cognition) and conflict of interest (along the lines of opportunity for significant financial gain, authority, power, etc). Are they examples of the same principle along a continuum or is there a line that gets crossed at some point into purposeful unethical behavior?

    1. I think we all do that, esp if we really trust the source. But yep, something to notice!
      Your question is great. It seems that bias is just bias with some forms being more nefarious than others, perhaps. There is conscious and unconscious bias…the conscious biases that I’ve read about are larger cultural biases like racism, sexism, antisemitism, etc. but I think your example of conscious unethical greed, power hunger, etc. would fall into that category. If we know better but we don’t do better, there’s a problem.
      We can’t know (usually) where that line is for someone b/c we can’t know what they know, and we also can’t know what they don’t know. LOL. Does that make sense? I look at some people on the net selling X product or idea and think…that is not a legit product or idea, how can they be promoting that?! But, I have no idea what their motive is or their background knowledge. I operate under the umbrella of assuming that people are doing their best (b/c if not I would go cuckoo for cocoa puffs) and ask questions from that place rather than a place of assuming they have a conscious bias that they’re willing to overlook to make money or have power.
      To take it a step further (and I think the blog points to this pretty well…) that umbrella changes if the person is influencing LOTS of people, is a teacher, etc. b/c then they’re not just responsible for misinforming themselves, they’re also now responsible for misinforming the masses. Unconscious bias, I believe, can cross a gray area and become seriously harmful if someone is consistently misinforming their followers, students, or patients. And, unfortunately, I think this happens A LOT A LOT A LOT in the world of holistic med/functional med/CAM. But, so many of us are busy pointing the finger at the issues in allopathic medicine that we don’t take care of our own problems.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this! It is a really important topic. I did my undergraduate in biology and literature and I remember being struck at the contrast of objectivity in science and how in literature we were always looking for the bias, what drove an author, his/her underlying bias. I started noticing that sometimes scientific objectivity was built into experiments, but lacked that self examination of what bias the reasearcher might be bringing to the interpretation of the results. I think it would be so benefial if we could make self reflection part of the projecess.

    For those of you who want to delve into this topic more, I just starte a book called Mistake Were Made (Not By Me) by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson. It is described as, “Backed by decades of research, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-justification—how it works, the damage it can cause, and how we can overcome it.” I haven’t gotten to the how we can overcome it part yet, but it is fascination so far.

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