December 6, 2019

The Editor Speaks: Is it so difficult to avoid bias?

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Yes it is.

That would seem to be the case now when you read journalistic pieces in not just articles from overseas but even here in our own media outlets.

I am appalled at the bias shamelessly exposed in what is presented as factual hard news.

In today’s iNews Cayman we have published a number of articles about the US Senate hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. In our past editions of iNews Cayman we have also dwelt on the subject.

I am almost weary of the topic but unfortunately it is a hot potatoe and the more I read about it and listen to the US televised news the more angry I get.

To a lesser extent our own news outlets coverage of the cruise ship piers is also biased. Not that anything is untrue but it is what is left out and the so called ‘facts’ are not facts at all and they come from anonymous sources.

When you read the Kavanaugh articles you will find very different ‘news’ and the slant each writer puts into the story is so obvious which way the bias is.

Why, then, has the basic skills in avoiding bias disappeared?

The Walden University website gives some excellent lessons in avoiding bias and gives examples of same:

Basics of Avoiding Bias

Writers should write objectively and inclusively to receive respect and trust from readers, as well as to avoid alienating readers. To be objective means to write with curiosity, rather than having a preset opinion, and to engage with research, rather than presenting a personal preference.

Being objective in your writing is a skill that you will develop, just like your academic voice. Though having a passion for your topic makes the writing process easier, it is important not to let it take over your draft. Here are some tips for keeping objectivity and eliminating bias.

Generalization

Stay away from generalization by avoiding stated or implied “all” or “never” assertions:

Biased: Educators do not consider each child’s particular learning style when developing lessons.

This sentence does not acknowledge the variation within the population of educators, implying that all educators are like this.

Better: Some educators do not consider each child’s particular learning style when developing lessons.

This sentence acknowledges that there are some educators who do not fall into this category, that all educators are not the same.

Evidence

Support statements with research or answer the question “Says who?”:

Biased: Third-grade boys are chronically disruptive, while the girls are always eager to please.

Here, all boys are generalized as having the same disruptive behavior, while the writer is also assuming all girls are better behaved, showing a bias toward girls.

Better: In Clooney’s (2008) study of Kansas City third graders, 35% of the boys and 68% of the girls were able to complete instructions for a tedious assignment without showing signs of agitation.

This sentence is more specific, telling the reader the exact percentage of girls and boys that exhibited the behavior, avoiding the assumptions implied by the previous vague phrasing.

Self-Awareness

Be aware of your own biases and how these may be expressed in writing. This includes:

Assumptions about professions.

Biased: The teacher should use technology when she is teaching her class.

This sentence assumes that teachers are female, making assumptions about the gender of this profession and creating gender bias.

Better: Teachers should use technology when they are teaching their classes.

This statement does not use gender-specific pronouns, but acknowledges a teacher can be male, female, or another gender. Note that this sentence avoids bias by changing the singular “teacher” to be plural and uses plural pronouns.

Beliefs about specific populations.

Biased: Family is very important to the Hispanic population in my town.

This sentence assumes that all people of Hispanic heritage consider family to be important, especially those in the author’s town. There is not any room given for difference between these families or recognizing that some people of Hispanic heritage may not consider family to be important.

Better: According to Watson (2011), family is important to 47% of the Hispanic families in Auburn, Indiana.

This revision is more specific and considers the individual differences between Hispanic families by reporting the specific percentage of those who consider family to be important. It also gives specific information about who conducted the study and where, giving credibility to the writer.

Statements based solely on personal experience.

Biased: My daughter texts constantly, which shows that teenagers use more than they did in the past.

This statement makes an assumption about all teenagers without basing it on research, but on the author’s own personal experience. While personal experiences are sometimes helpful, use them as supporting examples, rather than the sole basis for assertions.

Better: Teenagers’ use of cell phones, specifically for texting, has increased 33% in the last 2 years (McDonald, 2011).

This sentence presents the same assertion, but uses specific statistical data to support the idea. Rather than basing this statement on one teenager’s behavior, it uses a study that surveyed a larger sample of teenagers.

: https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/scholarlyvoice/avoidingbias

The above is an excerpt only and it well worth going to the SOURCE link above and reading the whole piece.

I have spoken to other journalists here about this beef of mine and all have told me it is impossible to be unbiased when reporting the news. One has to be objective.

I have always believed not considering one’s own personal views and prejudices is an important aspect to being objective. The end result, surely, is to portray a true picture of the world?

Is it, therefore, so difficult to avoid bias?

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Comments

  1. Interesting reminders but i find more concerning is the logic of some arguments i hear both in the USA and locally. Particularly here in CI there seems to be the belief that many words (verbosity) = sound argument. For example, a few days ago one panellist on a call-in programme seemed to be arguing on the one hand that politicians in the USA (re. the ‘hearings’) should stick to principle of what they believe is right rather than bow to peope/ voters while, on the other hand with reference to the local dock discussion, politicians should listen to the people/ voters.

    A good starting point is the practice of syllogistic thinking.

    https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/syllogisms.pdf

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