When researchers perform experiments, say testing a new drug, they generally perform what are known as ‘double-blind’ experiments. This means that the person(s) administering the test remain unaware of the reason for the test. In the case of a placebo versus drug test, for example, this includes not knowing which subject(s) will receive which version.
These procedures are supposed to eliminate bias – finding, intentionally or otherwise, the result you are hoping for; seeing only the positive evidence and ignoring anything that does not support your assumptions.
This is all very well when we are conducting scientific experiments. What about in our day to day lives though? The luxury of the experimental procedure may not be available or looked for. We all tend to take a position and then find evidence to support it. It is all too easy to ignore or skew the evidence, even if unconsciously, so that it supports our prejudice.
Hence the success of conspiracy theories! If you mistrust the government, a group that provides “evidence” that the government is plotting against you will be welcome. And anyone who comes up with opposing evidence becomes a suspected government stooge, employee or, at least, sympathiser.
And so it is with all our opinions. We collect evidence to support our viewpoint, reject that which casts doubt. Bizarrely, contrary evidence can even strengthen our certainty that we are right. We will twist that evidence into tighter and tighter knots in our efforts to hang on to our position.
So how do we guard against this tendency to blind conviction, to being so desperate to be right that we will ignore, distort, even lie (often to ourselves)?
I guess the only way is to intentionally question everything we believe. To actively try to find the flaws in our own arguments, to welcome the possibility that we have made a mistake or been misled.
Not easy, but surely worth trying?