The Accusation of 'Bias' is a Lazy copout
Within the conversations happening, mainly on Twitter, a commonly used trope is “Well, you’re biased blah blah blah.” There is so much of this universally unproductive language going around, it has made me think about the meaning of bias.
The definition of “Bias” is “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” When person A who believes in a high fat, low carb Keto-diet, is speaking to Person B who believes in a High carb, low fat, minimally processed Plant-based diet, the word “Bias” is used to attack the other person’s arguments as a way to disprove them. Said with snark “Well, you’re biased towards plant-based nutrition, so there’s no way you would believe me..or believe this article...or believe this study...or believe this anecdote.” Is this a correct use of the word? Let’s break it down.
To have a prejudice means “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.”. Is it possible that someone has a prejudiced or biased view on a diet? Perhaps. Maybe Rick could be prejudiced for or against Plant-Based nutrition because his uncle hates it or he’s heard bad things spoken about it. Rick has no actual experience doing this diet, nor is he forming his decision on reason or logic. So to answer the first question “Is this a correct use of the word”, in the example above with Rick, an argument could be made, Yes, Rick has a bias against plant-based nutrition. Furthermore, if Rick spouts on social media about how terrible plant-based nutrition is given the amount of experience and reasoned thought he has put into this, it is a fair assessment in this situation to assume that Rick is biased.
Are there Rick’s in the world? Absolutely. Should we accuse people like Rick of being biased? I think that language is a bit harsh and unproductive, and I prefer other ways of getting my point across. The problem with people accusing others of being biased is the accusers haven’t done their homework. To accurately determine if someone is like Rick and truly biased, we have to understand where the other person is coming from, and this takes work. To find this out, I ask questions like “How do you think I came to my conclusion?” or “How did you come to your conclusion on diet XYZ”? This opens a dialogue without accusing or insinuating. It allows the person to talk, and forces you to listen. Then, rebuttals and follow-up questions are in order to understand this person’s experience and further evaluate their reasons. I argue, even if this person’s reasons are truly wrong, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re biased. It means that these half-truths or flat-out falsifications need to be addressed and corrected with proper evidence. But they at least tried to back up their philosophy with evidence, albeit, wrong.
The term ‘Bias’ is used in a cavalier way; thrown about as a true argument. In my experience, if someone is engaging in a discussion on a topic as hot as nutrition, they likely have strong reasons and experiences in said dietary pattern. Which means it’s unlikely they’re truly biased, per the definition. But in the vast majority of cases, the accusation of bias is used as a lazy copout and the accuser, unless due diligence has been applied, should be scrutinized equally as the accused. Accusing bias is usually a sign that the person has no counter-argument and knows they’re trapped. And rather that tipping their hat, remarking ‘touche’, admitting fault, or saying “Let me get back to you” or “I didn’t know that”, they claim you’re biased because your point probably doesn’t fit with their narrative. As always, we must remain compassionate and understanding while staying humble and curious. And, sometimes you need to walk away from unproductive conversations, too. Mistakes happen, bias happens, snark happens (especially on Twitter), but through open dialogue, asking questions, thinking critically, acting like an adult and using the best evidence, the truth usually prevails and true bias is a minor factor at worst and insignificant at best.