Error – the Art of Imperfection

Anyone Can Make Errors, Wise People Correct Them

Implicit and Explicit Bias PatternsProgress is all around us but it’s not always obvious. Explicit weight bias is getting better, but implicit bias is as bad as ever – perhaps worse. So when people catch themselves and walk back from implicit expressions of bias, we find cause for celebration. Making errors is easy, but to correct errors – especially errors of bias – can be surprisingly hard.

This brings us to the case of Contemporary Pediatrics and their cover story devoted to the subject of  pediatric obesity and COVID-19. In this case, they did precisely the right thing.

Stigmatizing Cover Imagery

Barely two weeks ago, Sarah Armstrong, a pediatric obesity expert at Duke, called our attention to stigmatizing imagery for the cover of that issue of Contemporary Pediatrics. For the cover art, someone had chosen an image of a fat belly. It is an image that was typical when explicitly derisive attitudes toward people with obesity passed without notice. And even now, it’s all too common.

Armstrong’s message to the journal was simple – please reconsider this. People agreed with her plea and our Twitter feed filled with comments like “How can you stigmatize a child like this?”

“Your stigmatizing imagery renders this important information unshareable,” wrote OAC board member Michelle Vicari. EASO President Jason Halford aptly called it dehumanizing and inappropriate.

Seeing the Error and Correcting It

ContemPeds CorrectionIn a matter of days, the journal responded directly and simply. They fixed the cover with better imagery. They pledged a more thoughtful approach in the future.

But most important, they showed us all how we should deal with our mistakes that have their roots in bias. Simply face it and fix it. No excuses, no rationalization.

Discussions about bias can make people prickly. People can get angry instead of facing their own biases. I am the least racist person you will ever meet is a catchphrase we hear too often from people who are stirring racial tension.

Bias is utterly human. It lives in all of us. Recognizing and correcting it is a simple and wise thing to do. Every correction takes us a step away from it. But corrections are not always easy. So when we see them happen, we have cause to celebrate. Thank you, Contemporary Pediatrics, for modeling an exemplary approach to correcting errors.

Click here for the cover story from Contemporary Pediatrics on obesity and the pandemic.

Error – the Art of Imperfection; photograph by and © Ars Electronica, shared via flickr

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October 12, 2021