Do we have a ‘bias bias’?

C C Offline

EXCERPTS: . . . The research on heuristics and biases has by now posited hundreds of such reasoning biases, ranging from the “confirmation bias” and the “conjunction fallacy” to the “cheerleader effect” [...] This proliferation of biases raises a question: are we overly prone to attributing biases to ourselves?

When we see a pattern of reasoning error in humans, do we have a systematic tendency to posit a new bias, even if there might be alternative explanations? Given the proliferation of biases and the fact that more are ‘discovered’ each year, we seem to have strong evidence that we are biased toward explaining failures of human reasoning by positing biases. Let’s call this the ‘Bias Bias’.

But positing a Bias Bias seems to lead us into paradox. [...] The very same evidence that leads them [researchers] to posit a confirmation bias is also evidence that would tend to cast doubt on their conclusions! However, suppose that another member of the research team, call her the “pragmatic professor,” says: “Wait, if we are rejecting our research because we were subject to the confirmation bias, then the confirmation bias does exist because we were subject to it!”

The pesky-post-doc and the pragmatic professor’s reasoning both seem reasonable, but they lead to a paradoxical conclusion. The pesky post-doc reasons that if the research team is right about the existence of the bias, then they have reason to reject their research (and so the existence of the bias too), but the pragmatic professor reasons that rejecting the research on these grounds admits that the bias does exist. If they’re right they’re wrong, but if they’re wrong they’re right. What are we to say?

Maybe we can resist the paradoxical conclusion. One way is to distinguish the context of the experiment from the context of the inquirers. If one can show that confirmation bias afflicts primarily laypersons or those who are reasoning in experimental conditions, then one might be able to argue that the researchers themselves are not subject to that bias.

In many cases, this strategy works well [...] However, it doesn’t seem like we can do that when we posit a Bias Bias. Anyone positing a Bias Bias is likely doing so with reference to an established body of scientific research—not just lay thinking. In other words, it is the reasoning of experts that is at issue...

[...] Early critics of the heuristics and biases research program once cast doubt on its very cogency. They raised questions about the very possibility of using our own frail, limited, and flawed reasoning capacities to test for biases in our own reasoning capacities. The very idea was incoherent according to them.

[...] in some cases, we do seem to be led into a self-reflexive paradox, in particular when it comes to positing a Bias Bias, as we have argued in a recent journal article. ... positing such a thing seems to lead us into ... a claim we seem not to be able to make without contradiction... (MORE - missing details)
Leigha Offline
Since many people (most) are heavily influenced by various echo chambers (media, government, neighbors, friends, family, etc) can one ever be free entirely of confirmation bias? But, how are echo chambers formed, when you think about it...several people just glomming together who all suffer from confirmation bias? Big Grin
Syne Offline
The only safeguard against bias is personal vigilance. That includes not being sucked into an echo chamber.

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