Good Bias

A biased medium–a left-leaning news network, for example, or a pro-vaccination camp–is not necessarily a flawed one. I don’t mean to say the cliché that every source is biased in some regard, and so the inescapability of bias should lead one to not try to escape it; I mean also that bias may be good, when regarding truth.

The first good of bias is seen when it is thought of as paying extra respect to a side of any given issue, and so impartiality is paying equal respect to both sides. This should be supplemented with the idea there are objective truths, so that a party can be right or wrong about something. Then, if there are opposing sides to something for which there is objective truth, one side will be more right, and one less right. If that is so, and a viewer’s aim is to find the truth, then she should prefer the side which is more right to that which is less. For instance, say it can be objectively defined whether a cup is full or empty, and it is in fact full. If there are then two opposing sides on the matter, so that one side thinks the cup is mostly full, and the other that the cup is mostly empty, a judge would be wise to give more respect to the side that thought the cup was mostly full. It would be foolish to say, with respect to truth, that both sides were right in their own regards, and both should be taken seriously. The side which the judge then favors is biased, in leaning toward the full-cup ideology.

Of course, in reality, there are many things for which there are not objective truths. Rather than arguing over whether a cup were completely full or empty, people may perhaps argue about whether a cup were half full, or half empty. For such things, with respect to truth, it makes no difference favoring one side over the other. That is to say, because there are many things with no objective truth, but rather relative truth, the good of bias in bringing accuracy will not always hold.

I think for the number of things that are unmeasurable, however, we often debate over things which are measurable, and when we opt for neutrality, we make a mistake. A real-life example is CNN’s approach to “politics like a sport,” allotting equal platforms to pro- and anti-Trump pundits. Through this method, frankly, much misinformation is spread, more so than that which would have been if mostly, or only anti-Trump pundits had made appearances. That is, more misinformation is spread through impartiality than that which would have been through bias.

Seeing bias as giving more respect to one side than the other of an issue is one way to find support for it. But there is another reason. If bias is looked at as simply the application of interpretations, and so one would want to study unbiased information, that is, information free of interpretations, support for bias can also be found. Firstly, I don’t think most people are able to accurately filter through raw data, especially not of every case. By deferring to a competent authority’s interpretations, they increase their chances of finding truth, or something close to it. Secondly, for those who are able, digesting raw data can still be consuming of time and resources which may have been better used for something else. In this case too, having faith that a competent authority is accurate enough in its interpretations benefits the information-consumer. In the sense that bias is the application of interpretations, I would only suggest one search through unbiased sources if he were competent in understanding raw data, more so than were biased sources, and had absolutely nothing better to do.

The reasons for which bias is beneficial are fairly intuitive, but it is interesting to see how they are so obscured through its stigmatization, embedded chiefly in overstating the virtues of skepticism. It is common thinking to relate that which is biased to misinformation, and that which may spread misinformation to that which should be avoided. And so, people remain skeptical of biased sources. But the thinking of tying bias to that which should be avoided is a slippery slope, to say the least. Still, the thinking remains. Schooling is in large part to blame; virtually all I remember learning in public school, and now in college about news, and information in general, is to stay skeptical of it. In moderation, the benefits of this are obvious. By staying suspicious of sources with agendas, in theory, we are shielded from a pervasive sheep-mentality. Yet, skepticism has grown to be a large part of our troubles as a nation. In skepticism’s extreme, consumers of information are more likely to become conspiracy theorists, and are yet still prone to sheep-mentality, but in believing conspiracy theories.

With the benefits of partisanship, it is somewhat upsetting to hear people avoid certain news sources for their ‘bias,’ or approach certain sources for their lack of bias. Surely, there are reasons to avoid very biased sources, for attributes often paired with extreme bias. Among these are an open tendency to purposefully misinterpret data, or obscure them, or ignore them. But this attribute, along with its negative counterparts, is not a direct result of bias; rather, it is a direct result of poor journalism, and possibly poor morals. I think consumers of information should look specifically for bad journalism, and not firstly at left-, right-, or whatever-partisanship. Bias is not necessarily your enemy. For things which are objectively measurable, with respect to truth, bias is your friend.