CHAPTER Segments

Science has not solved the problems of Bias and irrational beliefs.  

In many ways it has exacerbated Bias as sufficient numbers of scientists have failed to recognize how Bias can seep into their own work




To convince readers they are inherently and irredeemably biased a recent popular book on bias called Blind-spot showed a line drawing of two tables like Figure 2 below.  The authors insisted the table tops are identical in both size and shape despite the fact that virtually everyone who sees the drawings thinks this is not so.   




Actually the outline of the table tops is drawn the same size and shape (check it out by tracing and rotating it); but it would be much more accurate to describe the sketch like this: for identically sized tables they are incorrectly drawn.  Nevertheless the authors came to the wide-ranging conclusion these misleading images meant, “Ingrained habits of thought lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason and make decisions.”


Our initial reflex reaction to a person or situation shows our potential for bias;

it does not prove we are biased.  Bias is when we refuse to sincerely consider other possibilities or allow our egos to take over our thinking


Although they later explained the “mind-bug” (the word used in their book) is a result of the brain converting from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional world the authors implied that your brain can’t be relied upon, and you should accept that what you actually see and think is nonsense, otherwise you will be prejudiced. Few of us want to be considered that so we want to accept what we are being told.  In attempting to influence and persuade the reader the authors exposed their biases.  Let me explain:


Shown in Figure 3 are six shapes depicting two-dimensional parallelograms – similar to the tops of the tables in Figure 2.  These shapes are of three different proportions with the lower shapes being identical, but rotated, versions of the corresponding upper shapes.  The brain has no trouble in seeing these relationships.  This is in distinction from the previous drawing of the tables where the brain apparently has some problems with some aspects of a three-dimensional sketch. 




What makes the authors’ mind-bug analogy so unconvincing is that neuroscience imaging techniques show that optical illusions, memories, and beliefs activate entirely dissimilar neural systems in the brain. 


This criticism of the Blind-spot concept is not to suggest that the brain does not eagerly jump to conclusions or associate concepts subconsciously.  It certainly does. But humans are capable of looking beyond these predispositions.  The premise of the Blind-spot Concept is that bias results from mistakes in the way the brain functions and people are irrevocably trapped by these reflex responses.  This leads to the idea that “good people” – the term used in the book - must virtually reject their current beliefs if they wish to avoid being biased.  The authors’ “bias” was caused, perhaps, by the desire to persuade or influence the reader to accept their broader ideas and beliefs by relying on the frame of mind, or inattention of the reader.  


The real truth about bias is that “good people” do not need to randomly discard their thoughts and ideas.  They just need to learn about bias and recognize their potential for being biased.  We are all influenced by our biases, but the difference between people is some are aware of this, while others are not.


Here is a further example regarding the difficulties for science in the study of Bias: an experiment was carefully designed to investigate gender bias in corporate hiring practices.  Actors of both genders were selected to represent the job candidates.  The actors, both male and female, were all provided with an identical script to perform in front of the human resource bosses – again of both genders - as if they were really interviewing for a middle management position.  By some margin each of the interviewers felt one particular gender was the preferred candidate for the job.  As the findings appeared to fit nicely with the researchers’ objectives the study was reasoned to be conclusive.  However from an unbiased position what the study should have explored was to provide a number of different styles of script to determine a preferred approach for a particular job description, for each gender, or even for each personality type.  To assert that bias exists in hiring is like saying that weather exists in the world – a true statement but virtually meaningless - it says nothing about what sort of weather (or bias) happens and under what set of circumstances.  My work shows that current scientific research into bias – like our own views on bias – can establish evidence for whatever type of bias it chooses.


Biases flourish not so much from what we don't know but from "knowing" too much that isn't true