Anthony Easton
Image Credit: Anthony Easton

Bias is a funny thing. Typically, modern society demonizes bias. If you’re labeled as biased, you may as well be labeled a fraud. Above stupid, idiot, and clueless; biased is seen as one of the most educated ways to instantly debase anyone. In my own dredging of the internet I have noticed that the use of the word biased has started to change from the OED “unduly or unfairly influenced; prejudiced” to a more simple “you disagreed with me”.

But isn’t it time that we started to give bias the credit that it deserves? We wouldn’t have an economy or a society without rampant bias. Bias is what makes the business world turn. Economic competition is driven by bias. If you aren’t biased toward your company then you make a really poor salesman. Anyone who has ever worked retail has been told at one point or another to boost sales of a product they may think is inferior to another, comparable one. But that’s the job of a salesman: to uphold and promote bias. In an economic system without bias, companies would never expand into new markets for fear of stepping on someone else’s livelihood. Or they may never be started in the first place.

I would argue that the people who do the best in business are the most biased. They are trained to look at the world through a lens of competitive business. Donald Trump is a master of bias. That’s how he makes money. It’s not just the business world. In nearly every profession bias is celebrated and, indeed, necessary. This is why scientists are so socially abnormal from the rest of the population. In science, bias is shunned and even punishable. Scientists go to school for years in order to train themselves to see the world with as little bias as possible. The only way to make money in science is to be as unbiased as possible.

I wonder then, if this is one of the reasons that scientists are sometimes viewed with great suspicion. Consider for a moment how dead set Donald Trump is against scientists who promote climate change. He doesn’t seem to be so much against the notion of climate change itself as he is against the scientists who promote it. He seems convinced that there is a conspiracy afoot. He has stated that no scientist really believes in climate change, but that there is so much money being made by top climatologists that they are able to convince all other scientists to go along with them.

In other words, Trump is looking for the bias he has been trained to look for. The fact that scientists actually train themselves to be less biased is so bewildering to him that he has convinced himself that it must simply be present but hidden. There must be a conspiracy because they must be biased because his world fundamentally runs on bias. I also wonder if this is where a lot of the distrust of scientists generally comes from. It should be mentioned that polls consistently show that the public generally feels positive about scientists. Undeniably, however, there are people who view scientists with a great deal of suspicion.

So how is this combated? Well, you’ve got me. I could just resort to the classic scientific response to everything and say that we need to increase scientific literacy (never a bad idea). But beyond that, how to you convince people who have dedicated their entire lives to bias that there are people who shun it? The same concept that made Trump billions would make a scientist broke! This is a massive chasm between world views that may never be solved. I could think of some far flung future in which everyone looked at the world scientifically. But as long as humans are human and have ideas and disagreements, bias will be lurking. Does that mean that science will never be fully accepted by society? Your guess is as good as mine.

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