19 July 2012

Excuse Me . . . Your Bias Is Showing

It always makes me snicker a little when I read something like the following in the comments to an article posted online: the evidence is clear, or many studies support this, or scientific peer-reviewed research shows, or (my personal favorite) I've done the research myself. Really? I'm surprised you had time to pick up a [medical license, degree in immunology, xyz certification] and conduct your own [double-blind studies, psychological evaluations, lab tests]. You must be way more efficient at this parenting thing than I am. Yet I continually see folks spouting one of two viewpoints:

1. If Only You Had More Information, You'd Agree With Me.

2. Don't Bore Me With Facts; I Know I'm Right.

Tip: Having access to the Internet does not make you an "expert" in anything. This article might be my favorite piece EVER on the topic. (Actually, I find the whole blog from which this post was taken entertaining, in an irreverent and snippy I-cannot-believe-he-just-wrote-that sort of way. Not for the faint of heart.)

Another eye-roller is when folks quote a respected agency when it supports their opinion, and yet completely disregard that same agency's views when it conflicts with their own. We're all about quoting reputable organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, or the World Health Organization when they support our own agenda, but poo poo them if they disagree with us. 

Someone on the Internet doesn't agree with me
For example, I see this some version of this line almost daily in the crunchy parenting blogosphere: The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and then once solids are added, continued breastfeeding until at least 12 months. (Yes; folks always feet the need to emphasize the "at least" part.) Yet when it comes to the AAP's views on vaccination, well . . . eh, who needs em, right?

The truth is, whether in favor of [insert divisive parenting issue here] or not, you will always be able to find "research" that supports your view. 

So why is that?

We have a natural tendency to pay attention to the things that confirm our feelings or views and la la la la ourselves away from the things that might disprove them. In psychological jargon, this is called confirmation bias. (For a simple explanation, see the wikipedia entry. For a specific example, check out this post from Psychology Today.)

Honestly, we're all walking contradictions (myself included). I know I am likely to praise any article that portrays breastfeeding in a positive light, and downplay any article that depicts it even the slightest bit negatively. Same with co-sleeping. I'm a fan, so I will applaud researchers like Dr. McKenna but minimize the suggestion from the AAP that "the baby should sleep in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed (room-sharing without bed-sharing)."


  1. Haha- I'll plead guilty to citing research, but ONLY if I've read the research paper myself.

    Biases? I don't know- maybe I get unreasonably irritated by baby-wearing and anything that promotes excessive attachment, because my own son rejected that sort of thing so mightily. I'm a believer in nurturing independence. So yes, I probably read articles that lean towards that view.

    1. I could also never get into the babywearing thing. I think one of the things I get really eye-rolly about is natural birth. I just have to side with modern medicine and pain relief on that one. Just one of many things I'm writing this next post about . . . which at this point I think I may need to break into two parts. Apparently, I'm a very biased person, LOL.

  2. I have the same bias towards AP, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping as you do - those are the articles I seek out and read. When I look for the other it's to try to disprove them which defeats the purpose.

    I'm a big believer in Keynesian economics so I tend towards articles and studies that support that view.

    I do think that I initially have a more balance approach to research, but once I make up my mind it's hard to change.