The dead can’t tell their stories. Even when their accounts are documented, they are often given less credence than the accounts of survivors who still exist to share theirs. Simply put, survivorship bias is a logical fallacy in which we concentrate on the accounts of those who have made it past some criteria and overlook the accounts of those who did not. The error is compounded as conclusions are drawn that suggest that success is due to some characteristic shared by the successful instead of extraneous variables or random chance.
I most often see this bias play out in three ways:
- “The secret to a long life” stories
- “I did XYZ as a child, and I turned out fine” stories
- “Rags to riches” stories
Even though some of these stories may be shared with a humorous intent, there are plenty of examples where people believe that they are drawing accurate conclusions about success based on a selective review of attempts in pursuit of that success.
Two of my favorite linguistic devices are the garden path sentence and the paraprosdokian. You’ve likely encountered these many times in the past, even if you didn’t know how they were categorized. They are both sentences that cause the reader to reconsider information as the sentence is being read. For garden path sentences, this is a result of the reader parsing a sentence incorrectly, and for a paraprosdokian, the sentence is introduced in a manner to intentionally set the reader up for an unexpected conclusion.
Merriam-Webster defines bias as “a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.” We should look for media outlets that don’t do this then, right? I would argue that the presence of bias should not immediately render a media outlet as unacceptable. We, as readers, should be able to recognize bias when we see it and analyze how it may be affecting how we interpret the facts of a story. We must train our eyes to see the hallmarks of questionable journalism and avoid sources that lean too heavily on bad practices.
Enter AdFontesMedia, publisher of the Media Bias Chart, which has published version 5.0 of its interactive chart as of this writing. Their research seeks to organize media outlets in a coordinate plane based on two factors, political bias and overall source reliability. The political bias measure follows a traditional left/right continuum, and source reliability seeks to quantify the difference between straight fact reporting and the various levels of analysis and commentary that can stem from it.
YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHICH SUPERFOOD WILL [[insert claim here]]!
When it comes to medical science and health, be extra careful about the sources you share from, who is attaching their name to the articles, and what research they are linking to. There is a dangerous habit of media outlets of all sizes taking the results of a very preliminary study and making wildly exaggerated claims about how the possible benefits.
10 things to watch out for when interpreting research
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver did a great breakdown of how wild headlines can get when cherry-picking from research back in 2016. This focuses mostly on major mainstream media outlets not to mention the barrage of small, pseudo-anonymous “health” websites sharing dubious information with little substantiation.
It’s not enough to have sources to support your claims; they must be good sources. Good science is that which is overwhelmingly supported by scientists throughout the field of study. Good science is not a single study, conclusion, or data point that happens to support a preconceived idea.
The greater challenge is to be truly open-minded to changing or modifying our practices or beliefs when presented with new, substantiated information. Appeals to antiquity or tradition are NOT good reasons for continuing to practice or believe something, particularly in the fields of science, especially when those long-held practices were formed in the absence of newer, more relevant information.
Is your source CRAAP? The CRAAP test was designed by librarians at CSU Chico to examine a source of information. It looks at the areas of Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose as a means of separating the good from the bad.
Sharing a picture with words on it on Facebook because you agree with it fails this test. That is most often when one fails to examine accuracy and purpose. Sure, perhaps you’re very upset that Pepsi didn’t include the words “under God” in the Pledge on its packaging, but that doesn’t change the reality that it never happened. Who created that deliberately misleading image with incorrect information? Why?
Just as it is important that credible news have an author’s name attached to show that a reputation is linked to the accuracy of the information within, we all also have reputations being formed by the types of information we attach our name to when we share it. Make sure you attach your name to information that won’t damage your credibility.
You’ve likely seen this type of math riddle before. Take some number, do some arithmetic, and you get some other number. This variation begins with your shoe size and ends with your age. Can your shoe size really determine your age? Of course not. The explanation is below the fold.
Students in my classroom will learn the Auburn Creed (at the very least the first six lines) because I feel they are a very elegant way of stating otherwise common classroom rules. If a student doesn’t tell the truth, he will be reminded that without honesty, it is impossible to earn the respect of his classmates. If a student turns in sloppy or careless work, she will be reminded that only hard, diligent work will result in reward.
I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.
I believe in education, which gives me the knowledge to work wisely and trains my mind and my hands to work skillfully.
I believe in honesty and truthfulness, without which I cannot win the respect and confidence of my fellow men.
I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.
I believe in obedience to law because it protects the rights of all.
I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.
I believe in my Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is my own home, and that I can best serve that country by “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.”
And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.
-George Petrie (1945)
Dropbox should be every teacher’s best friend. How many times have you needed to print a file only to realize that you forgot your USB drive at home? Tired of having to email files back and forth to yourself from school and home? Read more
This was written for my CUED 6340 class at Tech.
The ability to fluently speak, read, write, and comprehend language is without question, the most important skill for academic success. Literacy undergirds not only every academic subject but most aspects of daily life, and one cannot be expected to fully succeed without the ability to interpret the information with which they are presented.
Literacy can be shaped from the moment a child is aware of their surroundings. It is crucial then that children are exposed to visual and audio stimuli frequently. Unfortunately, what was once the reading of a book to a child has devolved into the playback of television programs. Actively-involved family members are a crucial fragment in the development of life’s most important skill.