Why opinion journalists are sometimes bad at their job (including myself)
By Kent R. Kroeger (January 4, 2021)
Opinion journalists, such as movie critics, bring biases to every opinion they hold and complete objectivity is an ideal few, if any, attain.
The scientific literature on this trait common to all humans, not just opinion journalists, is vast and well-established. The lenses through which we interact with the world are multilayered and varied, each of us with our own unique configuration.
The science tells us we tend to overestimate our own knowledge while underestimating the knowledge of others (“Lake Wobegon effect”); we tend to believe an idea that has been repeated to us multiple times or is easy to understand, regardless of its actual veracity (“illusory truth effect”); we overestimate the importance recent information over historic information (“recency effect”); we offer our opinions to others that will be viewed more favorably by them and often suppress our unpopular opinions (“social desirability bias”); and perhaps the most dangerous bias of all: confirmation bias — our inclination to search for, process and remember information that confirms our preconceptions to the exclusion of information that might challenge them.
But nowhere are human biases more socially destructive than when opinion journalists project onto others the motivations for their personal opinions and actions. It is often called the illusion of transparency and it occurs when we overestimate our own ability to understand what drives someone else’s opinions and behaviors. [The other side of that same bias occurs when we overestimate the ability of others to know our own motivations.]
The illusion of transparency often leads to fundamental attribution errors in which the explanations for the opinions and behaviors of others is falsely reduced to psychological and personality-based factors (“racist,” “sexist,” “lazy,” “stupid,” etc.).
In combination with intergroup bias — which takes the illusion of transparency to the group level and causes members of a group to give preferential treatment to their own group, often leading to a group’s intellectual atrophy as they make it difficult for new ideas to be introduced into the group — this tendency to falsely infer the…