Monday, July 25, 2011

Bias, Power and Authority

By itself, bias is unremarkable. It's a part of being human. Bias doesn't always amount to much, especially if no one pays attention.

Bias with power is a different matter. Without power, Anders Behring Breivik's biases may have come to nothing. But when coupled with power, they proved to be devastating.

Posing as a meaningful authority, Breivik directed his victims to a horrible end. There was no need to object, until he started shooting.

Bias online has some similarities. Most of the time, bias in blogs and articles and images has no meaningful impact on the reader. Biased information with power attracts attention. More accurately, it could be said that individuals empower the information to which they attend. That's when biased information can lead to problems.

For online readers, the question that must be asked is: who is the authority?  In Breivik's case, he was posing as an official and little could be done to investigate his credibility on the spot. Online information is different in that regard. It can and should be investigated. Otherwise you may never know if you are opening yourself to bias that has real, assumed or faked authority. 

It's unfortunate that something bad has to happen to make one more cautious. It happened on a large scale after 9-11 and now security measures will increase in Norway. After you fall prey to deception or bias online, you tend to become more skeptical.  Hence, the need for investigation.

Try this. Here's a challenge that's based on a medical theme. It's not hard to find bias against alternative medicine. But should you be skeptical of these views? Does the author have the appropriate authority? How do you know?  These are good questions for students to grapple with.

Using Google, locate a site with medical authority that is skeptical of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  Post your answers here.

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