Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Is bias a necessary evil?

Biases are ubiquitous. And because they are ubiquitous, we must embrace them for we cannot escape. This is especially true to science. I see biases as vital and necessary components of science. I often see bias portrayed as being bad--rightfully so as bias can really screw us over as portrayed by the articles I read. But from reading these articles, I wanted to find reasons for how bias can be good. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the connotation of the word "bias" or applying the word subjectively? No matter what, here are some reasons why I think bias could be a good thing:

  1. Biases, aka hypotheses, are the impetuses for projects. Scientist must have a central belief, which are biased by our expertise, past life experiences, our colleagues, mentors, and etc, to which we frame our scientific questions. I believe that these biases provides the momentum for the creation of projects and propel discovery. Without our constantly changing biases science would not be in perpetual motion. 
  2. Biases allow us to be more critical, allowing for the advancement of science. We are taught as scientist to always question what we see, what we read, and what we hear. We would not have such critical minds if we did not have a bias that something published is not always true or causative. I think that such skepticism pushes science forward. 
  3. Biases force us to do better science. The point of publishing is share your discoveries with supportive evidences that try to minimize biases. Because we have these biases and want our results to be as objective as possible, we design "controlled" experiments. Thus, bias forces us perform scientifically valid experiments and analyze data that can best confirm our hypotheses.

Here are my thoughts on how bias is a necessary evil in science. Without them it may be hard to pose a scientific question, make it impossible to be more critical, and most importantly, perform and analyze truly honest and objective experiments. Since there are many examples of how bias can be detrimental to science, I just wanted to be a devil's advocate and provide some reflections about how bias can actually be good for science.