One very important skill to have, is that of spotting bias. Bias is “to mean a preference for one thing over another, especially an unfair one.”1 The notion of unfairness brings up its own bias, but we can get the general idea that when someone has a preference for one thing over another, it is a biased view.
The reason this is important, is to understand the nature of the information we’re getting. It is not necessarily a biased opinion, if a medical corporation offers a vaccine under the belief it will treat a specific disease. That can in fact be data. News items that detail a wrong of one party’s political candidate, may itself not necessarily be biased.
Yet both scenarios could equally be biased. A medical treatment facility might try and pressure patients to accept their new vaccine using fear. Likewise a negative article about a political candidate could be soaked with bias, in order to sway opinion.
When I think of bias, I think of two categoriess:
- The language of an article, news item, press release is itself biased
- The focus of an agency in what data to provide the readers
Yellow Journalism (tabloid news) is more common these days, as more money can be had in the use of sensational headlines. I would argue that modern journalism is even more problematic, due to the fact of less barriers to entry for a so-called “news agency.” Today, anyone can setup a website, and start posting “news.” Without formal peer reviews and ethical standards requirements many so-called “free news agencies,” have sprouted up, with the sole purpose of deception or heavily biased articles.
While mainstream news media has its problems with bias, the problem doesn’t get resolved by turning to even more controversial news agencies, with even more bias. Sadly this is a direction that readers and listeners have been choosing. The concern of media bias has caused people to walk away from one news source, into the arms of even more alarming bias. Such is the case when people feel CNN or Fox News are too biased, so they turn to a news agency that spins up yarns about vaccines causing cancer or mainstream science being “fake.”
In these cases, I can’t imagine that a person is spotting the problem of bias.
The language of bias comes in the form of feeling projected through powerful sentiment. Rather than explain data, they use language to cause a reader or listener to react emotionally. Instead of saying, “the cost of some insulin under some insurance providers, will rise this year,” a provocative agency may say, “they are trying to kill us – how the cost of insulin is skyrocketing and will kill many Americans.”
Such headlines get views, and views equal to impressions and impressions equal to money in the form of ad revenue. Whether or not this is truly the motivating factor, I can’t prove, but it makes one wonder why agencies attempt to distort to such glaring error.
Another aspect of bias is with All-Inclusive language. This is seen in arguments such as: “Republicans are guilty of rape,” or “Democrats are Communists.” For either of those statements to be true, all members of each grouping would have to be guilty of the accusation. Are all republicans guilty of rape? No. In fact, find one who is not, and the argument falls flat. Likewise, are all Democrats thinking as Communists? Not at all. Again, find one that is not in alignment with the argument and the argument fails.
These attempts to sway people are not attempting to be logical and data driven. They may use data, but the data is often outlier, or reframed to make people operate at a purely emotional state of mind.
Examples of Language Bias
“…last but not least, Jews from all over the world salivating for revenge against the White race — in particular a contingent of lust-crazed Jews from Palestine.” 2
“Katie Hill eludes the privilege of forgiveness.” 3
“Trap is Sprung? How Sen. Lindsey Graham boxed Pelosi in on impeachment and what comes next…” 4
“Have you read the book ‘Ruled by Secrecy?’ It clearly shows that Sumerians knew about DNA, UFO’s and the truth of God. God was an alien who ran experiments which were later retold as the stories in the Bible.” 5
The first quote above came through my social media feed the other day. Someone on Facebook was passing around an article that was demonizing Jewish people. It was accusing them organizing rape parties, claiming that German women were forced into massive sexual assault. While there may be some historic reference for assault, the idea of an organized and well-operated endeavor by Americans, Jewish people and other nations sounds like the foundations of an uneducated conspiracy theory. It doesn’t feel quite right, as it’s simply too sensational.
The more sensational a subject, the more proof one must bring to the table to validate it.
When I read the article for myself, I saw it was ripe with racist and anti-Semitic comments. Take the quote above, the descriptions of “Jews from all over the world salivating for revenge against the White race,” gives away much bias. There’s a direct attempt to pull the reader into this tabloid style of writing, by describing people as salivating. Where they really salivating, like foxes or wolves? No. This is an obvious demonstration of language used to trigger the reader. Did “Jews from around the world,” line up for some organized rape fest? No. It would require a massive coverup. Did Jewish people have some hatred for the “white race?” No. As an all inclusive statement, it is easily proven false as so many Jewish people were (and still are) very compassionate towards Americans and other non-Jewish Europeans.
We must understand, that even if a story is unpleasant (but potentially true), if written in language of emotional triggers, the data must be treated as suspicious from the very start. Even more factual accounts must be gathered in order to readily believe such a story, as the over abundance of bias is far too much.
The second quote is from the front page of CNN today. It references the resignation of Congresswoman Katie Hill. The headline reads that Katie Hill has eluded some privilege. While one might make a case that the affairs of politicians may carry different levels of penalty between men and women, the headline itself has a forgone conclusion that this is already the case. The word “eludes” implies that there is some dirty work involved against Katie Hill and the use of the word “privilege” is a loaded term to trigger those who have some predisposition towards white or male privilege in the nation. While this may be true, the headline has already concluded it as such.
The bias here isn’t as evident as the racist article quoted first, however, it is still clear that this headline has bias. It appears that the author is trying to save face of a favored politician in the claim that whatever wrong they have committed isn’t fairly treated when compared with a male politician. This may be the case but to make this case, one has to walk through data, statistical analysis and validate similar situations. Regardless, the use of the words eludes and privilege imply something not yet proven. The article was rather short and made vague comparisons to other politicians (male) and how they didn’t resign in similar situations. The article neglected data, however, that recent law was introduced making it a violation of political ethics to be involved with a staff member. A law that may not have been in place in these other cases identified. There have also been many a congressman who has stepped down to impropriety. There is bias here. It is more subtle, but it is still here.
The third quote above is from FoxNews and is again an example of bias language. Consider the first words, “Trap is Sprung?” This implies that Pelosi has fallen into some snare, and this is further amplified that this snare was laid by a Republican senator to catch or box her in. The implication of the headline is that Pelosi has done something terrible and Graham laid a trap to expose her. The bias is in the insinuation that Pelosi is worthy of trapping (doing something wrong) and she was exposed in one way or another.
The last quote is from a friend of mine. The book he cited is quoting the works of others. Such writers drink from the same well of information about ancient Sumerians – fringe resources that sensationalize Sumerian text and either read it out of context (i.e. claiming they knew about human DNA) or add their own context (such as comparing a Sumerian letter to the shape of a rocket ship.) Again, bias is very evident here. If this data is so clear, then why isn’t the mainstream accepting it? Ah, because of conspiracy! The answer to when no logic and reason can point to a root cause.
The worst of these is the first. This is by far the worst, as it expresses a proposed event that may never have happened, in order to discredit and slander Jewish people. The article itself was written at the level of a complete bias. Due to the overwhelming bias one can not simply accept the data at all. Until it is proven through historic means, the very story must remain dismissed. Such writing isn’t usually attempting to prove a point, but rather too emotionally trigger an audience.
Bias in Focus
Some news agencies will engage in bias, not only in language, but in the news they present. Conservative news agencies may focus their articles on news items depicting Democrats in a bad light, even to the exclusion of negative media about their own political party. This works both ways, as some Liberal news agencies likewise ignore the failures of their own party, in order to focus the attention of the reader to the failures of the opposition.
By focusing on a collection of stories that cast one view, that in itself creates bias.
Our Own Bias
Perhaps most importantly, we should endeavor to discover our own personal bias. It may or may not be apparent. Regardless if we have good intentions or not, we should be aware of any data we present in its bias.
Even more, when communicating ideas, we should endeavor to express our bias at the forefront. “While this is my bias, I do feel that…” is a great way to engage in an above board conversation, rather than relying on trickery and language games to get a point across.
By taking time to spot bias in the use of inflammatory language, and/or in All-Inclusive language, we can start to see the bias being driven into our lives. We can also spot bias in the chosen focus of those who seek to influence us. It is important to spot bias, as that’s a key in spotting lies in general.
- A quote from a friend of mine, wanting me to read a conspiratorial book on psudeo-history