Scottish Independence – 5 Steps to Avoid Bias
We all have biases, even me. This is a normal part of being human. We like being part of a group and generally moderate our behaviour to conform to group norms. There is loads of material on experiments about this, notably Milgram on obedience and also the Stanford prison experiment.
The Scottish Independence campaign is possibly the largest social experiment I’ve seen on this. Both sides and their supporters have been egregious in their attempts to scare the electorate into voting for them. The campaign has also shown that people can be engaged in politics. Low turnouts aren’t because people don’t care. It is because they don’t feel they have a genuine choice.
This engagement has a down side though. And our collective cognitive bias hasn’t been helped by the use of social media. The problem with the way both Twitter and Facebook reinforce groupthink. Typically people follow those they have something in common with. This means that they see a lot of opinion that tallies with their own. In turn this creates a (potentially false) impression that your opinions are mainstream because most of the people that you know/follow share them. The other thing that it does is create a sense of right/wrong when dissenting views are encountered elsewhere. This leads to the conclusion that other people must be biased or ignorant of the facts. Neither is really accurate.
That said bias is a real thing. It’s about how our brains are wired. So how can we help self correct it?
1. Make a point of using multiple sources
Ideally you want to get close to the source of the original story. Don’t believe anyone just because they were there though. You need to go out of your way to find the other side of every story (and sometime multiple sides). You might find Robert Hutton’s Would They Lie to You? a very useful reference on how politicians dodge difficult questions (and there has been a lot of dodging and weaving).
2. Why is this source telling me this?
Don’t accept anything because you trust a source. Critically evaluate why they are telling you something and where they got their information from. If they’re not the original source then find out what it was and read that yourself. Each summary loses some of the original nuances of the story.
E.g. A Yes campaigner will tell you everything will be better in an Independent Scotland because they want you to vote Yes. A No campaigner will do the opposite. Sometimes they will be correct on a specific issue, but not on everything.
3. How much do you care?
Don’t just look at what the public debate is saying. The campaigners try to direct the debate to areas where they have good stories to tell and away from things they think will hurt their arguments. Think about the things you actually care about. Then go research those. Ask questions of both sides, probe them deeply and make sure that they actually answer the question that you asked.
4. Make up your own mind.
It doesn’t matter what others want. You have a vote and you should vote for the result that best fits what you want for the future.
5. Remember The Singularity
The only thing that is certain about a Yes result is that there are a lot of things to be sorted out. These will all be sorted out. No one is sure how, nor can they be. There is a series of negotiations to happen and both sides will need to come to a compromise agreement. Anyone being definitely certain is either delusional or lying. Bear that in mind.
If you live in Scotland please go and vote. Either way is fine and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.