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Evaluate Your Sources

Bias/Purpose

Goal: Understand the bias and purpose of the information to determine if a source is relevant to your information needs.

What is the purpose of the source? Is it biased? Ask these questions.

Do the authors / sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?

  • In a book: look for statements in the forward, preface, or introduction. Check the end of the book for a conclusion.
  • ​For an article: read the abstract or introduction of the article, and the discussion or conclusion. You also might be able to find a mission statement for the magazine, journal, or website where the article is published.
  • For a website, look for an "About us" or mission statement.
  • For some sources, you will need to read a little deeper to dig out this information. You may need to google (or otherwise research) the author or sponsoring organization to find out more about them.

What is the purpose of the information (i.e., the reason it exists)?

  • To inform or educate?
  • Is it selling something?
  • Purely for entertainment?
  • To persuade the reader to a particular point of view?

Is the information fact? Is it opinion? Propaganda?

Is inflammatory language used? Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?

Bias check

        Where do you stand?

Tips

Watch out for hidden agendas. For example, be skeptical of a web site that touts the benefits of an alternative medical treatment when it includes a link to buy the product. Although advertising in itself is fine, beware of "click bait" that exists only to drive advertising. 

For a political or controversial issue, make sure you get information from organizations or individuals on more than one side of the issue. Arguments can sound perfectly reasonable until you read the other side and see what they left out. Also, you need to find out the arguments of the opposing side if you are to effectively argue against them. 

Strong, inflammatory, and emotional language are signs of bias. Look closely at the types of adjectives and verbs used, especially superlatives/absolutes (“always” and “never”), emotional/sweeping generalizations, and exaggeration. Examples: "This is obviously the most important idea ever conceived!" or "All teenagers are distracted drivers since they are always texting."  

Types of bias

Bias is the tendency to favor a particular point of view and to present that view instead of other equally valid alternatives. When presented with new information that can be interpreted in several ways, individuals with different biases may present wildly different conclusions based on that information. Often, issues with multiple interpretations are presented as one-sided.

Here are a few examples of bias that you should look out for:  (Source: Wikipedia pages)

  • Confirmation Bias: The tendency to readily accept conclusions that agree with one’s beliefs, and discard conclusions that disagree with them. 
  • Media Bias: Selectivity in what stories and perspective are covered in the media. This can happen when only certain stories or interpretations are covered, such as those that are sensational. In science reporting, bias can be introduced by emphasizing views not supported by evidence.
  • Funding Bias: The tendency of a study or report’s conclusions to favor its financial supporters.
  • Belief Bias: The tendency to reject logical arguments with unbelievable conclusions and accept illogical arguments with believable conclusions.
  • Selection Bias: This occurs when study participants are not representative of the general population, which can occur through selective inclusion or exclusion of study participants.

If you find or believe there is a bias in argumentation from an individual or group, it does not necessarily mean that the argument is wrong. For instance, people often claim that there is a funding bias when a scientific study is funded by an industry group. That is not reason enough to dismiss the study, but potential bias is good to keep in mind when interpreting its conclusions and comparing them to the conclusions of other studies. To reject them out of hand would constitute a bias in itself. Ultimately, accepting or rejecting a conclusion should be based on the scientific evidence.

Cognitive Bias Codex

St. Louis Community College Libraries

Florissant Valley Campus Library
3400 Pershall Rd.
Ferguson, MO 63135-1408
Phone: 314-513-4514

Forest Park Campus Library
5600 Oakland
St. Louis, MO 63110-1316
Phone: 314-644-9210

Meramec Campus Library
11333 Big Bend Road
St. Louis, MO 63122-5720
Phone: 314-984-7797

Wildwood Campus Library
2645 Generations Drive
Wildwood, MO 63040-1168
Phone: 636-422-2000