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On Blogs and Bias
14/03/2005

Over the weekend, a reader of my blog called me "the most biased, unreasonable commentator". (In response to this.) If it were true, that would be quite the acheivement.

I'm sure most bloggers who express their opinions online have had similar criticisms. It makes me wonder... what really defines bias in the world of blogging?

On one hand, there is the sort of bias we think of when we consider journalists. In our culture there is an expectation that those who report the news will do so in a neutral manner, without inserting their partisan opinions. When they don't, it's called bias. However, this definition of bias has no meaning in the world of blogs. We aren't just reporting the news and few blogs pretend to be neutral or devoid of opinion and judgement.

Then there is this definition of bias: "a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation". I suppose this the sort of bias that most blog critics are thinking about.

The accusation is that the blogger has let his or her ingoing beliefs create a sort of prejudice that leads them to an unfair conclusion. In some cases this may be true, and in others the writer may have considered the facts and come to a reasonable judgement.

The problem is, it is very hard to tell which has happened. If there was only one true answer that all unbiased thinkers would come to, it would be easy. But I have seen fair-minded bloggers come to different conclusions than I. Reasonable people do disagree, so you can't tell from the outcome who was biased, and who was not. In fact, judging bias in bloggers based merely on their conclusions would be a most obvious case of bias, indeed!

It may be possible to see that a blogger is "biased" if you can see the argument that led to the conclusion. However, conclusions frequenlty become inputs for future arguments. So, yesterday's fair conclusion can become tomorrow's ingoing belief that can appear, to the reader who wants to see it, as bias.

So, I think there is no point to criticisms of this type. Overall, it would seem to me that it's best to just set this "bias" word aside and instead engage in some good old debate and counter-argument. Most people out there are of a temperment that will be open to discussion. And those that are just too angry with the world aren't really worth it.


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