Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Confirmation Biases, Twitter and Blogs

Confirmation bias is something I mention here from time to time.

While simple in principle, in practice it's really quite important, especially for people who read blogs, or use Twitter or Facebook.

Confirmation bias dictates that most people prefer information that supports their own beliefs. In turn this tends to lead people to accept things as true with lesser amounts of evidence if they agree with their preformed beliefs, and dismiss things, sometimes irrespective of the evidence, if those things don't agree with them. Like the cartoon above, it can also lead people to hear what they want to hear, rather than what's actually being said.

My bet would be that as a consequence of confirmation bias we tend to only follow and read folks who more often than not espouse opinions with which we agree which in turn may serve only to further solidify our own confirmation biases.

Of course there are a lot of folks who'll staunchly state that they don't have a confirmation bias, that they're evidence-based thinkers.

I can't help but doubt them.

Confirmation bias is something that's tough to shake, and while I like to think of myself as evidence-based, I'm sure that over the years confirmation bias has swayed me one way or the other on many occasions, both in my interpretation of research and my writings therein.

To help readers of this blog navigate my postings, and while I believe the current state of the evidence supports the following statements, I'd like to lay bare my biases. So here are the most salient (and obvious) of the lot as they pertain to my regular postings:

- Food, not fitness, is the primary societal driver of obesity.
- The food industry only cares about your health when it affects their bottom lines.
- Obesity's primary cause is environmental change, not individual lack of willpower.
- Calories are the currency of weight, not fat, carbs or proteins.
- Whole grains are healthier than refined.
- The risks of red meat consumption greatly outweigh the benefits but ultimately are small when considered absolutely.
- Dairy is not a magic food worthy of its own "group"
- The Canadian Government panders more to industry concerns than public health concerns when it comes to nutrition

There are probably more, but those are the ones that leap to mind.

So happy reading and while I promise to try to not let my confirmation biases get the best of me (or you) and will do my best to accurately and fairly interpret studies and report, the likelihood is they'll probably still be there sometimes lurking in the shadows.