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Damon Pourtahmaseb-Sasi

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How do you recognize bias?

As I was looking over all the comments on this Talk, I was struck again and again by commentators who took it as a "biased" video, or an "attack" on Israel.

I saw nothing of the sort: it neither condemned Israel's policies, nor did it justify Palestinian violence in response to those policies. The entire video is based on giving attention to nonviolent movements rather than only violent ones, to empower them OPPOSED to those political groups that perpetrate violence (aka, terrorists).

So I wondered, where does all this vitriol come from? If the names of the countries and people were anything but "Israel" and "Palestinians," would they react the same way in opposition to peaceful protests?

Everyone is biased against some things, and even with reasonable justification at times. What I want to know is, how do you recognize bias, in others and yourselves?

I know I'm being biased when I assume someone's intentions to be negative simply because they do something I disagree with. For example, when I hear Conservative say something that isn't true, I am more inclined to think they are willfully manipulating or ignoring the facts to get support. This assumption of purposeful dishonesty is something I am less inclined to have of Liberals, whose factually wrong statements I tend to believe is born of honest ignorance.

I know others are being biased similarly when I see them applying negative (or positive) intentions toward people who they have no first hand knowledge of. For example, people who imply that soldiers or police that harm children do so intentionally: no doubt monsters exist, but to assume it of all of them is a bias. Similarly, those who believe or imply that people of a certain ethnicity love their children less, or implying that they want violence and strife. Again true in some cases: the blanket assumption on ethnicity is bias however.

How do you recognize bias? Give an example of AT LEAST one bias you recognize in yourself, and one you see in others.

Topics: Bias Prejudice
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  • Sep 2 2011: well said damon. it's disappointing that bias leads people to conclude that a person is wrong even before the argument is started, just because that person's 'label' is different. i believe the israelis honestly do feel they are being persecuted that they are under attack, and that there's nothing wrong with building settlements on palestinian land and that is in fact us who are acting strangely by not disagreeing that it's the right thing to do.

    this i think leads us to the definition of bias: bias exists when one party regards the other as inferior. any argument made by the inferior party is by definition also inferior and therefore incorrect. in the case of the israel-palestine conflict for example, the jews really do believe that is their land, and the palestinians have no right to it so there's nothing inherently wrong with taking it, it's not even 'taking' in their minds. not only are they biased against palestine but they are unable to recognise the bias, because for that to happen, first the palenstinians have to be equal in their minds.
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    Sep 6 2011: Any belief system that can't be updated by new info is inherently biased.
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    Sep 6 2011: ANGER.........
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    Sep 2 2011: I don't disagree with you. I was thinking of the old joke "How can you tell when they're lying? Their mouth moves." and found it rhetorically useful to assert that having an opinion is having a bias. I admit to an exaggeration, and acknowledge that having distinct words is useful. If you can choose an opinion that differs from your bias, congratulations; maybe your bias is changing, or maybe you are just experiencing the effect of a brain filled with many conflicting opinions; your bias for being as fair as possible won over your bias against the badly behaved kid.
  • Sep 2 2011: From my opioion ,i think bias exists everywhere,not only during the work ,but also in a family .How to avoid the bias ?How to clare which is bias?when u hear the bias to u ,what will u reflect ?
    I thought i wouldn't be bias to everybody in the work before.However ,i couldn't do that !I would be better to some one than others ,maybe they r in a same position .but i have no idea why i would be better for that person .So ,i think it's a bias ,it's not good for me..i am aware of it ,but i couldn't change imidiately .
    i try not to have bias to someone .
    it's hard to have no bias to everything.
    But it's ok only if it's in the extent u can accept!
  • Sep 1 2011: When I read the question I was thinking along the lines of paragraph 5, but seeing it there saves me a long answer :D

    Bias allows us to make a decision without all the facts, since nobody has all the facts, everyone is biased, to some extent.
    Bias is easy to recognize though, and you must weight it with your own biases with every conversation you ever have. Usually it is done subconsciousness, but to recognize bias is quite easy, look at the conclusions of the argument and you will know in which direction the bias pushes.

    In the talk you reference it is quite clear that she has taken painstaking time to remove her Palestine vs Israel bias (almost more than you would expect someone to be able) to focus on the anti-war or peace bias, which is one of the things that makes her talk great. (I also am biased towards peace, not just there, but everywhere) ... someone biased towards war may not consider the talk great, simply because the biases conflict.

    What disturbs me is the amount of unrecognised bias shown in the comments.
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    Sep 1 2011: Other than a few hard earned facts that keep holding up under scientific scrutiny, opinions and biases are almost synonymous, so whenever anyone expresses any opinion, their bias is probably showing. One exercise to help avoid excessive bias is to practice expressing the opposite opinion with the highest quality arguments. If you can't argue both sides, then your bias runs deep.

    However, some opinions seem so irrational and so improbable that to argue for them is folly. Open your mind too wide, and your brain falls out. All opinions are not created equal. This opinion shows my bias is to be rational. The only way I can argue against my bias is to note that being irrational can sometimes feel good.
    • Sep 2 2011: i don't think i agree with your definition of bias. i think bias is more to do with attaching more weight to one particular side of an argument just because of some emotional or idealogical attachment to it.

      also i would argue that even being biased doesn't always lead to having a biased opinion, if a person can recognise their bias and counter-balance it in their arguments. i'm a teacher and try hard to not let bias get in the way. when marking essays for example, it's easy to imagine the badly-behaved kids at their desks to caring about their writing, so i keep telling myself "mark the work not the student", and ask another teacher who doesn't know my class to check work from time to time, in order to compare my own scores and check that i'm not allowing any bias to get through.