Tag Archives: bias

Rethinking bias, left or right

“It’s a popular refrain that the facts have a left-wing bias,” writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood. “But that doesn’t make the progressive left immune from the same sort of selective consciousness its members so quickly denounce on the right. Empiricism is demanded of the goose, while the gander indulges its own versions of evidence denial.”

Wood’s new column, Follies to the right, follies to the left, tackles “left wing” perspectives on contentious issues such as nuclear power and GMO foods. An excerpt:

chris1A plurality of American Republicans believe people have existed in exactly their present form since being created from mud one day 6,000 years ago. They share with Canada’s Conservatives and Australia’s Liberals the view that science, which got lasers and flight and iPhones right, have it wrong about the climate. Canada’s Conservatives are so disdainful of empirical evidence they’ve been purging the country’s science libraries.

So far, so familiar, and so stupid. But here’s the thing: many shibboleths of the supposedly progressive left are no more defensible in the light of actual evidence and informed judgements. If evidence is to be our guide, the left needs to be rethink its gag reflex over …

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Posted in All, Current Affairs Also tagged , , , |

Science interpretation for dummies – from lawmakers to journalists

That science is under siege has become a truism. Every conversation I have with a scientist, almost every public issue debate, every story I do about global crises, touches on censorship, religious and ideological beliefs, and a lack of education.

Three scientists aim to address that in a new commentary published in Nature. “There are serious problems in the application of science to policy,” note the authors, but the usual solutions  proposed, to increase political involvement by scientists, or give more scientific advisers more power, are unrealistic. Worse, they say, those fixes ignore what they call the core problem: scientific ignorance among lawmakers.

William J. Sutherland, David Spiegelhalter and Mark A. Burgman offer a sort of crash course in skills to needed to grasp “the imperfect nature of science.” It has 20 tips with examples in “interpretive scientific skills” aimed at public servants, politicians, policy advisers and journalists, to help parse evidence and avoid influence by vested interests.

“The harder part — the social acceptability of different policies — remains in the hands of politicians and the broader political process,” they note.

Their points include:

  • Differences and chance cause variation.
  • No measurement is exact.
  • Bias is rife.
  • Bigger is usually better for sample size.
  • Correlation does not imply causation.
  • Extrapolating beyond the data is risky.
  • Controls are important.
  • Randomization avoids bias.
  • Scientists are human.
  • Data can be dredged or cherry picked.
  • Extreme measurements may mislead.
  • Feelings influence risk perception.

Cliched? Sure, perhaps. But still useful, even as reminders. 

Posted in All, Canadian Journalist, Current Affairs, Gyroscope Also tagged , |