A biased article about bias

The issue of bias in media is certainly an interesting one. In the 19th century, when newspapers had just begun, it was implicit that most publications would have a political orientation. Socialists would read the socialist newspaper, Christians the christian one and so on. Today, the tendency is for a media outlet to present itself as unbiased, regardless of the reality.

The BBC is certainly one of those outlets, and has been criticised for its liberal slant. That the BBC is or is not biased is not the point of this article, but rather to see if just one article shows any bias. The article in question “Implicit bias: Is everyone racist?” deals with the topic of implicit bias and if we have any unconscious racial biases. Obviously, any article dealing with the topic of bias should present both sides of the topic evenly, however, intentionally or not, the article does display bias to one side. To understand exactly why, it is first pertinent to understand a little background surrounding the issue.

Implicit Bias and the Implicit Association Test (IAT)

Implicit bias is the idea that we have unconscious prejudices, which are not limited to races, genders or sexual orientations. Yet the fact that we have an implicit bias does not mean we will act on it, so their existence implies very little. This has been shown in studies, and there has yet to be a court case in which discrimination was proven using implicit bias as evidence.

While we might have implicit biases, testing for them is extremely problematic. As the article points out, the same person taking the same test at different times can get drastically different scores. In fact, the author first took the test and showed a bias towards white people, two weeks later the test showed biased towards black people. One of the major criteria for any psychological diagnostic test is that the results are consistent.

The article also explains the test, and the author explains how the test itself is rather challenging. Indeed, it is not unlike some mental training applications for for smart phones and tablets. Later, the article states that poor performers on the IAT also made mistakes on another test requiring the correct identification of a gun or just a similarly shaped object immediately after seeing a picture of a black person. That both of these tests rely on fast responses might simply be an indication that these people might just be bad at making accurate assessments when under a time pressure (which might actually be of more use to an employer than unconscious bias).

The article also points out that attempts to fix implicit bias has resulted in either no change, or “ …or actually makes it worse, by making people more race-conscious.” It might also be the case, in the words of clinical psychologist Professor Jordan Peterson, “…that people don’t actually like being marched off to re-education by their employers after they have been diagnosed as racist, even if there is no evidence they actually are.”

Biased about bias

Biased sections are highlights, in favor are purple, against in green

So now that it is clear that implicit bias has no proven effect on our behaviour, the testing for it does not meet common standards and it would probably be better to actually do nothing about it, we can begin to approach the article’s bias. Sections which support the idea that implicit bias is influential and/or actionable compare to sections contradicting this claim more than 2 to 1 (1062 to 431 words). It should be noted that the section which includes information on how the IAT works, and because the IAT does not qualify as a reputable test thus describing it gives it credence, and even if we do not include it the ratio becomes 903 to 431.

As this topic is based around research, the supporting evidence presented is of extreme importance. The article mentions 5 studies which support claims on implicit bias, and only one actual study against (there are allusions to other contradictory research, but not specified). The language used to describe these studies is also clearly biased. The study against “purportedly found” its conclusions, which by definition of the word ‘purportedly’, means that the results are to be treated with some scepticism. All of the research in support was presented as fact and one piece was described as “fascinating”.

To help elucidate some of the concepts around the topic of implicit bias, the author gives some of their own ideas and comparisons for the reader. Looking at them, we find only one against and three in favor. As previously mentioned, the author took the IAT test twice and was given two contradictory results. The article, which is titled “Implicit bias: Is everyone racist?” finishes with these words about the second result, “That’s left me more puzzled than ever. I still don’t really know whether I’m racist.” Logically, if you took a test twice to measure someone about yourself, and each time gave diametrically opposed results, you would probably disregard the test altogether and simply self-reflect. So while this might be a cheeky ending implying that the IAT is worthless, based on the fact that the rest of the article shows bias in favor of the IAT and implicit bias being influential and actionable, this claim is dubious at best.

The credibility of the main stream media is being undermined on various fronts, its bias certainly being one of them, the accuracy of its info is another. The combination of inaccurate information presented with bias intent is a deadly formula which explain why more and more people are turning to alternative, less reputable sources. It is not surprising, only disappointing.

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