Bias in science (and society):
Although many researchers are aware of measurement bias (e.g., measurement error), the bias to which I am referring is, in large part, an unconscious bias that stems from one’s own cultural systems. All people are influenced by their culture; it shapes their views and interpretations for every situation. Scientists, as people, are not immune to the effects of cultural influence when it comes to framing hypotheses or interpretation of data (i.e., what are legitimate questions, who should be the focus of the study, etc.).
For this exercise you will explore two examples of how unconscious bias influenced (and continues to influence) Anthropology.
Evaluate an example:
The class session for this forum will consist of partner/group discussion followed by full class discussion.
For the partner/group discussion, you need to choose one of the following articles to read, answer the questions listed below for that article before class, and be prepared to share with your partner/group. You also need to consider the two questions under the “Everyone” bullet point.
For the full class discussion, your group/partnership needs to be prepared to share the consensus answers to the questions with everyone.
Article choices (choose 1):
Primatology: http://www.nytimes.com/1984/09/18/science/new-view-of-female-primates-assails-stereotypes.html?pagewanted=all (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Piltdown man: http://www.livescience.com/56327-piltdown-man-hoax.html (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
In the mid-1980s there was a shift in how primate societies were understood. Summarize the information provided in the section “A Transformed Understanding” about the four areas of primate sex differences in behavior highlighted by the shift.
Do you think the bias referred to in the article is legitimate? Why or why not?
The Piltdown skull was ‘discovered’ in 1912, and for 40 years it dominated the story of human evolution. According to the article, why was the Piltdown discovery such a ‘success’?
What do you think was the unconscious bias that influenced the persistence of this discovery? (consider our discussions about the history of evolutionary theory AND perceptions about what it means to be human)
Can you find/think of an example of potential bias from your field of study? Consider how research questions are framed and how they are funded.
Do you think this type of bias has an impact on science? Why or why not?
Think of at least two ways that scientists can work toward decreasing this type of bias in their research.
Written submission: (On Canvas, total word count 250-500)
Briefly summarize the article you choose to read for the forum.
Provide a summary of the discussion your group had about the example(s):
What type of bias(es) did your group decide were influencing the research/reception of research?
Did everyone agree on which (if any) bias(es) played a role in the examples you read? If not, what were the disagreements about?
Provide a summary of:
Examples that either your group or others in the class presented of potential bias in a different area of science (not biological anthropology).
Ways in which scientists can work toward decreasing this type of bias. If you feel that this type of bias is not important in science, tell me why you feel that way.
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