Honest and dishonest bias


Though most us might be biased, not all biases are created equal. There are degrees of honest biases, and there are clearly dishonest biases. But I’ll be generous and propose that biases are usually honest. The most common kind is Confirmation BiasThe tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms your beliefs, and ignore or discount evidence that refutes your beliefs. Political issues like Obamacare, Medicaid, Mideast policy, immigration, climate change, taxes, and whether government is a force for good or evil are certainly susceptible to confirmation bias. We usually recognize at some level when we are being biased, but we genuinely believe our position is correct and try to make the strongest possible case for it.

Perhaps a more honest and more naïve bias is what I’ll call Magic BiasThe belief that supernatural forces intervene in our natural world. In his wonderful book, “The Demon-Haunted World,” Carl Sagan argues for critical and skeptical thinking about such beliefs, while promoting science as a candle in the dark. Magic bias includes belief in gods, demons, horoscopes, psychics, tarot cards, miracles, and lots of other superstitions. People who accept some of these beliefs usually consider other magic beliefs ridiculous. I’m with “ridiculous.”

Miracle believers can find “evidence” for miracles, disregarding coincidence or luck or medical skill; psychic believers have their faith strengthened when a psychic predicts something that can be interpreted as accurate, forgetting predicted inaccuracies. While many may truly believe in magic, some just pretend to believe the unbelievable either because they are expected to play “make believe” or because they profit from believers. (Just picture your favorite charlatan.)

Even when a magic belief is incontrovertibly proven wrong, some cite the cliché, “That’s the exception that proves the rule.” No mathematician would ever say, “That’s the counterexample that proves the theorem.” In fact, counterexamples disprove hypothesized theorems. And so it should be with magic.

A third kind of honest bias occurs among people who are ignorant of essential facts. For instance, some believe that our founders intended America to be a Christian nation under a Constitution that favors Christianity over other religions, and guarantees freedom of religion but not freedom from religion. They believe that all constitutionally based judicial decisions must, of necessity, be biblically based. They are honestly wrong.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com


  1. When you have people believing that they are being watched over by supernatural forces to help them live their mundane lives, then it follows that they can pray to these beings to help them and hinder others. Sadly no amount of rational thought will change this opinion, as it only needs to appear to succeed once to prove its worth.

  2. Excellent article, Mr. Silverman! I did want to mention one thing about honest bias. When I made the documentary, “In God We Trust?” I found lots of people I interviewed in my town quoting David Barton and Fox News about the “facts” that showed how the founders intended the nation to be officially Christian. When I interviewed Historian John Rigosta and he showed these to be distortions and outright untruths, I was curious to see how the people I’d interviewed would react when they saw that they’d been lied to, thinking I couldn’t blame them for their conclusions since they were merely trusting Barton and Fox. I put together a single page that went through a dozen of these false claims, with a folder of supporting material that backed them up with the real quotes and facts. Without exception, not one of the people I’d interviewed would even read the one-page document when they learned it contradicted what they wanted to believe.

    I realized that what I’d thought was an honest bias created by David Barton’s lies, was actually an already existing wish in Christians for which he was merely serving with lies to enrich himself. When it comes to religion and supernatural believers who are already believing something without evidence, I think it is very difficult to have an honest bias since their view is not based on evidence to start with. For a bias to be honest, it must be possible to reverse with better evidence and that requires a willingness to look at what you call “essential facts.” Ignorance is sometimes not merely knowing essential facts, but a purposeful avoidance of them, which frankly astonished me when I couldn’t even find one person I’d interviewed who would even read what were historical facts on the matter.

    I’m not disagreeing with you that honest bias exists, but only pointing out my own surprise that it is far more rare than I thought.

  3. Slanderous or libelous misrepresentation ; lying. Is it feasible in the US to sue Fox for this and, no doubt, many other such propagandist distortions? The AHA appear to have grounds for litigation and not to lack bottle*.

    From this side of the Atlantic they appear to be the main protagonist of the plutocrats’ bias machine.

    • ‘bottle’ – courage or nerve.
  4. Religion is based on lies….people must practice believing improbable and unprovable lies to continue lying to themselves everyday and they must truly be deluded to try and convince others that the historical fiction is real and the current effects are real…..However for 30 years I’ve personally been getting more and more intolerant of the ignorance being propagated on account of this complete world fallacy….stop wasting time……and stop lying….If you feel the spirit of something in you…..It’s just you ….not another being…….stop kidding yourselves….it’s not as innocent anymore to be blindly believing in that shit when people are being killed in its name……zero tolerance to religious ignorance as an excuse…….lie detectors for all religious leaders…..show them up for being utter corrupt fakers and people that are holding back the human race from faster progress….

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