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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Preconceived Bias Always Trumps Critical Thinking

In the last article, I discussed the strange phenomenon that whenever critical thinking and preconceived bias go head to head, dollars to donuts, preconceived bias will win. A big part of the problem is too often our self worth and identity is tied up with our opinions. If we could learn to separate our opinions from ourselves as persons, perhaps we could make progress discussing and solving the pressing issues that surround us. In this article, I will examine an extremely common current example of preconceived bias trumping critical thinking. In so doing, I expect UI am sure to offend anyone who overly identifies themselves with their opinions. Finally, I will present one professors explanation of why bias is so powerful and his suggestion for overcoming bias.

Yahoo! Forums, (unsurprisingly), is a great repository of examples of confirmation bias. “Bob” says illegal aliens go to our schools and use all other taxpayer funded infrastructure. They use fraudulent ID to get tax refunds they're not entitled to. They use our emergency rooms and never pay a dime. “Ken” says if the government went after illegal aliens using SSNs fraudulently they could eliminate SSN tax fraud. “Rick” says someone files a tax return for 30 years at the same address and then some illegal files using the number a thousand miles away. “Whatever” says a job that used to pay 40K is now paying 25K and illegals are doing it without paying income tax “Patrick” says a drive through “illegals town” shows you exactly who is filing fake returns. “Tickle” says illegal aliens can file taxes claiming only $10,000 of income and get $24,000 in tax refunds. “SuperBaby” says the government released 35,000 illegals who committed crimes (rapes, murders) on the street.

Looking over the threads these comments appeared in, I was struck by the lack of counter response. Very few people challenged these statements; however, there were a few and here is a sampling:

Bob, you are dead wrong. They do not use fraudulent IDs to get tax refunds they are not entitled to. They apply for, and after much scrutiny by the IRS, may or may not receive a number, called an ITIN, solely for paying taxes. Because they do not have SSNs, they do not qualify for tax credits including EIC. Usually their withholding is too low, so most of them end up paying balance due. They also pay into Social Security and Medicare. Their payments are passed through to Social Security beneficiaries with valid SSNs. Therefore, they help fund your SS benefits. Is there some fraud by a small minority? Yes. However, the vast majority of refund fraud is perpetuated by citizens with valid SSNs. ... “They go to our schools and use all other taxpayer funded infrastructure.” True, and they pay taxes, just like you. They pay income tax, sales tax, and even property tax (which funds schools) as a component of their rent. Now with drivers licenses, they also get to pay gas tax. ... “They use our emergency rooms” sometimes and pay for them. Generally they utilize neighborhood clinics for medical care. Do a few go to the emergency room and never pay? Sure, but again the vast majority of people who do that are actually US citizens. ... Apart from the misdemeanor of being in the country illegally, they are generally law-abiding taxpayers who keep their heads down. They are not "criminals" in the sense you mean. The criminals most of us have to worry about are actually white-collar citizens. It amazes me how people persist in believing untruths in the face of facts. If you oppose illegal immigrants, you need to find some actual valid reasons. ... The vast majority of tax fraud is committed by citizens, not illegal aliens. Sorry. ... An illegal cannot use a SSN to file a tax return. The IRS computers WILL reject those instantly as name and number will not match. So you do not have to worry about that part. ... Illegal immigrants do pay income tax. they also pay the social security and medicare tax, but will never draw benefits because they do not have a valid SSN. The invalid one on their W-2 was put there by the employer. … No Patrick, illegals are not the ones filing fake returns. They do not have access to the personal info they would need to pull it off. However, they do pay taxes using and IRS-ssued tax account number called an ITIN because they do not have SSNs. They generally pay a significant balance due because their employers think they are doing them a favor by withholding nearly nothing. … If illegal aliens "say" on their tax return that they made $10,000, either there will be a w-2 or a Schedule C. If there is a schedule C, there will be a balance due, not a refund, because of the required Schedule SE. … Even if all 35,000 who were released committed violent crimes, that would be only 0.3% of all illegal immigrants, the remainder of whom who, apart from their entrance into the country, are otherwise law-abiding. They keep their heads down to avoid unwanted government attention. ...Illegal aliens do NOT submit phony SSNs for their children. The tax return would be rejected for name-number mismatch. If the children have an SSN, then no birth certificate is necessary. By the way, it is citizens with proper SSNs that commit nearly all the EIC fraud, not the illegal aliens.

I have no intention of debating illegal immigration. The point is not to defend any particular opinion, but to examine the logic. Faulty logic does not necessarily mean an opinion is wrong. However, valid logic naturally lends better support to an opinion.

I just made an allusion to the possibility that an opinion could be wrong, thus implying that an opinion can also be right. One of the most unfortunate principles of the fake critical thinking lessons in our schools is the idea that there is no such thing as a right or wrong opinion. The principle is true as far as it goes. The thing is some opinions have higher quality than others. The main determinate is the quality of logical support for the opinion.

Let us put aside for a moment the hot partisan arguments over the issue of illegal immigration, and examine the original comment and the responses using the tools of logic. Surely the first prerequisite of logic is to determine the facts of the matter. Intriguingly, a perusal of the thread these comments appeared in show that apparently that no one fact-checked the responses. For some strange reason, these challenges also reliably garnered a collection of thumbs-down, even though a bit of research supports the factual basis of each challenge. Preconceived notions and confirmation bias certainly at work.

Alan Jay Levinovitz explains that throwing facts at preconceived biases will not work because these biases “... are based on really powerful narratives, stories about how we construct our identities..You have to deconstruct the narrative (first).