I bet your first thought is: “I’m not biased.”
But do you consider bias and agenda when you access health websites? When you speak with colleagues? Or even when you read a new clinical trial?
This question harkens back to the question of where information comes from—it’s important to remember that information doesn’t come from a pure infallible source in the sky.
It comes from humans.
And humans have biases. (Yes, even you. Yes, even me.) And humans have agendas. (Like money, fame, or notoriety, but also happiness, safety, or connection.) Agenda is, essentially, a form of bias, in that it sways our opinion one way or another based on the need to fulfill that agenda.
So, yes. You have a bias. The information you’re receiving has a bias. This blog? You guessed it. Bias just is.
Bias is not bad. The desire to feel safe and in control is innate and legitimate. But, bias and agenda need recognition, especially by those supplying information, and especially especially if those supplying the information are bench researchers, major influencers, teachers, or clinicians.
Once we are responsible for passing on knowledge or care to others, this responsibility must push us to become as aware as possible of the biases that run us, or our organizations. Period.
Only when we become conscious of these hidden drivers are we able to obtain and pass on more balanced information in a more balanced way. This balanced way directly relates to us having an accurate and complete view of the world. And, a greater capacity to help more people, including ourselves.
The number one prerequisite for positions such as practitioners, teachers, and researchers should be the ability to recognize and pass on multiple sides of a subject in a practical way. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m saying it’s possible and ideal.
For better or worse, science isn’t black and white. And, more and more I’m convinced that our trying to make it so is only muddying an already muddy water.
Now, of course, there are caveats—really reasonable explanations for why one would eschew a balanced perspective and go the way of unconscious bias. The very real (and in some ways very problematic) agenda of trying to keep an academic job via the requirement of newly published research, for instance.
Decades of professional and/or personal commitment to research on a particular subject and the attachment to that subject being one. certain. way.
Having one’s entire financial well-being based on a niched blog with thousands of followers or supplement line that preaches the aforementioned one. certain. way.
Heavily relying on personal experience alone to inform thought patterns or information gathering.
The list goes on and on. It goes so on that you can purchase a (beautiful) poster listing every form of known bias.
So, what’s the takeaway?
It’s simple in word, but pretty dang complex in action: we have to work, all the time, to prove ourselves wrong. And we have to rely on, and even ask others to point out when we’re wrong. Or, when another point of applicable information exists.
This is the easiest rule that I’ve developed to understand my biased brain and the biased information and experiences that it seeks out. If I work hard to prove my own beliefs wrong, then a whole new world of non-conformational information opens up to me.
Though, come to think of it, Non-Conformation Bias may just be a newly discovered form of bias. 🙂