Bias Check: Update


Responding to my recent post on trying to identify one’s own political biases and the 39 questions that everyone agreed left much to be desired in dividing liberal from conservative, an old friend from both law school and the stage has suggested another resource to try. He is a professor of telecommunications at a prestigious Midwest university, and pointed me to a site called The Political Compass. It has a more nuanced set of questions, and multiple choice answers that will place you on a Left-Right (economic)/ Authoritarian-Libertarian (social) grid.

The site is clearly British, and obviously hasn’t been tended for a while: it looks like it was set prior to the 2012 election. I have other problems with it, not the least of which that it places Barack Obama in the Right/Authoritarian quadrant. The site charts past political leaders, and it looks to me like the President is the ideological clone of…Margaret Thatcher. I’d say it needs some tweaking.

I haven’t taken the test again to check, but how the program scores the distinction between agreeing or disagreeing and strongly agreeing or disagreeing  intrigues me; in my case, which I chose was a toss-up. (Update: I just took the test again with all “strongly’s” checked. The result was virtually the same—a tad more left and libertarian. That’s my first test result above. )

As you will see if you take the test, some of the questions are phrased to create a false choice, like.. If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations,  and All authority should be questioned, and Taxpayers should not be expected to prop up any theatres or museums that cannot survive on a commercial basis.
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Bias Check

Confirmation bias

Detecting and overcoming one’s own biases is one of the most important features of being ethical. “Bias makes you stupid,” after all, and stupidity can make you unethical. As the author of an ethics blog, this is of special concern to me, as I am constantly making choices that bias could seriously affect. Some of those choices include what issues and events have ethics components, which are most important to publicize, how should the ethical issues be analyzed, what conclusions are fair and reasonable, even how long a particular post should be, what authorities and references should be included, and what style—scholarly? humorous? bemused? indignant? outraged?—will best illustrate a point.

As regular readers here know, I can be harsh, often too harsh, when a commenter dismisses my commentary as partisan or ideologically motivated. First of all, it isn’t, and I resent the accusation. Second, it’s a cheap shot, essentially attacking my motives, objectivity and integrity rather than presenting substantive arguments. Third, it is a simpleminded approach to the world in general, and democracy in particular, and life, presuming that “there are two kinds of people,” and one type is always wrong, while the other type is always right. There is nobody I agree with all the time, and I am far from alone in that trait. People who agree with the same people all the time are not really thinking. They are just taking the easy route of picking sides, and letting others think for them.

Obviously, my approach to controversies, problems and ethical analysis are influenced by thousands of factors, including my parents,  my upbringing,  where I have lived,  teachers, friends, and family members, experiences, books, plays, movies and popular culture, interests  and passions (like leadership, American history, and baseball), what I’m good or successful at and I’m not, and so much else. These are not biases: once such influences mold your way of looking at the world and passing through life, they are, in fact, who you are. I’m comfortable with who I am. I just don’t want biases making me me stupider than I am.

Thus I am always interested in trying to identify where I stand on a the ideological scale. Some of my conservative friends think I’m liberal; all of my liberal friends think I’m conservative. Two sides again: I am confident that it is their place on the scale that leads to those perceptions. Today I encountered another test that supposedly divides liberals and conservatives sharply.  It comes from political scientist and philosopher James Burnham’s  1964 book “The Suicide of the West.” Burnham was one of those radical leftists who did a complete reversal in middle age and became an influential conservative theorist. You are asked to agree or disagree with these 39 statements, and the result reveals your ideological bent.

Here are the questions: Continue reading

Lessons From The Defenders Of The Wise-Ass “A”

Back at the beginning of the month, some obscure corners of the web were buzzing over the picture of a purported student exam that ranked an “A..Nice job!” despite the student’s smug punt at the end. Here it is…the section in the square is the section of the student’s answer that provoked widespread indignation at the grade. I first saw it in a post titled: “Some teachers don’t even care any more”:


To be fair, there are many and diverse possible interpretations of this evidence, and not enough context to choose among them. It could be a hoax, for example. The teacher may indeed have skimmed the answer, and not read the paragraph in question. The student’s answer may have already covered the topic sufficiently to justify an “A” (in the teacher’s judgment), and the teacher may have decided to ignore the non sequitur, stream of consciousness ending.

Or perhaps the teacher was like my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Cosloy. (If you are out there reading this, Mr. C—thanks for the memories!) Mr. Cosloy was a terrific teacher who had a healthy dose of cynicism about the way school operated, as well as a well-developed sense of humor. He poked fun at the process all the time, and allowed his students to do the same as long as they also did the work he assigned and showed some progress toward mastering the subject. I felt comfortable writing asides and irreverent commentary on his tests, and on at least one occasion he wrote on one of them that my answers were only worth a B, but he had given me a B+ because I made him laugh twice. We don’t know what the relationship was between the student who allegedly wrote the test answer above and the teacher grading it. Heck, that teacher might have been Mr. Cosloy…

Thus, I was not going to write yet another “here’s more proof that our schools are going to hell” post, though our schools are indeed going to hell. What intrigued me about the episode were some of the comments about it, especially this one, from a Bridgemont Community and Technical College professor named Machelle Kindle: Continue reading

Why Does American Public Education Stink? The Answer: Incompetence, Stupidity, and Fear. The Proof: THIS…

Ah, that look that only a dedicated New York public school teacher can spark!!!

Over at Popehat, Ken has been on another roll, and his latest effort, as depressing and enraging as it is, is a real contribution to our understanding of the kind of entrenched foolishness, cowardice and incompetence in our nation’s public school administration that is gradually rendering the schools useless and our children uneducated.

Spurred by a New York Post story that seemed too horrible to be true, Ken set out to research the claim that the New York School system has compiled a long list of topics that are banned on student tests for a variety of reasons, prime among them that someone, somewhere, will be offended by them.  After some digging on the New York City Department of Education’s websites, what he found  was worse than how the Post had described it.

In an Appendix, he discovered a list of  test question topics “that would probably cause a selection to be deemed unacceptable by the New York City Department of Education… In general, a topic might be unacceptable for any of the following reasons:

  •   The topic could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students that might hamper their ability to take the remainder of the test in the optimal frame of mind.
  •     The topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation.
  •     The topic has been ―done to death in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students.
  •     The topic will appear biased against (or toward) some group of people.

Using those criteria, and undoubtedly using astounding numbers of hours and taxpayer dollars, the Department came up with the following jaw-dropping list of banned test subjects. I’ll flag with red the taboos that are especially outrageous or idiotic, though perhaps I should note the two or three that might be appropriate. Continue reading