Confirmation Bias May 4, 2014Posted by bobv451 in Uncategorized.
Tags: confirmation bias, fiction, science, sf, Time, writing
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One of the hats I wear at this time of year is working on the editorial staff of a four-play of great fantasy football magazines. One of them won best fantasy football magazine of the 2013 (beating out such also-rans as Sports Illustrated and Rotowire <g>). One article that just passed through my computer this year takes the usual fantasy selection process to a new level by discussing confirmation bias.
This started me thinking about how confirmation bias enters into fiction writing overall. In a nutshell this is (subconsciously) looking for information that supports your own beliefs.
Everyone filters what they choose to read simply because there isn’t time enough to read everything. If I write a book a month and you can read it in a day, you have 29 or 30 days free–but there are hundreds of authors also publishing a book to take up that schedule. Read 3 a day–there are more than that being published. And I’m just talking f&sf. Throw in mysteries and westerns and romance and nf and all the rest, you’d have to read faster than the speed of light. So of course you need to pick and choose (call it discriminate, if you will). You read space opera with a touch of other sf? You still have to figure out how to best spend your time. Favorite author? This is music to my ears if my name is on that mental list because it means I write what you like.
Here is where confirmation bias can be both good and bad. It’s good that you read for enjoyment what entertains you. It’s stupid to force yourself through a book that isn’t delivering the groceries. All you have in life is time and you must make the most of it. The same goes for being a writer. I pick and choose what interests me to write. Confirmation bias supports my choices since I need look at only the bits and pieces that reinforce my foolish belief I can sell what I write. Would something outside the box (I am beginning to hate this cliche) be better? Maybe, but not if it doesn’t spark my interest. I love reading about physics and my bias is in that direction. That’s not to say civil engineering wouldn’t add to my store of info, but mostly I don’t care about asphalt roads or designing parking lots or see how a story about them would be fun to write. I would rather find another article on the Alcubierre warp drive.
Confirmation bias supports my beliefs in fiction reading and writing. Making decisions that involve life and death situations certainly require examining your beliefs to be sure they aren’t doing great harm or are just not right. What if the accepted mass of the electron was wrong, maybe just by a tad? Such “absolutely known” numbers need to be verified and are never “accepted science” in real science.