The Information Skill is the ability to gather, sort and validate data and information before beginning the analytical process to develop findings (what the information is telling you) and conclusions.
In order to develop findings that are valid and conclusions that are true, your information and data need to be validated. And in order to validate the information, you need to understand what biases come into play.
A “bias” is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another – usually in a way considered to be unfair.
If the information you are gathering is biased, then your findings and conclusions will be affected in favor of that bias.
Here are three types of bias that you should understand as you gather your information:
- Authority Bias – Authority bias can convince us that a title or position makes someone a reliable source of information. Conversely, a lack of authority can make you dismiss a potentially reliable source.
- Confirmation Bias – Confirmation bias makes you seek evidence that supports your belief that a source is reliable and encourages you to ignore evidence that suggests otherwise. You see this often from political commentators on cable news . . . they start with a conclusion that fits their beliefs and then seek evidence from which findings and conclusions may be drawn to support their analysis. The trouble is that such “evidence” they present is often made up or, to put it bluntly, lies.
- Affect Bias – The affect bias is why we consider sources that we like as sources that are reliable. You judge a source you like because it makes you happy or feel good to hear information with which you agree. Accordingly, you tune in to your favorite cable news network to seek validation of your beliefs and ignore other cable news or network sources because they might present evidence that is contrary to your beliefs. In the end, your beliefs become hardened and you refuse to consider any alternative – no matter how reliable the source.
A reliable way to evaluate reliability separate from accuracy is to create four categories while looking out for the authority, confirmation and affect biases.
These categories are information that is:
- #1 – Reliable and Accurate
- #2 – Reliable and Inaccurate
- #3 – Unreliable and Accurate
- #4 – Unreliable and Inaccurate
Given this, what should you do?
It’s simple: Don’t be afraid to check the reliability of your sources and the accuracy of what information they provide before embarking on the analytical process of developing your findings and conclusions.
Remember: In critical thinking . . . P → Q (P implies Q . . . or . . . Your Premise implies your Conclusion.)
- If your Premise (P) is true – your Conclusion (Q) will be reliable and true.
- If your Premise (P) is not true – your Conclusion (Q) will be either true or untrue (you can’t tell) or to put it bluntly, whatever you want it to be.
The bottom line is this: If you want to think critically, you need to check the reliability and accuracy of the information you process.