Last week’s logical fallacy was Argument from Ignorance. This week we’re going to talk about Confirmation Bias or Cherry Picking. This is a very common logical fallacy. I do it, you do it, well all do it. Confirmation Bias is when you only accept evidence that supports your hypothesis and either purposely or subconsciously reject any opposing evidence.
As an extreme example, this logical fallacy, in my view, is the main reason that conspiracy theories thrive. Many times, when talking to a conspiracy theorist, you’ll hear them say “Planet X is going to destroy the Earth in 2012. I know about this stuff, I’ve spent hundreds of hours doing research on the internet.“
What types of websites do you think they’re reading? Are they looking at the websites of actual astrophysicists who know what they’re taking about? Or are they only reading sites that “confirm” their hypothesis that a 10th, previously unknown planet is going to destroy the Earth next year? When people really passionately want to believe something, they will often actively seek out evidence that confirms what they want to believe and not seek out evidence to the contrary, unless it’s for the purpose of “debunking” it. What they end up with is an echo chamber of information and opinion that already agrees with them and drowns out any opposing views and evidence.
But if we wish to be rational thinkers, we have to think critically and skeptically about everything, even our own views. We have to look at both sides of the evidence and, here is the key part, we have to be willing to admit we are wrong in what we have accepted to be true. Recognizing when we are wrong and changing our views accordingly is how knowledge expands and how progress is made. A person who thinks that they have finally arrived at the truth will stop looking for it, and thus never find it.