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It says in the paper…


What do you think of today’s picture? It’s Hydes Pool on the other side of town from where I live. Some people call it a lake, some people call it a pool and some people call it a duck pond. Does it matter what we call it?

Words and pictures create an impression. My picture of the pool suggests that I live in quite a nice place. That expanse of water is called Hydes Pool, why describe it as a pond? Why would anyone do the opposite and upgrade it to a lake? On the other side of those trees is the River Tame, well it is when people aren’t downgrading it to a brook. Words and pictures create perceptions and bias.


How often has someone given you advice based upon a ‘mates’ experiences? You mention a make and model of car and they say, “don’t have one of those, my mate had one and it was a load of trouble”. Then you get the opinion that the chicken in Tesco is better than the chicken in Aldi, despite the fact they both came from the same farm. I remember one journalist, who should have known better, describing the grapes from Aldi as ‘watery’. Maybe, his wife had just washed them! We become biased on the flimsiest of evidence. My local council spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on traffic calming  because some kids died in a road accident close to a school. I checked and the accident happened years ago and the kids were actually teenagers driving a stolen car. No one checked the statistics for accidents or even tried to get hard evidence before spending a small fortune on speed humps. Just because it says something in an influential report, we can’t always believe it without verification.

It says in the Sun

We also get our biased opinions from newspapers and the Sun even brags about how it decides elections by influencing public opinion. “it says here…” is a popular expression to justify a view that can’t be backed up by evidence. These arguments come from propaganda and are not evidence based. The propaganda appears to back up racist claims, political extremist claims, religious claims even a claim that climate change is somehow normal.

It says in this report

Even when the source of our information is an influential report, we can’t believe what people say when they say, “it says in this report”. We have to examine the evidence for ourselves and to save time, we don’t. We listen to gossip and have our biases ingrained so deeply it can be difficult to change our views and perceptions.

The referendum

The people of the United Kingdom have to make an important decision this month about membership of the European Union. The decisions people make will be made on with bias, on the basis of nationalist propaganda and on the basis of racist propaganda. People will decide on the basis of primitive tribalism. They will follow a lead given by a political party, a trade union or whatever. They will not examine the evidence, there is no evidence. I would ask my MEP if only I knew who it was…

We are only human

Biased perception is a human failing but the human race has achieved a lot. Ask a man to drill a hole in a wall, plug it and insert a screw to hang a picture and he will do a good job. Ask him which supplier is the best to buy the screws from and his bias might complicate things; he has to make a decision. I personally think the world economy is in a mess because of cognitive bias, but how can we decide to fix it without reliable evidence? It says in the Financial Times…

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