Source Bias: What to Use and What to Lose

Research, accuracy and source bias has been on my mind a lot the last few days, and not surprisingly it started with a news story.  This particular story was the one about Nathan Phillips and a group of students from Covington Catholic High School.

One narrative has a group of white male highschool students mocking and trying to intimidate an Omaha elder.

In another, the elder saw tension building between the high schoolers and a religious group.  He and his people encircled the students, praying and drumming only to be mocked.

Another narrative blames it all on Black Muslims.

In yet another, Phillips was clearly trying to intimidate the high schoolers.

The problem in researching anything like this is understanding source bias. Simply put, bias is how the author thinks about the topic.  What beliefs color this perception?  What is his goal in writing the piece? All potential source materials have bias because they are created by people and people have bias.  The key here is to identify the bias found in a particular source and determine whether or not it will get in the way of accuracy.

I had the audacity to challenge a source posted by a friend of my husband.  “That’s just because it isn’t a liberal blogger.”

In all truth, I’m suspicious of liberal sources where this story is concerned.  They are going to be inclined to make the people wearing Trump hats look bad.  But I’m also suspicious of conservative sources.  See the Black Muslim comment.

The key is to find sources that are willing to make both sides look less than perfect.  For that, look at the New York Times.

Just about any topic can suffer from “bias issues.” The key is in knowing the limits to which you can trust a source.

A missionary in the early 19th century South Pacific, may have had some valuable insight into the lives of the islanders, but his observations were filtered through the lens of someone who journeyed to their island home to “save them” from their flawed state of being.

Two warring parties cannot and should not be expected to give unbiased or accurate information about each other.

Economic level, education, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, and much, much more play into bias. By being aware of the possible biases of your sources, you’ll have a better idea of what facts to take at face value and which to take extra steps to verify.


2 thoughts on “Source Bias: What to Use and What to Lose

  1. Great post. I’ve been having a discussion on Facebook about people jumping to conclusions without evaluating sources. Some people only care about confirming their own biases unfortunately.

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