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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 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.

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