What bias is clouding your decision making?

I don’t remember much from that long-ago day. There was some pain. Everything was a blur. The only clear memory is of a seemingly endless line of people. They all said the same thing: “Wow, that was a neat crash. I wish I had a camera.”

By then I had been racing motorcycles for a couple of years. There was nothing finer than Southern California motocross in the early 1970s. I loved it. It was my life.

But I had not yet discovered one crucial piece of information: I really sucked at it. Every time I went fast, I crashed spectacularly.

Finally figuring that out was a revelation, but why did it take me so long to see what was obvious to everyone else? Unfortunately, it has to do with being human. We make decisions based on what we think we know, instead of what we actually know.

In my case I thought I was far more coordinated and talented than I actually was. My racing decisions were colored by an ego too large to admit that I might have something else to learn.

Once I saw this, I could apply this lesson to every other aspect of my life. I learned how to research a subject so I can speak authoritatively supported by facts, not conjecture. It’s worked out well. Both my sons have stated that I’m usually right not because I’m Dad, but because I speak with knowledge.

I then admitted my secret: Don’t talk or act if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The trick is to separate real reality from your personally constructed reality. After my August article one of my readers, Lance Smith, kindly sent me a copy of a presentation he made in college. It concerned data collection and interpretation, and the use of this in one’s decision-making.

If I understand him correctly, he demonstrates how we make decisions based on our interpretation of the data. This interpretation is based on our personal bias. We skew the data to fit our preconceived notions and ignore what doesn’t fit these notions.

An example of this can be found in the fight over Initiative 522 concerning labeling on genetically modified foods. At this writing, the election has not occurred. From all the ads I see two positions. One implies that genetically modified equals FrankenFood. “We have to know it’s there!” The other position is added cost and inconsistencies in application of the law’s requirements.

Neither side is mentioning that almost all our food is genetically modified. I remember when a Red Delicious apple was sweet and crisp, but not so red. It’s been genetically modified through breeding to be red at the expense of taste and texture. Corn bears little resemblance to the native maize it started as.

Our Thanksgiving turkey has been bred for larger breasts. Pork is commonly injected with a saline solution to mimic the texture it had before it was bred to be “healthy.” Beef, tomatoes, the list is endless.

I believe knowledge of this would have changed the nature of the debate. Take our foray into Afghanistan. That country has never been subjugated. Russia’s invasion was a major factor in the dissolution of the USSR. Yet our leaders looked at it and thought, “no problem.”

Should we discuss Obamacare? I wonder what mental gymnastics were needed to pass and implement it in this form. Who thought it was a good idea for those opposing it to hold our country hostage and damage our economy in an attempt to repeal it?

On a personal note, how many people ignore all the warning signs and stay with a toxic significant other because they “love” them?

We should make decisions after much more careful consideration than we usually do. Looking beyond our emotions or personal bias is difficult, but necessary if we are to avoid making the same mistakes over and over.

Originally printed in The Olympian on November 11, 2013