Monday, 5 June 2006

Lest we forget how biased we are

I read about these tests which supposedly measure how biased we are towards all sorts of things - race, religion, gender, sexual preferences (homo vs. hetro) etc - while reading Scientific American. The basic assumption there is that although people can be enlightened as hell, they still carry with them all sorts of biases gained from even the slightest childhood experience - things like your parent tightening their grip on your hand while walking you through a neighborhood full of Manchester United supporters.
Given that I was on my lunch break, I couldn't resist doing one of the tests. Have a go at:
I did the black vs. white test, and it came up telling me that I'm moderately biased in favor of the whites. They have different adjectives for specifying how biased you are, and moderate is the middle of the road one.
I do have to say that beyond the fun element of this exercise, I have my reservations about its reliability. The test works by letting you first associate good stuff with white people and bad stuff with blacks, and then reversing the order so that you associate good with black and bad with white. By measuring the difference in the speed of your reaction to each of the challenges, it is supposed to be able to statistically tell how badly biased you are.
Well, that's nice on paper, but I have a problem with it. Let's say I've been driving on the right side of the road for 15 years, and then all of a sudden I'm told I now need to drive on the left side of the road; I can tell you from my own experience, this would take getting used to, mainly because I'm so deeply experienced in doing things a certain way. So how can this test train me on doing things one way, then change the side of the road I'm driving on, and then tell me I'm biased? They claim to have this factor statistically factored out, but I would like to be able to go through the same test again in reverse order, where I first associate bad with white and then bad with black.
Why do I bother you with this story? Because I get pissed when statistics is abused.
Not that I'm saying I'm not biased; I would certainly be biased against blacks, and for a very simple reason: I've hardly had any exposure to them. It's the ignorance of my ways that gets me to become biased.
On that same token I can say that I noticed I'm more than a head over heels in the company of gay people, both men and women.
And on that note, don't let any man tell you they'd be able to be totally objective when interviewing two people to work with them, one an ugly looking old man, the other a very attractive young woman. Even if they don't think of the woman as their next mistress and even if they're happily married and all, the contest is a no contest.
To mock all the intelligent designers out there, god has created us with bias built in.

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