When Prevailing Bias Goes Unchecked

TheosophyPrevailing bias envelopes us invisibly. Objectivity is something we have a passion for pursuing. But the challenge of that pursuit is great. In fact, objectivity is rare, if not mythical. Humans are subjective creatures, so objectivity is unnatural for us. If we care about a subject, we bring a bias to it. When we hear someone proclaim to be perfectly unbiased in a matter, we can be sure they are deceiving themselves. Or they are trying to mislead others.

In journalism and in science – especially regarding nutrition and obesity – we need to pay close attention to objectivity and bias.

The View from Somewhere

Journalism, like science, purports to examine and report objective truth. But over the last few years, circumstances are putting objectivity to the test. When public officials appear to be lying prolifically, how blunt can journalists be in reporting this observation?

However, the more difficult question comes in more subtle matters of bias, prejudice, and injustice. Concerns about racial and ethnic prejudice have rising visibility now. So questions arise about the objectivity of reporters who identify with racial and ethnic groups. For example, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette banned a Black reporter from covering racial justice protests. It was because of her perceived bias on the subject. Newspapers question the objectivity of sexual assault survivors covering the subject. Reporting on weight, health, and wellness can be valuable when it comes from individuals who face these issues. But prevailing bias works against diverse perspectives.

In his 2019 book, The View from Somewhere, Lewis Raven Wallace points out that journalistic objectivity is a myth and that subjective voices can deliver important news. He explains to Brooke Gladstone in a recent podcast:

“Curiosity for me is at the core. That’s like the center, the beating heart of what a journalist does – asks questions and stays open. The gift that activism can give journalism is the commitment to justice and accountability. And the gift that journalism can give activism is curiosity. That’s why it’s such a beautiful thing to bring the two together.”

Scientific Objectivity

“The purported objectivity of scientific inquiry is a damaging myth,” argues William Wilson in First Things. Science has always had important political implications. He explains that scientists need to become more self-aware about this reality:

“It is the future. A future in which the politicization of science stops being implicit and starts being aware of itself. To face this future with intellectual sophistication rather than sloganeering, we need metaphysical reflection. Scientists would do well to start with a frank acknowledgment that they do not really know the deeper sources of their own dearly held scientific truths.”

Thus, this bracing thought brings us back to the importance of curiosity. We are subjective creatures. We have strong feelings about our bodies, our health, and nutrition in ways that elude us. So curiosity is the best tool we have for overcoming our biases and finding a more complete version of the truth.

Without curiosity, the prevailing bias will always perpetuate itself.

Click here for more on subjectivity in journalism. For Wilson’s essay, click here. For more on the value of subjectivity in medicine, click here.

Theosophy, woodcut by M.C. Escher from Flor de Pascua

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April 5, 2021

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