Friday, October 06, 2006


Listening to Hugh's interview of Eric Black, I recalled his debate with Scott Johnson at the U of M's law school last February. Peg was there and took some good notes about Eric's presentation on "confirmation bias":
Still, though I may be misreading Eric's beliefs, it appeared to me that Eric contends that "professional journalists" are able to "rise above" confirmation bias, while the muck of the blogosphere is stuck in it, and thus not anywhere as reliable as the MSM.

This, I would contend, is false. We all succumb, to some degree, to confirmation bias. We all see the world according to our own belief structure, virtually by definition. Doesn't matter if we've been journalists for 30 years or we're a lowly blogger sitting in front of the laptop; each and every one of us has our biases and our beliefs, and it is impossible to divorce them from how we observe.

We can strive to minimize our bias as much as possible. I do think that Eric does a better job than many other journalists in his writing in this regard. He attempts to get perspectives from various viewpoints, which is a big step in and of itself.

I doubt Hugh is agreeing with this right now. Eric's commenters seem to be giving him only so-so marks so far. But I could have predicted it based on his answer to Peg's question later:

I asked Eric if he thought that "confirmation bias" applies to journalists, and his answer seemed to be that yes, it does, but the journalists, trained and seasoned, are able to "rise above it." My answer to that would be that good bloggers are able to "rise above" to the same degree as any competent journalist.

I would add, however, that Eric and the MSM needs to think about an earlier point that Eric made in his presentation. The vast majority of the MSM is liberal; Eric stated that studies of it over and over prove this to be true. If that is indeed the case (and I believe it is so), then virtually by definition, the bias of reporters will be to the left. Though I do agree that responsible journalists try to "rise above" their bias, one can only do so much. None of us can completely divorce our observation from our underlying belief structure, irrespective of our leanings to the left or the right. And, if this is so, then - might not the answer be that really responsible news organizations should strive to add more conservative voices to their payrolls? Answer: yes. News organizations appreciate that they must have "diversity" in the news room: people of various backgrounds to observe and report. Why then do they think that diversity of left or right should be ignored - particularly when it is virtually impossible for us to rid ourselves of underlying bias and belief?

And this I believe is the problem with Eric's non-answer to the question of his politics, which he says is "the ethic of his profession" today. Just as we argue that universities would be improved by having viewpoint diversity as much as it is to have cultural diversity so too would newsrooms. But if you can't even talk about it on the air, how can you address it in your hiring practices?