The 'Everybody is an Expert' Fallacy (Confirmation Bias is Real)

June 8, 2020
5 minute read

Confirmation bias is to leverage and promote certain information to confirm your beliefs and hypotheses while paying less attention to contradictory information.  In many cases ambiguous, unfounded or opinionated data is often leveraged despite clear evidence that contradicts your position.

This bias has been shown to lead to an overconfidence in one’s own beliefs and a resulting polarization of sides.

As information becomes readily accessible on the internet, we are coincidentally witnessing polarizing positions, outcomes and behaviours in the world on important topics like racial and gender discrimination, political alignment, and COVID-19, along with a multitude of other topics.

This seems to create disharmony and often serves to fuel the fire for controversy and clash.

To be clear I am not an expert in data usage and psychology so I cannot claim there is a direct cause and effect between the Internet and confirmation bias.  However, I have noticed the pattern and I am sharing this hypothesis with you.  To claim it is fact would be hypocritical.

Experts Abound

I believe that confirmation bias is creating a dangerous situation where more and more people are claiming to be “experts” because they have either published something or can find information that supports their beliefs.

Ready access to information further encourages each and every one of us to become an expert by seeking out data (confirmed or not) and drawing our own conclusions, which is dangerous as it serves to create yet another self-fulfilling cycle.

Meanwhile, a good Agile coach will share a reflection of what they are observing, especially if they notice biases in the people and organizations they work with.  Ironically some of us coaches are noticing an increase in confirmation bias within our own domain.

Simply stated, we are noticing more and more people successfully passing themselves off as Agile experts simply because they write a number of articles that rehash what others have already said, or that can be supported by other non-experts.  They then get hired which fuels the next round.

In my opinion, writing an article or finding data to support your position does not make you an expert.  Becoming an expert takes a lot of study, a lot of patience, a lot of knowledge gathering, and a lot of experience dealing with real-world situations, hard facts and not conjecture.

An expert never assumes they are right and always seeks to learn more, especially if it contradicts their beliefs or hypotheses.  This is the unmistakable sign of a continuous learning mindset.

Only through these things can you hope to become an expert, and only then should others leverage your facts to help them make decisions.

Ironically I find myself writing an article to explain this.  This has caused me to constantly rethink my approach for this topic and to be openly transparent that I do not believe I am an expert in bias. I am only familiar with it on a professional level as it is one of the many responsibilities of a coach to identify, reflect on, and call out bias if they observe it.

What Can You Do?

In my opinion the core challenge is it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the experts and reliable, factual data from the noise and misdirection.    Unfortunately there’s no formula to help, but here are a few suggestions you can try.

Acknowledge that systemic bias and prejudices exist and that you are likely doing them, often without even realizing it.

Educate yourself to be particularly aware of cognitive bias, and work very hard to ensure you are not doing it.  Be self-critical, question and re-question your own motives and beliefs often and every day, always acknowledge that you may be in the wrong, and work keep an open mind to alternative views and facts.

Don’t take anything at face value.  Find the facts and data supporting the claim.  Ask for proof and the source.  Reflect on motives for the data and information and attempt to discover if there are reasons why sharing the information might benefit the source.  Toss out anything that looks or smells like it is suspicious, especially if it supports your own beliefs and hypotheses.

For Full Transparency

I am writing this article because it is part of an expectation from the organization I work for, because I want to draw attention to biases and prejudices in the hope we can create a more balanced and harmonious world, and because I am tired of self-proclaimed Agile experts hypocritically taking advantage of the very thing they should be calling out, thereby cheapening my career path.

But then again, remember these are my opinions so weigh them accordingly.

To conclude, here is a good example of confirmation bias.  If you are to use this article as evidence that the Internet is causing confirmation bias and/or that it is causing the emergence of bad Agile coaches.  That would indeed be ironic.

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