Mistaken understandings of bias in research

Kevin Kilroy
2 min readJun 10, 2021
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Comer goes on to somehow suggest that because Keefe wrote a deeply researched, rigorously documented book about the Sacklers, his testimony is biased […]

The Sacklers are monsters and James Comer should, and probably does, know better and is simply pandering to his base. But I find this interesting because I see these kinds of misconceptions about what bias is in my FYW students’ work and statements. I’ve had a number of students suggest over the years that in order to avoid bias, they feel they need to find sources that take no stance, that somehow an author loses credibility by making an argument. That’s not exactly what Comer is saying, but it seems to come from the same place — the suggestion that in order to be credible and proper, one has to present “both sides” equally and evenly, and must play the part of the disinterested third party rather than an interested expert.

This isn’t to compare my students to Comer or to criticize them for this belief, but to suggest that this belief must come from somewhere, and it’s interesting to me that Comer is using that particular misconception about bias in order to make his own argument. I don’t see a particular political leaning in students who claim this, and while that’s entirely anecdotal, that suggests to me that this is more about how we frame bias and expertise prior to college rather than the kinds of opinions students encounter in their own reading/viewing and among their own peer and family circles. There’s a connection between the denial of expertise people like Comer espouse, the “both sides” style of writing standardized testing incentivizes, and the supremacy of quantitative reasoning in contemporary thought and education: i.e., if it’s argued through quantitative data, then there’s a singular truth to be had, and all you need is the data; if not, then it’s all a matter of bias and opinion, with no real expertise to be had.

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Kevin Kilroy

Poet and doctoral student in Writing Practices at SUNY Albany. Erstwhile drummer. Television addict. Traveler. Skier. Papa to two kitties.