March 13, 2021- During the McCarthy Hearings, in the 1950s, there was enormous pressure put on both investigators and witnesses to take any smidgen of evidence of Communist sympathy, on the part of suspects, and blow it up at least ten fold. Senator Joseph McCarthy had everything riding on conflating social Liberalism with Stalinism.
The term confirmation bias is used to describe a situation in which evidence that leads to a desired outcome is placed prominently in the investigator’s or prosecutor’s case file, while exculpatory evidence is filtered out and other evidence, contributing to a reasonable doubt, is overlooked. McCarthy and his associates reveled in confirmation bias, until it led them over the cliff of disrepute.
These days, I see confirmation bias used, with abandon, by several groups. Those on the Left go back in history, being willing to erase historical accounts which show any degree of complexity in the leaders of various historical periods. Those on the Right, conversely, reject any criticism of the same historical figures. The recent controversy over Theodore Seuss Geisel is certainly the latest such case, of both sides ignoring or discounting the very features of Dr. Seuss’s personality, which the man himself spent countless hours working to refine, to bring up to date with the times. A careful study of his work’s progress shows a fundamentally decent man moving on, from caricatures that clearly show a prejudiced bent to depictions of people that more accurately reflected changes in public opinion. Neither the Right, with its insistence that NOTHING he wrote was wrong, nor the Left, some of whom want a wholesale destruction of his catalog, are showing any degree of academic rigour in their posturing.
We are at the cusp of a public arena, in which stridency commands absolute fealty and careful discernment, in the course of assessing the march of history, is deemed a feckless approach. I will, however, maintain the latter course of action.
No one, save the Messengers of God, walks on water. No one, conversely, deserves to have even the smallest amount of merit discounted. Most of us are very much in the middle.