Confirmation bias is when you read or hear (or search out) things (people, research, etc) that agrees with what you say or rejects what someone else says. We are all guilty of this at some point or another. It’s hard to stay on top of it and really read stuff you disagree with.
I wanted to talk about two, truly stunning cases, of confirmation bias I’ve dealt with recently. This doesn’t include a regular commenter here who still thinks that Meyer is correct in spite of all the evidence that Meyer is a liar.
The first, takes place on the Amazon.com discussion boards. The poster “Tammy” begins and continues for several pages, apparently getting steadily more and more… well.. bug house nuts.
There’s a lot there to dissect, but the one I specifically wanted to bring up occurs very late in that thread. She, for some reason, starts talking about how olive tree extracts are antibacterial and anti-viral. She cites a website, that cites several peer-reviewed papers to support this claim. Of course, this is one of those “holistic healing”, “all natural”, “no chemical” groups. Anyway, when one actually looks at those papers, one of them is about the antibacterial action in brining olives (this is an agriculture paper, not a medical paper) and the other is about the antiviral action against a specific fish virus. Yes, a virus that only infects fish.
So, having had that pointed out to her, she then cites two doctors who have supported her ideas about olive tree extracts.
One of the “doctors” is not an MD, though I don’t know if he has an advanced degree or not. He is certainly not listed in the California medical licensing records. He does work for a holistic healing institute though.
The other doctor is an interesting story. He actually spent time in jail for medical malpractice and has been cited multiple times for medical issues. On one instance, a woman came to his practice, complained of a headache, and he gave her two injects of (IIRC) a blood thinner… she died later that day.
This “Tammy” is so desperate to believe what she’s been told that she will accept the medical word of someone who has killed at least one person due to medical negligence.
That’s a pretty stunning case of confirmation bias.
Since she cited those two papers, I offered to give her a list of 70+ papers that showed she was wrong about speciation, so far, she hasn’t even acknowledged the comment (which is typical).
The other case is on Google+. There is a particular commenter there who frequently brings up peer-reviewed research that shows evolution is wrong… or… at least contentious. The problem is that he presents a paper, a few quotes, and then his opinion on how that shows that some part of evolution is wrong.
The bad part isn’t so much the quotemining, though that does happen, but he specifically selects papers from decades ago. The most recent example was from 1992, which doesn’t sound like a long time ago, but in science that’s almost to the point of irrelevance. He has gone back in time as far as 1973, presenting a paper that talks (briefly) about epigenetics.
However, when presented with more recent work that shows his paper is no longer correct… well, he doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of those papers.
Obviously, the imprint of science and peer-reviewed research seems important to both of these people (and some regular commentors on my blog), but they fail to understand that cherry-picking reports that agree with them isn’t how science is done.
I need to point out one thing here. Showing how there is no evidence to support a position is not “confirmation bias”.
Like most scientists, I could be swayed with evidence. I will freely admit that the evidence for something like an intelligent designer will have to be overwhelming. Just because something seems complex is not evidence, that’s a claim.
Anyone else care to share some stories of confirmation bias?