Active Thinking Topic 21 -  Yes/No/Neither? - Brainwash Test

Monday 7 December 2021, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: ZOOM online

CONFIRMATION BIAS = The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of your existing beliefs or theories., AND avoiding evidence which contradicts your beliefs.

This meetup will be in two parts: a) Practice in arguing both for and against an idea. (Thor [the organizer] in the past has found this skill desperately lacking both in his university students, and also in people coming to meetups. b) Discussion questions about some kinds of confirmation bias and what to do about them.


Try to think of a reason FOR and a reason AGAINST these ideas :

1. Australia should accept a lot more immigrants.

2. Nobody should lose their job if they refuse to accept a Covid vaccination.

3. Driving licences from every country should be accepted in Australia.

4. In office jobs, men should wear a tie, and women should only wear dresses below the knee.

5. The governments of other countries should never be criticized.

6. You should always do what a medical doctor tells you to do.

7. People in Australia should only be allowed to speak English.

8. Everyone should have some work experience before they go to university or college.

9. It doesn't matter much what you eat or drink.

10. Nobody should get married before 25.



1. Why does confirmation bias occur?

2. What are some positive consequences of confirmation bias?

3. What are some negative consequences of confirmation bias?

4. What is the meaning of “evidence” for different segments of the population?

5. If confirmation bias is inevitable, what can be done to minimize its effects?

6. How might confirmation bias occur in research in the so-called hard sciences where variables are apparently fewer and thus easier to control?

7. Is widespread statistical illiteracy a serious source of confirmation bias amongst both researchers and those who interpret research?

8. It is well known in sociolinguistics that fluency and coherence in speech are widely distrusted. Donald Trump is an extreme example of celebrating confirmation bias. His inability to put a coherent sentence together is seen by a large segment of the population as a sign of ‘honesty’ because his many of his followers share that incoherence and “trust intuition”. How can destructive confirmation bias be checked under these circumstances?

9. How dependent on confirmation bias are religions and ideologies amongst their followers?

10. What part does wisdom (good judgement based on accumulated experience) play in moderating confirmation bias over time?

[[Note: This is a repeat of a discussion topic run in this meetup over 4 years ago. It remains topical, It is always with us, not least in discussions at Active Thinkers! (original date: 29 January 2017; Main Discussion Topics Index  )]]


Here are some section headings from the Wikipedia entry on confirmation bias (  ). What can you say about each of these?

Confirmation Bias

1 Types

1.1 Biased search for information
1.2 Biased interpretation
1.3 Biased memory

2 Related effects

2.1 Polarization of opinion
2.2 Persistence of discredited beliefs
2.3 Preference for early information
2.4 Illusory association between events

3 Individual differences

4 History

4.1 Informal observation
4.2 Wason's research on hypothesis-testing
4.3 Klayman and Ha's critique

5 Explanations

6 Consequences

6.1 In finance
6.2 In physical and mental health
6.3 In politics and law
6.4 In the paranormal
6.5 In science
6.6 In self-image

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Extra Reading

Wikipedia (2017) "Confirmation Bias" @

Paul Doyon (2021) "Enhancing Value Perception in the Japanese EFL Classroom". The Asian EFL Journal, Volume 25 Issue 3 May 2021 @  [Quote: "When I first came to Japan approximately 14 years ago, I was teaching a private high school student the difference between “it is” and “they are.” I asked him “What color is my shirt?” and he answered, “It is green.” I asked him, “What color are my eyes?” and he answered, “They are blue.” Since my eyes are brown, I was a bit surprised by his answer. I had him look very closely at my eyes but he still responded that they were blue. When I asked him in Japanese why he thought my eyes were blue, he responded that it was because I was an American and all Americans have blue eyes. This student’s belief that all Americans had blue eyes was strong enough to alter his perception of reality -a case of a misconception leading to a misperception".]

James Button (November 21, 2021) "Gender, sex and power: the debate dividing universities - Universities are meant to be the domain of free speech, but they are struggling to wrestle with identity politics and gender-critical debate amid the rise of cancel culture". The Age @

James Button (November 22, 2021) "The educational divide that threatens to split the left - As the university-educated [35% of Australians] come to dominate the modern left, identity seems to be replacing class as its ideological touchstone". The Age @
Liam Mannix (November 23, 2021)"One of Australia’s leading cancer scientists, who secured almost $40 million in taxpayer-funded research grants, has been referred to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission by his institute over allegations of research misconduct. .. The institute declined to detail the specific allegations made as the matter is now before the commission, but The Age understands they centre on data manipulation." Brisbane Times @

=> Thor, comment : Most of what we have in the modern technical world has come from experimenting and judging evidence impartially (without confirmation bias). However unbiased research goes against normal human instinct, and it is common for individual scientists to be corrupted into changing or ignoring unwelcome evidence. Often, they are also under pressure from corporations or governments.

Anthony Metivier (November 26, 2021)"Independent Thinking: 7 Tips On Becoming An Individual Thinker - Independent thinking is rare, yet it is an easy skill to develop. Everything begins with the decision to improve how you think". MagneticMemoryMethod website @
Laura Garnett(1 March 2016) "How to Know If You Are Brainwashed, and What to Do to Avoid It - In order to avoid a life lived for another and to experience true success, you need to know how to avoid being brainwashed". Inc. website @

Adam Piore (November 26, 2015) "Why We’re Patriotic - Whether it’s our country or our football team, we need to belong". Nautilus @  [Quote: "It started with one man quietly sipping a Tom Collins in the lounge car of the Cleveland-bound train. “God bless America,” he sang, “land that I love …” It didn’t take long. Others joined in. “Stand beside her … and guide her ...” Soon the entire train car had taken up the melody, belting out the patriotic song at the top of their lungs. It was 1940 and such spontaneous outpourings, this one described in a letter to the song’s creator Irving Berlin, were not unusual. That was the year the simple, 32-bar arrangement was somehow absorbed into the fabric of American culture..."]

Jen Kiaba (June 15, 2021) "Were you brainwashed?" Jen Kiaba blog @

Hannah Devlin (2 December 2021) ""Misinformation fuelled by ‘tsunami’ of poor research, says science prize winner". The Guardian @  [Quote: "The danger with social media is that even a mediocre or bad or flawed paper can be taken by people who have different agendas and brought into the spotlight and celebrated as the new truth,” Bik said. “That is a new danger that has not been there before.”... This risks flawed work being “amplified by bad actors” such as those seeking to stoke fears about vaccination. She cited a recently retracted paper linking the HPV vaccine to female infertility and another that appeared to overstate the risk of myocarditis from Covid vaccines. ... “A lot of scientists wanted to become the big saviour of the pandemic,” she said. “That brought a lot of fraud or just even poorly executed research. People want to become a hero and might go to great lengths to achieve that.” This vision of the heroic scientist sits in contrast to the reality of life in the laboratory, Bik said. “Ninety percent of your results will be failures, every now and again you’ll get a success … but most of the time it’s sad and boring to be in the lab,” she said. “You can work really hard in science and still not get the results everyone hoped for. You have to be able to deal with that.”]



Yes/No/Neither? - Confirmation Bias (c) Thor May 2021 

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