Confirmation Bias? Try This

morning newsIt is becoming virtually impossible for me to make it through the news in the morning.  Believe it or not, it is not because I am disturbed by repeated national tragedies … although it certainly would be good to have a respite from natural disasters, mass shootings and political infighting.   Nor is it because an inordinate percentage of the news concerns what some celebrity or athlete says or does.  It is not even because the mainstream press offers a decidedly liberal-sided view of most issues.   It is because, more and more, I see that no one is listening to any other viewpoint than their own, so that every new story devolves into a discussion of whose fault it is … and, of course, until we figure that out, we will do nothing to remedy the situation because, you see, only one side’s solution can possibly work.  If you read my last post, Biased … Again, you know that the culprit is Confirmation Bias, that nasty tendency of or species to find evidence that supports what we believe and believe nothing else.

Remember Critical Thinking?   Remember in school when we were asked to argue both sides of an issue … and provide evidence for our arguments?   Yeah, I know.  That’s tantamount to asking if you remember when we hunted Woolly Mammoth with clubs.wooley  But that is exactly the antidote to Confirmation Bias.  We need to consider what the other side is saying, even when we don’t want to hear it.   It probably won’t change our minds but it might just soften them … and it will definitely make us better informed.  Try This.   The next time you read an article that makes you say, Yes or Right On or Hell Yeah, sit down at your tablet and keyboard and Google the opposite view.   Then (gasp) READ three articles that you find.

Let’s work an example from today’s news (think of me as your Critical Thinking instructor), the Washington Post’s How much responsibility does Trump bear for the pittsburghsynagogue shooting in Pittsburgh?  Take a minute to read it, here, then come back.  Now, if you Google Trump is not to blame for the shooting in Pittsburgh, you might find, Trump is not to blame for the Pittsburgh massacre, published in The Hill (read it, here).   Or this: Bernie Sanders: Trump not to blame for Pittsburgh shooting in the Washington Examiner (Read it, here).   Time for one more?  How about this from the Jewish publication, The Jerusalem Post:  Ex-ADL head Abe Foxman: Don’t blame Trump for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting (read it, here)?   Think about what you read.  What are the facts, what are the speculations?   Is there evidence or just analogy?  Can you find something that makes a little sense?  Now, do you still think Trump is responsible?  Partially responsible?  That’s fine … you’ve at least considered the other side.

Lest you think I’m a Trump apologist, the very serious game of Critical Thinking can be played left to right as well as right to left.  We could start with one of the articles above, say the article from the Jerusalem Post and find three articles claiming he was fully responsible.  Given the leftward lean of the mainstream press, it would be easier to find four.  Don’t believe the press is left-leaning?  Google The press is biased toward liberals four times and read on.  It works.   You don’t have to give up your precious opinions … at worst, this leaves you better able to defend them.  But hopefully it helps you see where your Confirmation Bias has led you and helps you remember how to think for yourself.  And consider the views of the other side.  That is what makes a democracy work.


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