A piece showed up at Vox this morning about a test of political bias. This is the kind of thing I love, and tried hard to take the test, but apparently lots of other people tried at the same time, and I couldn’t get through for a while. Eventually I got through and learned that I’m not terribly biased, politically. My total bias (based on answering questions wrong, in a particular direction) was 8.3%, which is less biased than about 75% of other test takers. This made me pretty happy, because I don’t want to be biased….but that made me wonder, why not? Can’t bias be a good thing? I’m biased about my kids. I think my kids are the cutest, most caring, considerate, overall best kids in the world. I have absolutely no empirical evidence to support this, and I don’t care. So why do we think of “bias” as a bad thing, not just a thing that is.
Bias has been getting a lot of attention lately. Discussions of police actions and how we treat other people has raised attention of a specific type of bias, called implicit bias. I’ve taken advantage of the tests of implicit bias that a group from Harvard has available on the internet. There are tests about our implicit attitudes about skin tones, sexuality, weapons, presidents, race, religion, and a host of other things we see every day. These tests are needed because we aren’t
always usually aware of our implicit biases. We know our explicit biases all too well, but the implicit ones are harder to see, especially in ourselves. Some of us don’t seem to want to look for these things. We don’t want to think of ourselves as racists or bad people, and we have it stuck in our heads that saying we have implicit bias is a secret code for calling us racists. So if somebody is told they likely have a bias about skin color, they immediately get defensive as if they’re being called a bigot or racist. This isn’t the case, and those of us talking about these things in a rational way (Spock-like), need to work harder to make that clear.