Streaking – Day 2: Confirmation Bias – A Discussion with Biologist and Educator Robert Hutchison

This is part of the Streaking series, in which I write something everyday, and my interview series, including discussions with Ikaika Hussey, Amy Perruso, Marti Townsend and George Cleveland. Thereʻs much more to this interview:

I began to think about possible biases in the conclusions being reached by researchers in Hawaiian Studies (I use this term very broadly and include myself among these) when Dr. Sam Ohu Gon of the Nature Conservancy (recently named a Hawaiʻi Living Treasure) brought up the scientific notion of confirmation bias, and suggested that it may be tainting our findings.

According to Science Daily:

In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.

I thought about my conversations over the past couple of years with the Advanced Placement Biology teacher at Kamehameha, Robert Hutchison – conversations Iʻve found very fruitful in the sense that they represent a kind of “Inside-Outside” view of human behavior. By “inside” I mean oneʻs own personal experience of the world; by “outside” I mean those things that can be measured. Usually this measurement is done by someone else – outside of your own head and experience. My view is that both represent valid, legitimate perspectives on reality, and rather than putting them at odds with one another, they should be constantly compared and contrasted to try to gain a more accurate, and useful, perception of “reality.” Robert is a Kamehameha graduate who has a bachelorʻs degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masterʻs in Biology from UH Mānoa. He teaches at Windward Community College in the Summer.

Hutchison suggested that confirmation bias is about:

RH: your point of view and … how you rationalize it or how do you account for it and does it in any way cause you to rethink and modify your original assumptions? And thatʻs what science is about, science is about the search for truth and just the methodology of finding truth as best as we can possibly understand it. You have to wonder whenever anyone who tells you anything. Go back to the source – this is the importance of Kumulipo and chant because thereʻs an understanding that things will be lost if there isnʻt that rigor behind it.

UP: Iʻve been seeing some studies come out about this with child witness, that they can be persuaded through suggestion to have a certain memory that they can be persuaded to think they really had after a certain amount

RH: Exactly

UP: So what youʻre telling me that every time you recall a memory, itʻs being modified?

RH: The brain can fill in these gaps. Vision works this way. Sometimes what it interprets in not exactly what is in front of you.

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