The Bias Of Bias Research

Dear Editor,

Social science research contains well designed studies proving significant differences exist between groups.  However, conclusion sections frequently contain untested subjective interpretations of causation. Recently, a journalist misrepresented research by claiming implicit bias was scientifically proven.  Group difference was proven. The cause, theorized in the conclusion, remains an educated guess.

Social science research is difficult.  Much research on differences force explanations into being either intentional or implicit bias.  All other explanations are conveniently ignored. At the very least, researchers need to rule out other legitimate causes of differences before settling on simplistic explanations.  Logically, many existing differences could just as easily be due to different communication styles, cultural beliefs, care expectations, fund of knowledge etc. Current bias research involves huge unidirectional power differentials uncommon today.  Both sides in a social dichotomy effect and are effected by the other. It is possible that differences are the result of bias in the “at risk” group. For example, if administration substantially improves an offices environment but employees retain animosity, continuing to address only one side of the equation is wasteful.

Years ago, in a racial stereotype study, subjects were asked to make interpretations based on pictures.  The study found Caucasians were most likely to use racial stereotypes. African Americans were least likely.  Right or wrong, every group stereotypes other dissimilar comparative groups. You would expect fewer African Americans to have stereotypes of African Americans.  At the same time African American stereotypes of Caucasians will be different than Asian American stereotypes of Caucasians. Several news articles claimed this as unquestionable ground breaking research.  Another logical interpretation/criticism is that only Caucasian stereotypes against African Americans were tested.

In high school one of my teacher’s assigned reading of an African American Studies “research paper.”  The research purpose was to explain why all Caucasians were racist. One of the pseudo-scientific explanations was that prehistoric ice age Europeans faced dramatic resource reduction.  The author theorized, environmental pressures selected for violent abusive aggressive genes while more submissive sharing altruistic genes were killed off. References were included to intellectualize the theory.  Not all students of African Studies agree with every theory. Since the article was similar to intellectualized caricatures of holocaust victims learned in history class, I criticized the paper. I was ostracized by the class and teacher as a result.

The scientific method requires criticism.  Lack of criticism, attacking critics, undermines legitimacy of social sciences.

Alan Burke