Shermer critiqued over his recent piece in SCIAM on confirmation bias
|July 22, 2006||Posted by William Dembski under Philosophy, Science|
Graeme Hunter (a philosophy professor at the University of Ottawa examines Michael Shermer’s recent piece on confirmation bias published in Scientific American:
. . . Shermer tells us – or rather science does and Shermer is only its messenger – that opinionated people actually suffer from what is called a Ã¢â‚¬Å“confirmation biasÃ¢â‚¬Â, which Shermer defines as a condition in which Ã¢â‚¬Å“we seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirmatory evidence.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Members of political parties, it seems, are particularly prone to this disorder. Not Shermer, though, as he tells us in the jocular, self-deprecating manner that makes his article such a joy to read:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Pace Will Rogers, I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a libertarian. As a fiscal conservative and social liberal, I have found at least something to like about each Republican or Democrat I have met. I have close friends in both camps, in which I have observed the following: no matter the issue under discussion, both sides are equally convinced that the evidence overwhelmingly supports their position.Ã¢â‚¬Â
IsnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Michael clever to have avoided the bias that has undone so many of the rest of us! And by so simple an expedient! Just imagine! All you have to do is take one half your beliefs from the dogmatic Republicans and the other half from the caring Democrats and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re home free. What a lucky coincidence that that old confirmation bias affects only wholehearted liberals or conservatives, but spares those who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Shermer does not say whether those who are fiscally liberal but socially conservative reap the same advantage. But I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t risk it. My suspicion is that only those who agree with him on everything are going to be right all the time. . . .