Is there any evidence or are there any studies to suggest that it’s possible to eliminate or severely limit bias?

Dec 23, 2012


Discussion by: AwesomeFrog

I put the discussion under “Science” because I’m looking for evidence to suggest we can limit/eliminate bias anywhere at all, any bias, perhaps in science, politics, the media, or someplace else. Pardon me if I don’t really bring much to the table, but I feel that if this question gets a fulfilling discussion, a considerable amount of people probably will learn something of worth and perhaps have a change in their perspective of the future.

As we can see, the world is a very biased place. That’s actually pretty natural, because people have long taken strong senses and “gut instincts” on certain things, and that system seem to serve us somewhat in the past. But we live in a “New Age of Reason.” Mankind would benefit from more objective observation, reporting, governing and other important human endeavors in respect to science and the well-being of man-kind and nature. But I’m just preaching to the free-thinking choir.

I’ve been thinking of how bias could, at the very least, be decreased. What measures have been proven or shown by studies to help this, or yield some sort of promising effect that would merit more studies? Personally, it seems like the best way to go about reforming bias would be to encourage young minds to steer clear of anecdotal “evidence”, the news, and claims not reasonably backed by science. Would the decrease of bias be hundreds of years from now? Or would it be sudden and exponential in the face of the rapidly increasing interest in science? Or is it impossible to make a big difference, are we just naturally, forever doomed to majorly biased society? Will it take brain augmentation or controversial/inhumane/violent measures to achieve a less biased populous? 

11 comments on “Is there any evidence or are there any studies to suggest that it’s possible to eliminate or severely limit bias?

  • I think there may have been some reasonably well-funded research associated with acute crisis situations where horrific disasters have been attributed to errors of judgment or group think. Often where the juniors who sense a problem defer to the most experienced or most senior party and fail to put the crucial question.

    Mainly for airliner crews and in military command situations. But also relevant for commercial organisations trying to maintain a diverse source of internal consultation.



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  • 2
    Nodhimmi says:

    Bias is inevitable with irrationality and irrationality is universal, though to a lesser degree, in science. 
    Publication and peer review works pretty well & is the best system yet devised. 



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  • 3
    TerryKloth says:

    How do you define unbiased?  You could use a random number generator to make decisions which would still be biased toward randomness.  Is bias even always a bad thing?  If you weigh a decision toward benefiting the most people, making the longest lasting environmental improvements, or raising quality of life at an affordable cost, you are showing a bias for those things, yet most people wouldn’t argue that they are inherently bad.  It may be more constructive to ask how we can reduce ill informed and self-serving bias, rather than eliminate bias altogether.



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  • The book recommended by Dawkins a while back by Robert Trivers The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Human Self Deception goes into some of this research in detail. 



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  • I don’t agree at all that bias is simply a result of irrationality. In fact its possible to be very rational and still biased. That is why we have the scientific method because even the most rational people can still be biased toward conclusions that fit into their existing belief system. Robert Trivers documented this very well in his book on the topic. 



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  • Bias is our minds applying their internal state as a filter on our perceptions. It is part of a mechanism that allows us to take action in the face of incomplete information. Such a system can be highly effective but has natural consequences such as optical illusions, seeing patterns where none exists and prejudging (prejudice).

    As mentioned by Red Dog the scientific method is a mechanism that attempts to correct for the limitations of that mechanism of mind.



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  • 7
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    Hi AwesomeFrog,

    The previous posters have covered the fact that the scientific method has evolved to eliminate bias.  If Science (meaning the over-arching project or endeavour) did not lead to truth then technology would not work and scientific descriptions of how the World works (science’s theories) would constantly conflict with each other and be hopelessly inadequate.  The fact that technology works and that scientific theories fit alongside each other like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle tells us a lot about the lack of untrue-bias in science.

    I know of no specific studies that cover the above.  If you find any please let us know by posting here.

    When you talk of eliminating bias there are two things to bear in mind:

     – Is eliminating bias a universally good thing?  For example, is removing the ability to judge the beauty (or otherwise) of a large building helpful and valuable?  If I remove bias in terms of moral bias, is that a good thing (I suggest a good starting point is in a court of law, but you’ll soon realise that what is valid in court is also valid for society at large)?  Is it possible to write a news item – a summary of any activity or occurrence – without bias (note the scientific method of publication and peer review)?

     – Bias, as a previous poster noted, is a natural consequence of the fact that humans appear to have evolved two methods of thinking; instinctive and considered.  The downside of bias is that it can result in irrational preference or prejudice.  But there is an up-side: Instincts lead to intuitions that can give us a quick and simple way to make decisions and that helps to make us far more efficient in our everyday lives.

    It seems to me that we wouldn’t want to eliminate our intuitions.  On the other hand, we do need to ensure that our intuitions are based on truth (trained intuition) and we do need to ensure that one of our intuitions is to quickly understand that intuition is insufficient – that we need to switch to considering evidence.  We also need to ensure that our considered thinking is trained, that we eliminate bias by applying critical thinking.

    The above requirement would appear to be so simple that responding to your question of how we ensure that, how we drive that into a modern progressive society, can be boiled down to one word: Education.

    Peace.



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  • Scientific method, mathematics, and abstract logical analysis are great tools helping a person to make decisions which are free from cognitive bias (Hope you are referring to cognitive bias). But the above subjects a notoriously difficult for an ordinary person or a child to comprehend. People seek easier and quicker ways to define and conceive the world. These easy ways include, praying, worshiping, meditation, religious faith, belief, superstitions, following someone, and listening to crap media people on the Television. These methods are easy, and there is always a “kids’ version” available for all the things I mentioned.

    Once a parent fails to train a child to grasp the difficult logical ways of thinking  (not that difficult by the way) and train the kid to challenge and question the world, it is difficult to create an adult who can take unbiased balanced decisions. But occasionally kids themselves fall into experiences involving conflicting mental dilemmas which run them through a brainwash and allow them to learn the questioning and challenging behaviour (real scientist’s nature) themselves.
    If parents and teachers are scientifically oriented people it is more likely that the kids grow up with skills of strong rationality and balance in judgements.



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  • 9
    RejectHumanStupidity says:

    Im confused by what you mean by “bias”

    I thought I knew, until that last bit… I dont think were talking about the same bias



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  • 10
    phil rimmer says:

    It is important to recognise that human brains (all brains) are not rational. They are not wired on boolean principles with algorithms that embody Popperian truth-identifying concepts of falsifiability. They are wired entirely on principles of coincidence (cells that fire together wire together) to create Bayesian weightings of probability. Judgements of saliency (importance) come from accumulations of these coincidental experiences filtered by an emotionally biased “aesthetic”. These “aesthetics” are evolutionary attributes that have stood us in good stead in earlier generations and might consist of a preference for “fairness” say or “simplicity” or “symmetry”. Differing judgement calls will arise from differing emotional states.Not bad, but not strictly rational in the conventional sense.

    It is entirely cultures that make rationality possible. With our differing brains, experiences, emotional states and aesthetics we need to find a common substrate upon which to beneficially share these things. Language, logic and mathematics are the basis of this sharing. They bring with their culturally evolved formalism, their agreed definitions and relationships, the fullest forms of rationality of which we are capable. I like to describe them as cultural machines, brain apps if you will, that transform us (whilst we are using them, at least) into pretty rational entities.

    Nor is this cultural input to rationalism a purely historical thing. Around the world cultures can be more or less rational-facilitating. Cultures more or less support their members to live using these mind machines, more or less approve and cultivate them.

    Biased answers I take to mean as answers that are less universal than they may be. Answers taken from an insufficient breadth of data, perhaps. Or answers insufficiently making use of the cultural machines but relying instead on the habitual, Bayesian, coincidence driven processes of uncultured brains.

    Less biased means downloading the good apps (learn about logic and critical thinking) and using them (learn about the deceptive kluge that our just-good-enough brain is). And swap your duff Microsoft apps supplier for Android (So don’t, for instance, live in the Middle East or Tennessee.)



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