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Tag: bias

An “Unbiased Opinion”

I recently read a short column by gadget reviewer Vlad Savov in The Verge provocatively titled “My reviews are biased — that’s why you should trust them” which made me think. In it, Vlad addresses the accusation he hears often that he’s biased:

Of course I’m biased, that’s the whole point… subjectivity is an inherent — and I would argue necessary — part of making these reviews meaningful. Giving each new device a decontextualized blank slate to be reviewed against and only asserting the bare facts of its existence is neither engaging nor particularly useful. You want me to complain about the chronically bloopy Samsung TouchWiz interface while celebrating the size perfection of last year’s Moto X. Those are my preferences, my biased opinions, and it’s only by applying them to the pristine new phone or tablet that I can be of any use to readers. To be perfectly impartial would negate the value of having a human conduct the review at all. Just feed the new thing into a 3D scanner and run a few algorithms over the resulting data to determine a numerical score. Job done.”

[emphasis mine]

As Vlad points out, in an expert you’re asking for advice from, bias is a good thing. Now whether or not Vlad has unhelpful biases or is someone who’s opinion you value is a separate question entirely, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned — an unbiased opinion is oftentimes an uneducated one and tend to come from panderers who fit one of three criteria:

  1. they think you don’t want them to express an opinion and are trying to respect your wishes
  2. they don’t know anything
  3. they are trying to sell you something, not mutually exclusive with (2)

The individuals who are the most knowledgeable and thoughtful about a topic almost certainly have a bias and that’s a bias that you want to hear.

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Why We All Thought (Wrongly That) Female Fertility Plummeted After 35

The Atlantic published a great article last week debunking the commonly held view that women must have children by 35 or risk high chance of infertility. Its a very interesting read, and one that I hope reassures young women who are feeling unnecessary pressure to choose between kids and careers.

But, what was especially interesting here was the article’s exploration of why this “fact” was so ingrained into our minds and the minds of fertility experts. Beyond just bad statistics (apparently the “widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying is based on … French birth records from 1670 to 1830”), the article highlighted the availability heuristic: where top of mind experiences, even if they are statistically unrepresentative, twist your perceptions:

Women who are actively trying to get pregnant at age 35 or later might be less fertile than the average over-35 woman. Some highly fertile women will get pregnant accidentally when they are younger, and others will get pregnant quickly whenever they try, completing their families at a younger age. Those who are left are, disproportionately, the less fertile.

This sort of bias isn’t restricted just to fertility – its extremely common among entrepreneurs and investors who oftentimes fall into the trap of generalizing their own opinions and the opinions of their friends & family to the broader market, forgetting that the views of middle-aged, highly educated, Silicon Valley, upper-income, tech-savvy folks they know aren’t always indicative of what the broader population (i.e. the broader market) thinks.

Everyone is subject to bias – what’s important is that we constantly ask ourselves if our biases are creeping in.

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