Today i want to take some time out to talk about a topic that never has been more relevant than today.
Fake news & Confirmation BIAS is two very different things but they often goes hand in hand.
I want to start this article by asking you how you define "fake news"? Most of us would probably think about news that aren't true. This could be an article stating "Cola light gives cancer". In my optic this is definitely fake news. But would it be that for everyone? What about the grandma who is convinced that her daughter got cancer from her insanely high diet coke consumption? Would it be fake news to her? Definitely not, it would be true news.
Wheather something is false or true comes down to your own beliefs which is based on your current assumptions about a topic. Unless an article states that a man was murdered when he really just happened to be extremely drunk and fell down the stairs, i think we can all agree that, that would always be false.
So how do we decide if something is false or true? This is where the confirmation BIAS come into the picture. Let's take an example: Whenever i feel sick i always google the symptoms and BINGO the first match that pops up is definitely my diagnosis. Once i felt a lump in my neck and was convinced it was cancer. I went to google and typed in "lump in the neck cancer". Suddenly a whole world of forums and titles connecting lumps in the neck to cancer shows up. Alongside with a whole list of 20+ symptoms. Since one of the symptoms was not having any symptoms at all, i quickly connected the dots and diagnosed myself with cancer. My mum later that evening assured me that it was just lymph nodes. I was left embarrassed that i made such a big thing of it, and why i wasn't able to have a less dramatic approach. If you still wonder what cofirmation BIAS is you know it know - It's the fact that we always search for the answer that confirms us in our current beliefs. Google "Caffeine and schizophrenia" and you will find multiple examples of people who got diagnosed with schizophrenia after consuming too much coffee, google "tall people and cancer" and you will find an article stating "Tall people at greater risk of cancer 'because they have more cells'". I think the internet is at a point where its hilarious how there is no limits of what you can find. I can't count on one hand how many times i google a specific type of foods and parred it with "bodybuilding" just to see how beneficial type of food was to the sport. "Oatmeal and bodybuilding", "Chicken and bodybuilding". I clicked myself in to the first article and read the first line. "Oatmeal is the best meal for bodybuilding, it provides your body with plenty of fiber and pottasium to keep your body strong and healthy". That was it. Thank you dear author, i am convinced. - Oatmeal is the best meal for bodybuilding and if people asked why i had my story straight - because i read it!
The everlasting line of nonsense and subjective claims everywhere on the world wide net makes it incredibly hard to differentiate wrong from right and to obtain the "objective truth".
If we only google what we already believe we continiously continiously confirm that what we already believe is true. It's like when parrents tell their daughter that she can sing like a star. A few years later, she shows up on american idol and get humiliated on national TV. I don't believe the problem is the humiliation, because it's neccessary in order to save the girl from living her life on a lie. I once told my clinic conselor that you could adapt your body to utilize the energi from sunlight instead of eating and drinking. He had a laugh and called me out on it and i realized that i probably should have done some more research that the "alternative" documentary that i watched on TV. I went home to read about it and figured out that "breatharianism" is more a myth than a fact.
Not being aware of this BIAS migt not have fatal consequences for the average Joe, but can certainly have for the health practioner who base ones practice on own research done in the light of the confirmation BIAS. Let's take another example. For a second, lets pretend that i'm a doctor and i have a patient with lower back pain. Let's also say that what we had an MRI done that shows a "slipped discus". I inform the patient that it's all because of his "bended over posture" and that he should be very careful bending over because his back is very fragile. This patient goes home with the fear of moving and might have interpretted the slipped disc, as "something pops out of my back if i'm not careful.
. He isolates himself from social events from the fear of making a wrong movement, tensing his back at all times, leaves him stressed isolated and in even more pain. This is an example of how wrong beliefs can do damage. You may ask "What do wrong beliefs have to do with confirmation BIAS". The confirmation BIAS is the culprit of strengthening beliefs wheather they are wrong or right. A wrong belief itself isn't that problematic. The problem starts when you start cultivating this belief and strengthen it to a such degree, that you ignorantly rejects everything that doesn't fall in line with it.
The confirmation BIAS provides you exactly what you want. By being aware of this tendency, you have the opportunity to nuance your search and remain critical towards the information that you're attaining.
I'm sorry, i can't help it. I just love examples. Just for the fun of it. Let's create two fictional guys to see how their approach to knowledge affects their life. They both just started working out and are kinda green to the field.
John is the name of the first guy. He isn't very critical and believes in almost everything he hears. When he hears something, he just googles it and finds an article that confirms his belief. If he finds something on google that support his belief he is immediatly convinced.
John has been told that he shouldn't have his knees in front of his feet when he is squatting, and that he has to drink raw eggs and consume serveral proteinshakes in order to build muscle. John gladly spread his knowledge to the crowd in the local fitness center. After a few months of googling and taking tips from less-informed people in his gym, he obtained a whole lot of knowledge.
Every know and then he he would meet people that says "Why are you drinking raw eggs John? it's not neccessary to build muscle at all". John would just frown and respond "Where did you get that fake news? Haven't you seen Rocky?" John's friends starts to get tired of him. He quit drinking alcohol, and never goes out for dinner with them anymore. John is caught in his own world of truths. He believes that he harvests the true, unfortunately most of these "truths" are subjective truths. They are true to John like the law of gravity to physics but there is a problem. 90% of John's knowledge isn't true to the land of science. John's eyes works perfectly but yet he is blinded by his own beliefs. Everything he "knows" is blocking his way from seeing what he don't know.
Then there is the other guy, let's call him Dean. He is a critical consumer. He been told a lot of do's and don'ts from his friends, but remained critical towards their arguments. He did his own search on the matter and made sure the articles he read had references to some high quality studies. Dean quickly found out that there's a lot of information floating around in the fitness industry, that hasn't really got any evidence behind it. Dean is curious about the industry and wants to learn. He want's to learn the objective truth and collects therefore a whole lot of knowledge before he decides to have his own opinion. He wants to make sure he have some good scientific arguments for why he believes what he believes. When other people try to feed him with knowledge he simply listens and ask questions.
Honestly, i used to be John. After a years of feeling like i knew everything and then realized that i knew nothing i decided to convert in to a Dean. I now consider myself a Dean even though my name is still Jonas. I know this is metaphorically pretty fucked up but you get the idea. I'm much happier being a Dean. If i find a lumb on my neck today i probably wouldn't go for the first and worst answer. I would probably do some non-biased searching. Instead of typing "lump in the neck cancer", i would probably go with a "lump in neck" and go thoroughly through the findings, without getting too hooked about finding what matches whatever belief i may have about this lump.
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