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How to get unbiased information on anything

  1. Understand that you, yourself, are biased. If you have any opinion whatsoever on a topic, you are biased. Period. If you believe otherwise, then there is no way for you to get unbiased information, because the bias filters that you don't believe you have will prevent you from seeing anything that doesn't match your bias. The only things that you can possibly be completely unbiased about are things about which you have absolutely no opinion. And even then, it's iffy. So start with the understanding that you are already biased.

  2. Be willing to examine any and all data on the subject at hand. Not all of this data will be in agreement. In fact, it is almost certain that you will find data that supports a wide variety of opinions. But you must be willing to examine all of it, even if it supports an opinion you that you a) don't believe, b) find offensive, or c) are actively working against. And the easiest way I've found to do that is to say to myself "This goes against my biases, and I find that I am uncomfortable with it, but I will only understand the issue if I know what this information means." If you find yourself rejecting data because you don't agree with its conclusion, then it is impossible for you to get unbiased information.

  3. Do not rely on any one source of information. Remember, everyone is biased. If you rely on only one source, even if it's a primary source, you are basically copying the biases of that source. The more independent sources you get your information from, the easier it is to weed out the biases and figure out what the data actually point to.

  4. Be wary of outliers. Don't dismiss outliers, but be aware that the farther away from the "average" a piece of information is, the more likely it is to be biased. This does not mean it's untrue, so the best thing to do with outlying information is to test it. For example: Is it anecdotal? Then it's probably not valuable info. Is it scientific? Check up on how rigorously the scientific method was followed. Is it statistical? Go look at the raw data that the statistics are based on, then try to find out if there are any inherent biases in the data selection. Et cetera.

  5. Above all, be willing to accept that you, your family, your friends, your mentors, and your role models may all be completely wrong. Believing that we are right is a survival trait. Believing that our figures of authority are right is also a survival trait. As social creatures, we have a strong instinct to believe as those around us believe. No one is immune to this. One can overcome it, but it takes effort and determination. And unless one overcomes this instinct, one's bias filters will prevent one from seeing information that doesn't agree with what one believes is right. This is why it usually takes generations for new ideas to take hold: sometimes, enough people who believe the old thing have to die before the new thing can be accepted, because sometimes people would rather die than stop believing something. Don't be one of those people.

Also, all of this is really hard! For all that I've written this, I find it almost impossible to put into practice more often than occasionally, because nearly every mechanism of human psychology works against it. So don't beat yourself up if you find that you can't do it all the time. No one can, really. We just try to do it as much as we can, and hopefully we get better at it the more we try.

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