How Free

Experiencing Confirmation Bias

A few weeks into the stay-at-home order, I started wondering if there was any connection between global warming and the coronavirus. Did the environment have anything to do with how the virus developed or how it spread? What was wrong with the bats in Wuhan, China? Did they get the virus because of their environment had been affected by global warming? Why is this pandemic happening now?

My mind was trying to make connections between the new information I was gaining–that there was a pandemic–and the information I already had about what else is going on in the world. One thing that’s going on in the world is climate change.

Of course, there are many other things going on in the world right now, but I had the persistent feeling that global warming had something to do with the virus. Feelings aren’t facts though, so I started researching.

I came across a video with the tagline that went something like “interview with the doctor who predicted Covid.” I could have been suspicious about the click-baity title, but the bait worked. I was intrigued.

I listened to what Dr. Zach Bush is saying throughout the interview and at every new point, I thought “yeah, that makes sense.” He’d make a point about the environment and Covid. I’d think, “yeah, that makes sense.” He’d make a point about how viruses are passed along, and I’d think, “yeah, that makes sense.” I watched the whole hour and a half long video and thought, “This is it. I was right.” The environment is responsible for the virus. 

I talked with some friends who also thought that global warming and other issues with the world right now are affecting the virus. They agreed with me. I shared one of Zach Bush’s claims that air pollution is greatly affecting people who are suffering from and dying from Covid-19. People are dying because their lungs are compromised by air pollution. They thought that made sense.

Something started to bug me about the interview though. It was eerie how easy it was for me to accept just about everything Bush was saying. I rarely agree with everything someone says.

I wanted to share the video with my husband–at first just to show him something I agreed with. Then I thought maybe while we’re watching we can see if Bush had solid explanations or whether he was using logical fallacies. My significant other is great at that type of critique.

We started watching the interview. A few minutes in, I paused it and asked what he thought. Was he hearing any logical fallacies? Was he concerned about anything that he was hearing? Did he agree with what Bush was saying? Did he think maybe Bush was just making claims and not really discussing how he came to those conclusions? 

The answer to the last question was yes. We both heard Bush offering claims and examples, but then moving on to the next claim and example. He didn’t go into a depth about why he was making the claim. He didn’t provide details to show his thought process or his assumptions. He did cite some research, but a picture of the article flashed on the screen so quickly that I didn’t catch much of it. I’d need to take time to look at each article to see if I thought it was credible. 

My husband had more to say. His first point was that it seems Bush is talking to “believers” or to an audience who already agreed with him. He’s not working hard to convince a skeptical audience. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just one approach to sharing one’s views.

My husband also noticed that Bush speaks in extremes–using words like “always” and “never” or speaking in absolutes. This is something I am often critical of in my students’ writing. I think I missed it in Bush’s interview because I want what he is saying to be true. I want air pollution to be the problem so that we can fix it with creating less pollution. I want climate change to be the issue so we work on turning it around.

In short, I am finding myself in confirmation bias. To have conformation bias means that we often find information to solidify what we believe about an issue. We take note of what makes sense with our prior knowledge and let go of information that doesn’t seem to fit our perception of the world. We interpret new information to solidify theories we already had. 

Alright, so now I know I’m falling into confirmation bias. What do I do about it? 

  • I decided I can’t blindly accept what Bush is saying because it may not be accurate or truthful. I also don’t want to denounce everything Bush is saying just because I figured out I was biased.
  • If I were talking with a student, I might suggest that they research some different perspectives. I don’t really want to do a whole lot of research right now. 
  • I do want to acknowledge that an interview–even one that is almost an hour and a half long–can only go in so much depth. I can look at the interview as just a start of a conversation, especially if the interview covers a range of topics or a broad view of an issue. 
  • I can also acknowledge what about what Bush said was attractive to me. I also think that I was particularly drawn to Bush’s passionate descriptions of birth and death. These statements are descriptive, not scientific necessarily. I can accept that I enjoy his viewpoint.
  • Finally, I want to keep in mind that I can fall into confirmation bias and that if I want to truly know about something, I need to take time to research it or when I come across more information, I need to see it through that lens. I can compare and contrast it with what I know. 

Do I still think global warming has something to do with the spread or creation of coronavirus? It’s possible. I need more information to prove it if I choose to try to do that. I also am open to being wrong. If I find no more evidence to back my ideas, I can let them go.

How about you? Have you noticed yourself buying into something hook, line and sinker? What do you hope to do about it? What would you want someone whom you disagree with to do about their own bias?

Finding truth can help us create Peace Out & In.




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