Flags that Identify the Source of People's Biases


Beware of those who use consensus as an argument for truth - what they are actually doing is displaying their biases 

Those who lie can often be easy to discern; and there are numerous books and web sites on the topic. However, when someone really believes they are telling the truth, even though they are lying, many of the useful flags such as micro-expressions and furtive eye movements will be absent. Flags that identify bias, on the other hand, are virtually infallible because the person is utterly unaware they are displaying any bias, so they naturally fall into various "traps" which can identify biased thinking.


Communication expert Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "the Medium is the Message". It can also be said "the Perspective is the Bias".  This means the source of the Bias is displayed by the way a message is "framed".  This is the first, and most helpful of of ten Bias Flags.  


Looking for Bias Flags does not mean simply identifying the biases that people hold. It could be said the majority of our opinions are biased, so the exercise would be trivial. Bias flags are really looking for the predominant underlying cause or assumptions that tend to support the bias. 


The following list shows ten of the "mistakes" people can make that display their biases; yet all the while believing they are fair minded and logical. Focusing on the particular mistake, or flag, will allow biases to be better understood and then managed.  


The Top Ten Bias Flags:


Primary Flags:

1.   Perspective or framing - simply stated: the perspective is the bias;  

2.   Different standards for proof - standards of proof should be the same for both or all sides of an issue;

3.   Different standards for sensitivity - sensitivity for one person or group usually results in a lack of sensitivity against another person or group;

4.   Different standards for making judgments – this includes characteristics such as: sanctimony and contempt for the morality of others, hypocrisy, and a superior attitude;

5.   Word usage and topic change - the labels, words, and topics used can often portray the basis for a bias;


Secondary Flags:

1.   Disinformation and misdirection - this includes offering an opinion without facts, and an avoidance of what should be said or done, such as a serious attempt to refute the opinion; 

2.   Errors, omissions – often occur due to bias. For examples the pricing mistakes made by stores usually favour the store due to bias, and not directly through design or greed; 

3.   Poor logic, statistics, and mistaking a cause from an effect - logic failures and errors can also display the root of a bias; 

4.   Lack of clarity – muddled thinking and the use of anecdotes or story-telling rather than established facts;  

5.   How someone accepts a particular belief – determine the root of an opinion and their degree of confidence in the belief may help understand a bias. Excessive confidence without reason can highlight a bias.   




Further information about these flags are provided in the book: You are Biased -  How to solve the Bias Puzzle.