How to Ensure Bias in a Presentation

The Lost Tomb television special on the Discovery Channel reached four million viewers, and the accompanying book is now number six on the New York Times nonfiction best seller list. Unfortunately, unless these viewers and readers look elsewhere for information, they are only getting one side of a story. I have been following this story since it broke on February 26 and believe that it provides an excellent case study in bias.

Here are five ways to ensure bias in any presentation:

  1. Decide on your conclusion at the beginning rather than at the end of your investigation.
  2. Select only the evidence that supports your conclusion. Discard any evidence that contradicts your conclusion.
  3. Choose your experts accordingly. Ask them leading questions. Present only those portions of their answers that support your conclusion.
  4. Manipulate any numbers or statistics to bolster your case.
  5. Work in isolation. Do not submit your work for peer review. Present your conclusions publicly before other knowledgeable people have had the opportunity to examine and challenge the evidence at hand.

It would seem that the makers of The Lost Tomb special are guilty in all five of these areas. But rather than turning the guns on them today, let’s take this list and apply it to ourselves. How often are we guilty of introducing bias in any of these ways?

Updated 3/17/2007: I encourage you to visit Dr. Andreas Köstenberger’s blog, Biblical Foundations, for more (and better) insights on this topic.

4 Comments

  1. Sharon Gamble says:

    It is much easier to work within our own comfortable positions. You are right. I read TIME magazine and WORLD magazine each week, trying to “hear” from different perspectives. I also belonged to a secular book club this year and was challenged, frequently, by people who did not share my viewpoints. However, as a Christian, who has made the decision to believe…I come to any situation with the “bias” of seeing it through the lens of Scripture. All of us have a starting point. I believe mine is the truth, but how is that not viewed as bias from someone outside the faith?

    Granted, within the Christian faith, I can come to the Scriptures seeking justification for a position and only select the passages that seem to support me instead of reading all the Scripture that relates to the topic. I guess my question is…can anyone truly approach a subject without a bias if they hold to a worldview??

    We still need to guard against shoddy scholarship and it sounds like the lost tomb was full of that. Is that a different type of bias?

  2. Ray Fowler says:

    Sharon,

    I agree that we all work from within a particular worldview. Hopefully we have arrived at that through careful thinking and are able to articulate that view to ourselves and to others. In fact, the better we understand our own worldview and how we got there, the better equipped we are to make careful judgments about other areas of life.

    In my post I was thinking more along the lines of smaller issues rather than overall worldview – how we often arrive at a position first, and then gather any evidence we can to support it, rather than looking at all the evidence and interacting with other viewpoints.

    As a pastor preparing to preach a passage of Scripture, it is important for me to try to hear what the passage is saying in context rather than trying to force it into my own preconceived notions. I don’t have time for “peer review” between Sundays, but I can check my conclusions against reputable commentaries to make sure that I am not off base. And if I am teaching in an area where good Christians disagree, I can say that from the pulpit, while at the same time explaining why I have come to my own conclusions from the Scriptures.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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