How to Manage The many Bias Issues  

The Troublesome Truth about Bias

If don't have a good handle on philosophy and science, a solid knowledge of history and formal logic, along with a healthy does of skepticism, you will unlikely be able to rationally construct and defend the case to support your opinions - they will essentially be formed as a consequence of your social environment - likely overflowing with biases


Managing bias involves embracing truth, honesty, and integrity while avoiding all aspects of hypocrisy - the problem lies is diagnosing the difference

The First Step

The first necessary step in the personal management of bias is to look at any contentious issue or situation from as many perspectives as possible.  To achieve this carry out the following "thought experiment":


Start off with considering the positive and negative aspects of your perspective; then immediately switch to consider the positive and negative aspects of one or more opposing perspectives.  Nothing particularly challenging, so far. We often do this and call it empathy.


But, now comes the difficult part of the experiment: imagine now that you are a detached observer who is about to be placed into the actual situation under consideration, and must now decide regarding what is biased, or not. What you don't know at this point is which side of the issue you will be placed regarding your personal characteristics such as gender, education, wealth, beauty, age, intelligence, etc. - which you will have to live with for the remainder of your life.


The goal of this thought experiment is not meant to produce ideal solutions (because it will not) but rather to awaken our intrinsic moral sense, broaden one's understanding of issues, and to eliminate some of our more obvious biases.  (See also: Bias Aware Thinking)


 Three Additional Steps


Bias cannot be managed by initially focusing on general concepts like empathy and fairness. It is achieved by following the steps below while recognising and taking into account three key elements in how people form their opinions. They are: 

  1. The assumptions needed to support any opinion;
  2. Any anomalies that result from the assumptions;
  3. Any logical inconsistencies inherent in the reasoning behind the opinion. 

This method is based upon: 1] any opinion, biased or not, needs at least one, and usually more, assumptions; 2] any opinion will always contain inconsistencies or exceptions; and, 3] perfectly logical reasoning is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to construct. Put another way nothing can be considered to be self-evident in the arena of ideas.


These key concepts are frequently overlooked. Our experience is that some opinions, even on extremely complex issues, can be supported by the acceptance of something as trivial as a label or slogan which has little meaning or relevance. 


The Different Ways to be Biased

The starting point in any management issue is to define the challenge correctly. With bias this means identifying the ways biases can occur. In technical disciplines, such as engineering, it has been shown there are various ways that tests and research work can produce incorrect answers: from oversight or imprecise assumptions. Results need to be checked from two standpoints: are the results accurate (not noticeably biased) and are the results precise (have low variance)? Only by achieving both can the work be considered acceptable and free of possible biases.


An analogy can be made with respect to our opinions and beliefs. The following four graphics explain:



In the graphics above the small red stars represent three related opinions a person or group may have about a particular topic. Each large circle is a target which signifies the field of possible opinions. The bulls-eye represents the truth of a matter - assuming there is either an absolute or theoretic truth.


The top graphic, #1, is the ideal - the opinions are consistent and each falls within the bulls-eye. The other graphics show there are three distinct ways to fall short of the ideal. In blue text is an approximate label for the thinking type.  


Thinker #2 is clearly biased to the left and fails to consider all matters; person #3 is biased to the right and has a high variance or conflict between ideas indicating some gaps in knowledge or logic; experienced thinker #4 is not noticeably biased (ideas are not clustered in a particular area of the target and one is near the bulls-eye) but a majority of the ideas are distant from the bulls-eye, which implies a bias which is hidden by one-sided knowledge or poor logic


The Essential Steps


In addition to the thought experiment outlined in the First Step above, Bias Management techniques must be aware of and address the more obvious biases along with the hidden biases. There are three essential steps: Identify the biases, Investigate oneself or others by precise learned techniques, and then Implement the findings by established management techniques.


1: Identify: Biases (in oneself and others) should be identified along with the reason they are held. The following topics provide guidelines: Quick Intro, The Bias Reflexes, Bias Laws, Science of Bias, Data Quality, and Bias in Science


2: Investigate: One's personal ideas and thinking styles need to be constantly reviewed. Also other people's attitudes should be explored so they can be persuaded to review their own perspectives and to consider other points-of-view. To control your mind and the minds of others these are the Top Ten Steps:  

  1. Prepare your mind - control ego, emotions and learn all about the Bias Reflexes
  2. Think and manage in terms of Assumptions not Truths
  3. Don't think in terms of an overall Ideology - just individual issues
  4. Break out of thinking in terms of a Virtue and a Villain 
  5. Focus on the essence of each issue 
  6. Be aware of the Bias Thinking Traps - framing bias, linear thinking, group-think, repetition bias 
  7. Use rapid "thought experiments" to consider and analyse multiple shifts in perspective
  8. Use moment-by-moment awareness
  9. Learn about and beware of the effect of Fiction Biases and anecdotes
  10. Value a diversity of opinions, to consider not necessarily to accept, as they will be biased too

A review of these topics will also help: The Bias Puzzle, Bias & Religion, and Bias Aware Thinking.  


3: Implement: When situations caused by biases need to be addressed standard management skills, based on knowledge of the previous two parts above, should be used. Conventional Sensitivity and Diversity training methods are not necessary with this more relevant and comprehensive method.


Management Template

The following template has been proven useful to evaluate the reliability of any opinions people hold including the conclusions presented in scientific reports. It shows the minimum six questions that need to be asked if real progress is to be made in understanding biases that may exist in people's conclusions.