This is a guest appearance of the bluebird of Twitter happiness known as My T Chondria. I am almost positive the bird does some sort of science at some sort of US institution of scientific research.
I’m your biased reviewer. I’ve sat on study sections for most of the years I’ve been a faculty member and I’m biased. I’m exactly who Sally Rockey and Richard Nakamura are targeting in their call for proposals to lessen bias and increase impartial reviewing of NIH applications.
Webster’s defines bias as “mental tendency or inclination” listing synonyms including “predisposition, preconception, predilection, partiality, and proclivity”. When I review a grant from an African American applicant, I have a preconception of who they are. I refine that judgment based on their training, publications and productivity.
I should share that I’m also biased in my review of applicants who have health issues, are women, are older than 30 and have children. I’ve had every one of these types of trainees in my lab and my experiences with them lead me to develop partiality and preconceptions that impact my opinions and judgments. Parts of my preconceptions arise from my experiences with these trainees in my as well those I interacted with while serving on my University’s admission committee. I was biased when I performed those duties as well.
Anyone who pretends to be utterly impartial is dangerous and hurtful to those we say we value as a scientific community. I am frankly stunned to see so many tone deaf and thoughtless comments claiming they are deeply offended at the at this ‘mindless drivel’.
Dr Marconi is just one of many scientists who claim, “I’ve never seen this, so it must not be true”. Scientist’s careers are based on things that cannot be seen, but we collect and interpret data and develop an understanding based on that which we cannot see. Data has been collected and the results are alarming and open for active debate.
Bias is far more insidious than racism. Racists reveal themselves and their ignorance and are often dismissed by ‘educated’ society for their extremist views. Bias is far subtler. Even if it results in an imperceptible change in scoring, we are in a climate where these things matter. Where razor fine decisions are being made on funding.
It's the people who are sure they have no bias that I fear. I know I have bias. We are simply incapable of being utterly impartial and anyone who says they are impartial is dangerously obtuse to these problems at best and a liar at worst.