Sunday, July 25, 2010

Logical Fallacy: Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is a phenomenon in psychology in which, in short, “people see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe.” All people on all sides of political issues are vulnerable to falling for this, but in recent days on the HP I have seen it played out very clearly.

The most notable example is from the recent Arab rape case thread. Most people who read the article thought it was either (a) a stupid ruling on the part of the judge or (b) the woman was being ridiculous for even making the claim in the first place. But if you check the thread you will notice quite a few who used the article to “prove” that Israel is either a racist state or a theocracy.

It’s a perfect example of confirmation bias because these readers approached the issue with their preconceived notions in mind. They already believe that Israel is a racist society and therefore every news story that comes out of there will be contorted to fit that world view. The “bias” part comes in where the same readers concluded that the sentence must have been because the judge/ the jury/ Israeli society is racist and not for some other reason. Contradictory evidence (if there were any in this case) would be discarded, perhaps as “Zionist propaganda.”

Another example is with extremist Jews like the Neteuri Karta. An anti-Zionist will post a link to them and say "See! These guys say Zionism is bad and they're Jews!" But a link showing five million American Jews think Zionism is good is ignored completely, because it doesn't fit the confirmation. The word of a Jewish person was the authority for about five minutes but then is gone again.

When people are engaging in confirmation bias, it is easy for them to fall prone to lies. Just look at the flotilla raid: Everything the IHHers said was immediately believed by the Huffington Posters because the IHHers were saying what they expected to hear. Yes, I am aware that Zionists are just as prone to this bias as everyone else. It would do us all to keep this in mind when we receive new information.

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